Well my stay in Istanbul is coming to an end. I am now sitting in the Otogar, the main bus station in Istanbul, at gate 121-122 and it is nothing but hustle and bustle here. So many buses and so many people! So I thought since I have some time I will write about Istanbul.
What can I say about Istanbul? How about amazing, I absolutely loved it! I’m a tad worried that I may have hit the high point in my trip and it’s only my first stop. Alison also had a similar problem with Lisbon, it was her first stop and she says it was her favourite. It’s hard to say, I’ve enjoyed Istanbul so much I don’t want to put a dampener on the rest of my adventure. I’m going into it with an open mind, I am really excited for Germany with my mum and England and Ireland with Denna. So only time will tell!
I arrived in Istanbul after almost two days of travel. (I will have to write about that in an upcoming post) It was late, around 2200. Customs was the easiest I’ve ever gone through, zero questions. A look at me, a look at my passport and visa and STAMP I was in. No wonder Turkey has become the gateway to ISIS for so many people. Took forever to get my bag and I thought I was screwed, but it was just at the very end. The cab ride to the hostel was an experience! Weaving in and out of traffic is always such a fun time. At the hostel I quickly checked in and headed down to my room, room 3 bed 34. There were two girls already asleep, so I tried to be silent.
Sleeping proved difficult, with a 6 hour difference it really kicked me in the but. At around 0500 I heard this noise, once I fully awoke I realized what it was, it was prayers being broadcast. After that it was safe to say I was up. I showered and changed and headed up to find breakfast. Now I saw the pictures from my hostel’s website but wow, the view was amazing! I didn’t really have a plan but I Google Mapped the Blue Mosque and Grand Bazaar.
My first stop was the Blue Mosque which was conviently located just a two minute walk from the hostel. The mosque from the outside made its impression, but directly across from it was another mosque. The Hagia Sofia, so I needed to know why the Blue Mosque was more famous. I won’t find out for two days. But the grounds of the Mosque were very well kept, beautiful gardens and stonework. I found the non-Muslim entrance and I removed my shoes and entered. Now the inside was cavernous, huge, any noise created an echo. There was lots of noise because there was lots of people. Hanging from the ceiling were a number of plane looking chanadlaiers with lights, nothing spectacular. What was spectacular about the massive building was its emptiness. Compared to giant cathedrals or churches which are rowed with pews it was empty, except for a few railings blocking visitors from going to the centre. A red carpet decorated with floweres covered the entire area. It was that emptiness that really struck as being different. It was still a holy place like any church and I respected that but the emptiness is what got me.
After leaving I wandered the local area there was a square with gardens and a fountain, I figured this was the centre of the touristy area in Istanbul, Old Town. I made my way to the Grand Bazaar using the map saved on my phone, I stuck to the side roads because they are much more exciting. The Grand Bazaar lives up to its name, it is grand and rather bizarre. It’s a collection of small covered streets with shops everywhere! The halls roll with the hills. There are shopkeepers and there helpers standing by to offer an assistance wether it’s wanted or not and runners delivering tea to them.
I wandered the streets for sometime and was really able to take it all in. Istanbul is a very unique place, I find there is a battle between the traditional and the West. You can be walking down a street with large Adidas billboards or whatever large brand name and then you hear the prayers being broadcast from the mosques. Consumerism is all so rampant in Turkey, large shopping centres and shops filled with large brand names many of them western.
All right this is getting very long and you will be hearing much about my day to day after my adventure when I type up my travel journal and post it hear. So I will cut down on the day to day and tell you my observations like the one above.
What else about Istanbul? Well it’s absolutely massive, at around 14 million people in the city alone. There are many hills in Istanbul and over one hill there is another hill and it’s absolutely covered with buildings. It goes on and on. It’s the same story on both sides of the Bosphorus.
The Bosphorus is also packed! So many ships going through either leaving or heading towards the Black Sea. On top of that there are loads of ferries crossing and the number of small fishing boats. There was always something going on either in the city or on the water.
On the streets there were two main type of food vendors. One sold Turkish pretzels with Nutella the other sold roasted nuts and grilled corn. They were located all over the city, I don’t think you could go more than 10 minutes with out seeing at least one. They were not pushy like the shop keepers. Shop keepers or their employees would wander among the tourists and ask things like “Where are you from?”, “Excuse me my friend” and a list of other things to start a conversation. They all seem to have family in Toronto and eventually they ask you to take a look at their shop. It’s funny many asked me if I was Australian. Now telling them a stern no will get them out of your hair, often they will keep on bugging you but just keep walking and they will give up.
Well I think that’s it for Istanbul, I’m currently in Burgas and will write about it on my way to Bucharest. You will get more about Istanbul later this summer when I type up my travel journal for your enjoyment.