Istanbul, Turkey

Tuesday 26th June

You see some funny things in Turkey. For example, pink is a nice colour in all its variations; pink, puce, purple, violet and so on. That is, until you paint it on a 3 storey building which is quite common practice here. Also, they love washing bus windows with an invention they must have adopted from Steve, the ‘ideas man’ from ‘The Castle’. Yes, they have perfected the ‘hose tied to the broom’ trick up and down the whole of the west coast of Turkey. And, have you ever though that you would need a one to two foot high, iridescent white statue of a chicken or swan with bright orange highlights? You can have your pick of hundreds from here at various points along the highway, in the middle of nowhere, between Bodrum and Istanbul. It’s as if there was an over-run of concrete supply one day and they had to put it to some use. The mind just boggles at how they must have decided on what percentage to pour as swans vs chickens. Are these some kind of sacred animals here that I missed reading about when I was researching Turkey? Please help if you can enlighten me. Bus travel is entertaining as well. Our 5 hr trip today from Canakkale to Istanbul did not disappoint. The bizarre events started when we were greeted onto the bus by two boys wearing black pants and long sleeve white shirts complete with bow ties. Not what you expect in 380C heat. From that point on it was sort of like a Qantas flight with a twist. The boys came down the aisle with refresher tonic (kind of like 4711) that they would squirt into your palms. This was followed by a cold drink of water and, this was closely followed by the trolley with tea, coffee, soft drink and snacks. Once this finished the whole procedure was repeated until we got to Istanbul. There was a real ‘Fawlty Towers’ feel to the whole trip.

Turkish people are really friendly. They leave the Moroccans, Spaniards, French, Italians and Greeks for dead, something that I did not expect. The Moroccan Muslims would all look at you like you were George W’s first cousin but the Turks love the Aussies, in spite of the WW1 history. They take a very philosophical spin on the whole event by recognising that lives were lost from both sides and that there was as much lost as won even on the Turkish front. They have especially fond memories of acts of bravery and mate-ship displayed by the Anzacs. They proudly recount stories of the Aussies sharing their food, cigarettes, chocolate and milk with the Turkish forces and even the entertainment they offered at night by singing for them. We have had some really nice experiences with the local people from Selcuk, Canakkale and Istanbul. We have made a friend in Simon from Canakkale who is going to visit when he comes out to Australia next year…they are that kind of people.

We made it to our Istanbul hotel by 3pm and the shuttle driver took us to our hotel. He was only meant to drop us in the local square…more genuine hospitality. We are in a nice boutique garden (Ottoman) hotel located in the Old Town, walled part of the city area called ‘Sultanahmet’. Most of the places we have stayed in at Turkey have had hamam style bathrooms and, if I ever get a chance to do up another bathroom it will be in this style. We are only a 5 min walk to the key sites of the Blue Mosque, Hippodrome, Topkapi Palace and the incredible Hagia Sophia and, only a few minutes away from the cool waters of the Bosphorus. We had a nice meal out on our first night and have found all the local shop keepers to be very friendly, especially once they realise that we are Australians. We went to bed having very good vibes about this place already.

Wednesday 27th June

I always love breakfast on the first morning at any new hotel. You get a chance to see if anyone else is staying there at all, hopefully reinforcing that you haven’t booked a dud. You also get to see what type of people are staying there and, since they are obviously on the same wavelength as yourself, it is kind of like getting a look at yourself from an outer perspective. This morning was reassuring for us though. The garden was full of normal to interesting looking people. There were also other nutters like myself working or blogging on their laptops. One friendly, older lady from Perth introduced us to the hotel cat, a large marmalade called Jasper, who had taken my seat whilst I was getting some fruit. When asked what the highlight of Istanbul was for her she did not hesitate, ‘the people of course’. Like us, she has found the folk here to be genuinely friendly and interested in you and not merely preoccupied about how much money they can make from you.

We eventually set out by 9am to catch the tram up to the Grand Bazaar. This area is the largest and most famous souq in the world, a covered market comprising over 4000 shops, many air-conditioned, and several kilometers of winding lanes. I had advised Mark about the warning given in the Lonely Planet; ‘you have to be in a good mood to cope with this experience’. So, suitably prepared we went in. We spent several hours there and emerged with shopping in hands, still talking to each other and all in a good mood, even Mark! Annabelle and I are going to back without the boys though later in the week. The shopping is amazing and the experience a pleasurable one with the store owners being friendly, on for a chat and with a keen sense of humour.

From the Bazaar we headed to the Spice Markets. This is another covered market where you can procure anything from spices, herbs, powders, soaps, oils, fragrances, nuts, honey and so on. We only bought some cinnamon, chicken spice and apple tea as we were unsure whether it would all simply end up in the home of some Aussie Customs dude. After that, it was back to the hotel for a well earned rest.

The Blue Mosque is just around the corner from our hotel so we headed out to inspect this at about 5pm. This Mosque is so named because of the all the blue tiles lining the inside of the building and was completed in 1616. We were aware that we had to visit in between prayer time so, we were a bit disappointed when we heard the Call to Prayer broadcast just as we approached the site. Anyway, for some unknown reason this uni student waiting on the steps organised to gain us entrance. We were rather lucky as we got to see inside the Mosque and watch the ancient prayer ritual. It was a rather busy affair with men rushing in and out throughout the whole service and although solemn, it was not a peaceful service.

We then headed out for dinner before turning in for a rather early night.

Thursday 28th June

Today goes down as a good day. We have been very busy and are all a bit tired though.

Morning: The Basilica Cistern: the largest one out of a couple of hundred underground water reservoirs built around 500AD.

Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art: a bit disappointing…not a patch on the Lourve

Afternoon: Bosphorus and Golden Horn Cruise: Cruise around Golden Horn, water between old and new Istanbul, so named due to the shape of the land at this point. Water to the east is called Bosphorus which is from Greek mythology meaning ‘cow passage’. Long story…don’t ask. We sailed north towards Black Sea viewing European Istanbul on our left and Asian Istanbul on our right.

PM: Dinner at Café Mesale and home early to have a bottle of wine and to blog!

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