Rival Capitals – Athens and Istanbul

Stuck In Athens

After dragging Kit’s motorcycle 150km to Athens, the ricks settled into their AirBnb while parts were flown over from the UK. So close to their objective, Tblisi, and the thought of skiing in the Caucus mountains running through their minds, they restlessly wandered the streets of Athens looking for some ancient excitement.

Acropolis At Night
Ancient

After spending many a school night reading about the birthplace of Western Democracy/Cradle of Western Civilization etc it was a pleasure to finally see it. One thing that struck the Ricks is how overshadowed by Rome it had ended up becoming. Kit and Kyle had little thought of the landmarks they wished to see, so they went to the easy one, the old buildings on a hill AKA the Acropolis.

Acropolis at Night

Unfortunately their tendencies to wander around at night had failed them, the Acropolis was closed for the evening, so they would have to exit their cave before 4pm to actually walk on top of it. After checking the tracking info for Kit’s fuel pump for the 100th time, Kit and Kyle finally left the house and wandered over to the entrance.

The Acropolis

Propylaea of the Acropolis

Ancient and modern people both are similar in their desire for building the most massive structures possible, and the Acropolis certainly did not stray from that school of thought. It was certainly a bit mindblowing to think about the work required to move these massive blocks of limestone into their proper place. Lifting of reconstructed blocks now carried on, aided by modern technology, after a catastrophe in the 1600s when the Turks gunpowder stash located inside was blown up by a mortar round.

Parthenon

It was clear why Ancient civilization thrived here, the Mediterranean climate being one of the most pleasant in the world. After a week of enjoying a sunny warm late November, the fuel pump (and the spare) arrived, was hastily replaced in the motorcycle (after dumping a bit of fuel on the ground accidentally) and Kit and Kyle excitedly waited for a new day to dawn so they could continue on their merry way.

Acropolis Athens
Sun Setting over Athens

Excited and bursting with energy the Ricks woke up before dawn without incident. Jumping on their now completely functional team of motorcycles, they set off into the dark and the Athens 6am traffic. As they headed north however, the weather became increasingly cold and miserable. With their goal of Istanbul and the slopes of the Caucus beyond, they rode 750Km all the way to Alexanderopolis, skipping the remainder of Greece in one fell swoop of the throttle.

“Sneaking” into Turkey

It was at this time that the United States and Turkey were having a diplomatic spat, cutting off visa processing for the opposing country. The following options were considered henceforth: 1. Pay over 300 Euros to take a ferry across the Black Sea and see nothing but the swaying inside of a ships cabin for three days or 2. follow up on a lead that said that as Americans, a visa could still be aquired if we went to a consulate outside the United States (Athens in this instance). Extremely travel weary, but with some adventure left inside Kit and Kyle, chose option 2. 60 Euros gave them a seven day visa (an unpleasant surprise) to cross the 1500 km of Turkey.

From Alexanderopolis it was a 10 minute jaunt to the border. The Ricks had no idea what to expect when encountering the officials of Turkey. Serbia and the US had had major conflict, but that was a *relatively* distant memory of the previous century. Everyone was found to be quite polite and professional, except for an awkward confusion of why the Ricks had decided to end up on the Ipsala border crossing among Armenian, Iranian, and Grecian people visiting family and friends. The officer checking passports saw “United States of America” printed on the passports and awkwardly flipped through the visa pages, missing the visa that had been acquired in Athens. It looked like he was about to explain the diplomatic status between our two countries and kindly ask Kit and Kyle to turn their motorcycles around. Before doing this however, he brought his boss over to double check the situation. Not to risk catastrophe, Kit flipped his passport to the Turkey visa page and showed that to the boss before anything else. The boss gave his lackey a condescending remark and look and the Ricks were ushered through.

Turkish/Greece Border
The other way to Troy if you don’t have a boat

Istanbul

First (and only major stop we had time for) was Istanbul. The Ricks wildly drove the horrible traffic, through light rail transit stops and on the sidewalk at times (just trying to blend in with the locals), into the neighborhood of Fatih. This part of Istanbul was the most dazzling of already a sprawling and opulent city, much different from the more ancient and more gritty Athens.

Istanbul at Night
Slightly more grand in my opinion

In fact it was significantly more European than we had imagined, with western brands intermixed with hijabs and mosques. Every mosque being a cute little copy of the original, The Blue Mosque of Istanbul (drawing inspiration from the Hagia Sofia right next door).

Blue Mosque of Istanbul
And now for something completely different

After only 300km distance we had been thrown back into the Islamic world in full force.

Inside the Blue Mosque
A spruced up version of the Hagia Sofia

Not Constantinople

It was obvious that the Turks had accumulated much wealth over the years, and weren’t afraid to show it. We took a visit to the Topkapi palace where we saw such artifacts as the Golden Drainpipe of the Kabaa, Muhammad’s sword (as well as all his followers), and the wooden staff of Moses (they just don’t have wood treatments nowadays like they used to…)

Topkapi palace
Looks almost futuristic

Topkapi Palace Celing

Kit at Topkapi

Lastly, it was time to visit the original dome on a box, the Hagia Sofia. The Turks were so amazed by this 1500 year old building that it drove the design for all their future massive construction projects.

Hagia Sofia from the Outside
Imitated many times
Entrance
Luckily the Turks decided to leave these up
Mosaic of the Virgin Mary
“Now that this is a Mosque shouldn’t we change that?” “Eh, maybe tomorrow”

The Hagia Sofia was first a Christian Cathedral, then a Mosque, before it was declared a museum in the early 20th century. It was pretty funny to see the interchangeability between the Abrahamic Religions, the Turks simply hoisted four wooden discs in the corners with quotes from the Quaran, added a few minarets, and *POOF* suddenly it was a Mosque.

Inside Hagia Sofia

With time quickly running out on our visa, the thuroughly dazzled Ricks jumped back on their bikes, crossed the Bosporus, and took on the remaining 1000 km of road between them and their halfway point of Georgia.

Total
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