A couple of years ago, I noticed Turkey become a member of
the IOF. Since this was always a country I wanted to visit,
I'd been watching for races. Last year they held a 5 day in
Istanbul, and I couldn't go. Fortunately, they held it again
this year, and I was able to make it. (The dates of these
races were first week of November, 2005).
The first comment to make was that I was quite impressed with
the organization. Everything ran efficiently, from the buses
leaving on time to results being promptly posted. One thing
I noticed about Istanbul was that Turks are efficient, if
not impatient (you should see the way they drive), and it showed
in the efficient organization. The maps, made by Eastern
Europeans, were good, and I felt the course setting sophisticated
(while, of course, there will always be some quibbles -- in
particular, with the green on the classic days,
you were never sure what you were going to get in terms of
runability). The map printing (inkjet, I think) and cases
weren't very good, but no worse than at many US A meets. They
also had e-punching.
They even played bad techno at the meet venues, making it truly
feel like a normal European meet. When things are being done
right, they feel normal. Not bad for a 3 year old federation.
(There were a couple of things that were bizarre, such as a 4
minute start interval for the sprint, and start times changing at
the last minute).
The weather was lousy. Cold (about 5 degrees), and rainy. They
told me at the hotel that once the winter clouds arrive in Istanbul,
it rains 'til spring. That was pretty much the case for the week,
tho it was more of an on-and-off rain.
My races were good. 4th in both classic days, and 5th overall,
behind 3 Bulgarians and A Russian on 21E. I felt my best race
may have been the middle, where it was difficult and I thought
I did pretty well. But I finished 8th, losing a ton of time to
my competition. It was my worst result -- go figure.
were at Belgrad Forest, a park about 30 minutes
north of Istanbul on the European side (although only about 5-10K
from the city limits; the traffic was brutal) . Seemed like wild
forest, tho probably managed in the past. Runability varied
from super white to greenbriar, and I think the mapper did a
decent, tho not perfect job on it. Alot of it was knee-high
thorn bushes probably better mapped with the vertical green
symbol. Climb was 7% on the first day, with them giving us a
break at 6.3% on day 4. I guess it sort of reminded me of Ohio,
with deep ridge/valley, and clay soil. I was cautious and did
a lot of trail running, alot more than is typical for me. That
may have been a mistake.
was a "middle" at Omerli Forest, about 45 minutes northeast
of the city on the Asian side. I thought I did well, but was a
full 12 minutes behind the winner. WT was 42, so it wasn't really
a middle, I guess. Climb was 6.5% The white was variable, the green
was to be avoided. #8, mapped as an earthbank, was an honest to
goodness charcoal platform, tho it looked like the north
end was eroded a bit. A touch smaller than the French Creek ones,
but otherwise looked pretty much like them. I thought that was cool.
I thought #4 was a tough control, and I was impressed that the map
was good enough to make it a fair leg. I think, again, my route
choices were too conservative.
was a "sprint" (WT 32) at a small, remote village, about 2
hours northeast of the city on the Asian side. I think the village
was called Hacilli. This struck me as
a very odd place to have a race, as there seemed no population
centers around. While it was an ok area, it didn't seem special
enough for such a long round trip. This place was steep; basically
the side of a mountain (it is steeper than it looks as the scale
is 1:7500). The climb only clocks in at 5.8%, but it seemed to
come in chunks. This was the most brutally physical sprint I've
ever done, especially in the rain. When I turned the map over,
I said omigod -- looks just like the Brazil map. But it was a
decent, tho not perfect map. I had a decent race under the
circumstances. Dark green was variable -- anywhere from light
* Photos with (*) are from the organizer's website
Day 5 was in the Grand Bazaar, a famous tourist attraction in
downtown Istanbul. I went there as a tourist early in the week
and it was mobbed, you couldn't even walk, much less run. Fortunately,
it was closed for the race, and we had the place to ourselves. One
thing I didn't know about the Bazaar beforehand was that it is enclosed
in a big building (my vision of the word "bazaar" has always been an
outdoor market). That meant it was fairly dark. It is like a big
shopping mall built in the 1500s, tho now the shops cater to tourists.
|Start at the Grand Bazaar
Some of the things that were interesting about it were little passages
that lead to these open air courtyards, and the fact that the Bazaar
has 2 levels in many places. This was the most difficult aspect of
the navigation, as if a control was on the upper floor, you had to get
on stairs well beforehand to make sure you were at the right level. If
you just navigated to the circle, you'd be disappointed to look up to
a balcony or upstairs courtyard and see where the control probably
was. I made that mistake once and had to go back to a stairs. It
was cool, but hard to see this on the map. They did put the upper
level controls in green on the control descriptions, but it would
have been cooler to color the control circles green on the map, if
|Finish chute in Grand Bazaar
One quibble with this race was that they hid a couple of the controls.
