27.12.2009 - 30.12.2009
Wow! What can I say about this city other than it is both incredible and infuriating at the same time with the seemingly endless number of touts hassling you for anything and everything. After the initial annoyance however they do provide some comic relief with the different strategies that the use. The best lines that I can remember were, “You buy postcards, they are cheaper today than yesterday”, “I’m not selling anything I am a tourist like you from America but would you like to go to a rug shop?” and all offering their own umbrella/jackets once it started raining with the sales pitch of “is very good - is like new” - annoying at first but ultimately very amusing.
The look of the city is really quite magical with the way you approach it from the airport watching as one mosque appears and then another and then another something really is quite special about it. Also watching the sunset over the top of almost endless mosques dominating the highest points of the city is quite something to behold and one of those things that words and photos fall short in describing. The two main mosques, the so called blue mosque and the ayra sofia were simply quite amazing and we were lucky enough to be staying between the two giving us a good map home and an enjoyable walk home especially when they were lit up and night. The best views however of the mosques were seen from our boat trip ride down the Bosphorous which with a continent on each side was quite awesome. This also provided some really good views of the sun setting over the top of the fortress on the asian side of the city.
The basilica cistern was created underneath the city by the roman’s with water taken from several aqueducts, and was really quite impressive as you got to see underneath the city and the previous empire marks. The cistern itself was huge and really quite tranquil despite the mass of tourists in there and this was by far my favourite “sight” of the city. The palace was also quite impressive and offers a good insight into the ottoman empire with what seems like endless rooms full of relics obtained from different campaigns around the world. It also contains what they market as the biggest diamond in the world which was needless to say pretty big - roughly the size of my fist!
I also figured I would have to visit the grand bazaar and it is hard not to be impressed with the sheer size of it when you are there. It seems so great to have all the gold shops here and all the rug shops there however when you want to leave you realise how big and disorientating it really is. Out of my three times there I didn’t manage to walk out the exit that I wanted to once but I did curiously keep finding the same exit point. Very disorientating especially as it is fully enclosed, definitely worth a visit and surprisingly in a welcome change you aren’t hassled inside until you show an interest in something.
Istanbul seems to have a good nightlife there but many people I talked to had either had or met people who had been scammed by tout and or taxi driver alike. But with common sense hopefully on our side a few of us from the hostel heading out and took in a sheesha bar (flavoured tobacco from a pipe) and also the live music and nightlife around taksim square. We didn’t have any problems and its quite a nice relaxing nightlife with a beer, a sheehsa pipe and what seems to be a battle of the live music acts across the narrow streets. The great thing is also the endless supply of kebab stores that are willing to make you any kind of kebab at any time of the day, not great for the diet but its hard to walk past 30 or 40 stores and not get a craving for one eventually. The guy I was hanging around with often remarked that he was eating because he had seen that many kebabs that even though he wasn’t hungry he wanted one!
With one eye on seeing the rest of Turkey and another eye on the calendar I decided i would leave Istanbul before new years rather than spend longer here with no real new years plans in place at the hostel. Lonely planet suggests that the endless travel agencies make it easy to travel throughout Turkey. This isn’t strictly true as they will pretty much do and say anything to get you to end up on their package tour regardless of what you actually want to do. After half a day of trying to organize something I found another guy that wanted to head off to the Gallipoli battlefields and despite the warnings of the travel agencies we got there just fine without them and decided to avoid the travel agencies from now on and organize what we could ourselves.