One was behind (an unmapped) Coke machine. Another was sort of tucked
in some carpets by a carpet shop. Very bazaar.
This was a very cool place to orienteer, but I don't think
Cervara will ever be topped. Ever. The scale on this map
was 1:1600, but it still felt like sprint orienteering
with normal winning times and all the sprint quick thinking.
Stuff just came up really fast. Just goes to show you can have
a sprint just about anywhere. Unfortunately, this map is
embargoed for "security reasons", so a copy will not be posted
|Grand Bazaar #7, open courtyard
|Grand Bazaar #9 (a little dark in here)
|Grand Bazaar #10 (4 second exposure)
I tried to find out some things about orienteering development in
Turkey. I was told there were about 50 clubs, about half civilian.
I think about 3 were represented in this race. The Bulgarians at
this meet seemed to outnumber the Turks, at least in my class. The
Turks seem serious about getting good, tho, and I talked to some who
have been to the Scottish 6 Day and O-Ringen. They were baffled when
I tried to talk about "recreational orienteering" (like in the US);
to them, it is definitely European-style sport. Of course, I run into
this everywhere outside the US -- is the US the only country with
recreational orienteers? It will be interesting to see if the Turks
get good over the next 10 years. Like the Brazilians, I think travel
expense is a barrier.
I tried to find out about orienteering around Ankara, another place
I'd like to visit. Apparently, there isn't much forest on the
whole Anatolian Plain, but at least there are maps. Looking forward
to an O trip there in the next few years, but am waiting to see
how the Iranian program (non IOF presently) develops, since they
are fairly close.
The country seems somewhat terrain-challenged (tho I saw so little
of it, and talked to so few people I feel stupid making such a
statement), but with such a big country, I'm sure there is tons of
great terrain to be found. They definitely seem started out in
the right direction, and I hope they are successful.
Finally, some non-orienteering travel notes for those planning a
trip to Istanbul. If you are an independent traveler like me,
chances are you like to rent a car. My advise is -- don't even
consider it for Istanbul. The traffic jams are brutal, drivers
impatient and maniacal, the streets tough to navigate, and parking
doesn't exist. Of course, many travelers consider the preceding
part of the experience -- but Istanbul is a fun city to explore on
foot, and the public transportation is decent.
|Some sort of cool candy available at the post Ramazan festivities
November is supposedly off-season for Istanbul. It was cold and
rainy, but the tourists were there in droves anyway. I generally
like to travel off-season, but if it so crowded now, I wonder what it
is like in high season. I was told that generally the rains don't
start 'til mid-November, so I was a bit unlucky. The point is, don't
go in November just to avoid the crowds (or at least early November).
I stayed in Sultanahmet, the old town where the Blue Mosque and many
other attractions are. You'll have to deal with all sorts of people
trying to "engage business" with you here. I would still recommend
staying in this part of the city, tho, if you want to do the tourist
thing. The one downside is attempting to find an authentic Turkish
dining experience in this area (some of the best food in the world,
and the whole point of going to Turkey).
Most of the restaurants are clearly set up for tourists, and are
overpriced to match. Its not that the food isn't good, nor
seem authentic (its hard to screw up Turkish food) -- its just that
the whole experience doesn't seem real when the menu doesn't
contain a word of Turkish and the waitstaff looks like they've been
in the country less time than you have! You'll have to do a
little exploring to find the authentic experience, but it is
One place I would recommend is Saray, on Peykhane Cad -- off the main
drag near the Grand Bazaar. Still catering to tourists, but Turks
ate there, and it seemed the most authentic food I got in this part
of the city.
For hotels, I stayed at Alzer, right across from the Blue Mosque.
3 star hotel for 65 euros. Not bad. One downside is that it is
loud in the area, and the call to prayer wakes you up at 5 am, tho
I imagine this happens in most parts of the city. There are 2
star hotels only 500m away for 25 euros.
Finally, if you get a chance, do a nargile. A nargile is
basically a meter high bong or hookah (but as Turkey is strict on
drugs, none are involved -- instead various tobaccos are used). I
didn't expect this to be a cool experience, but I was pleasantly