May 18, 2013 by brasiersarah
Istanbul, what can I say? I feel like I’ve cheated on all the other cities I’ve visited in my travels and had an adulterous love affair with you. A beautiful clash of the east and the west, this city oozes class which forces a humble backpacker to blend in with the local bums. Quite quickly you notice that the majority of people conducting their everyday lives in the streets of Istanbul dress immaculately. You see a wide range of fashions ranging from the latest scantly clad western trends, to the little more conservative chic fashions paired with headscarfs and a pair heels or converse hi tops, right up to full pitch black burqa coverage.
*Note: Just so everyone’s clear about Rhidian’s sexual orientation, I actually wrote a bit of this blog post, no he doesn’t possess such an extensive fashion vocabulary, this was just my input. This is the first city I can see myself living in, with clubs open to all hours of the morning and Kebab stores on every corner, its a drunk man’s dream. But I found this love before the pubs and clubs, I found it in the smiles of the locals and antique shops on pebbled paved side streets. We spent about two weeks all up in this beautiful city, hence the size of this blog post. That’s the longest we’ve spent in once place since we left Australia so it really felt like a home away from home, especially thanks to the people we met here. Who smokes more than a Turk?….. Two Turks! And for every cigarette that is lit a simple glass of çay (pronounced chai) is sourced from one of the many çay vendors dotted throughout the streets to accompany it. It started as one of those obligatory local customs but then spiralled out of control into a full blown addiction. All I could think about when I was drinking çay, was the next çay, I couldn’t stop myself from obsessing over them. And just when you’re not thinking about having a çay, a friendly local approaches you and insists you join them to drink yet another çay, and how can you turn them down? They’re beautiful people.This was about the moment Sarah lost her shit and I knew all plans were off that day. The Grand Bazaar is truly grand, amassing bits and bobs from all the regions in Turkey into one spot. The Grand Bazaar comprises of 61 covered streets and over 3,000 shops attracting between 250,00 and 400,000 of human traffic a day!India has cows, Cambodia has dogs, Vietnam has……… Well Vietnam doesn’t have anything because they were all served up at the local restaurants. What I’m trying to say is that cats are Turkeys trademark animal especially in Istanbul. The people love them and everyday cats wake up to a meal somewhere in the street. Consistently, down the little streets you walk it warms the heart to see little piles of cat biscuits and old yoghurt containers filled with water, left out by the locals to feed all the hungry mouths that may not have a warm cushioned basket or owner to go home to. Every cat seemed to have it’s own personality. This cat caught our eye for obvious reasons. I have never really been a cat person, unless I’m watching hilarious clips of them on youtube, but it’s hard not come to love all the many different felines roaming around Istanbul. Built in 528 as a light house the Galata Tower for the most part was used for spotting fires until one day it was severely damaged by a fire. Can you believe that? Irony reached its peak that day. Between 1612-1640 it’s said that Hezarfen Ahmet çelebi made artificial wings and flew from this tower over the Bosphorus to the Asian side of Istanbul more than 6 kilometres away. God knows why he wanted to go to the Asian side….. but whatever? (Eren and Semih you know what we’re talking about)The view doesn’t get much better from the Galata Tower giving you the perfect panoramic shot of Istanbul…. Just didn’t have to tripod to execute it. The Blue Mosque, also known as Sultan Ahmet Mosque, is one of the most amazing places I have seen. Mostly a tourist spot more than a local place of worship it’s only outdone by its rival across the road the Hagia Sophia. These are the beautiful gardens surrounding the Blue Mosque. Gardens like this and vibrant beds of Tulips are brilliantly executed all over the city and is one of the things that gives Istanbul is warm and cheerful aesthetic. Inside the Blue Mosque. The Istanbul Modern was an fascinating art gallery full of recent cultural pieces tackling the contemporary issues of Istanbul, trying to find its identity as a European city in a Muslim state. It also housed shocking photo exhibitions on “Power” and of course some great modern art, hence the name. Our awesome Couch Surfing host Eren took us here and waited patiently was we crawled at a snails pace from one piece to the next. Eren then took us out to the best place in town for Baklava, a traditional Turkish desert. On our way he told us “if you don’t like the Baklava here you won’t like it anywhere”. The crowds at this place speak for themselves, there was a good reason this place is always packed.And sure enough we loved it! The paper thin pastry with a rich caramel taste most sprinkled with crushed pistachios came in a variety of different flavours, all of them just delicious or “lezzetli” as you would describe it in Turkish. Backgammon and a shisha is a must in Istanbul with all the flavours you can think of. This is the Hagia Sofia one of the most marvellous places I have ever been to. It’s right up there with the Taj and Ankor Wat, each attraction having a different spell of their own to cast on you. Unfortunately there are constant renovations being done and you will always miss out on something inside the mosque. What we saw was amazing enough to quench our thirsts for breathtaking design and architecture, it didn’t matter that half of it was covered in scaffolding. Dinner on a rooftop terrace in Sultanhamet, and the picture below is the view as you look out over the balcony just past where we were sitting. Perfect place to catch up on some blogging and chug down a cold “Efes”.The Blue Mosque was quite a controversy when it was revealed to the public because it had six minarets and the only other place that had six minarets was the Kaaba in Mecca, only the holiest place on earth for Muslims. So to overcome this problem the Sultan ordered a seventh minaret to be built at the Mecca Mosque, so he could have his desired six without offending anyone.Off we went to to princes Island. The Princes Islands consists of four magical islands where the government has ordered that apart from the councils vehicles, no others are allowed on the island, making a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of Istanbul. Riding or walking leisurely around the one of the Islands is a nice way to spend a sunny day, and we chose our day perfectly, blue skies and 30 degrees. A funny little feathered friend we found perched on the Island. Istanbul pictured in the Background. This is Eren (left) and Semih (right). Eren was kind enough to host us for over a week in Istanbul and we couldn’t have been luckier. He took us out partying until 8 in the morning and gave us invaluable local information on Turkey, helped us form our Turkey Itinerary and became our good mate. I can honestly say that we owe a big part of our trip in Turkey to him. His two house mates were awesome and we can’t wait to catch up with them again when we head back to Istanbul and hopefully when they come to Australia.Before Semih had to leave Istanbul and go back to work he suggested we all go for dinner and a proper Rakı experience at his favourite place to see all of Istanbul. The view did not disappoint and with good people, beautiful environment and good food, it was just perfect. Not long ago the President of Turkey announced Ayran to be the national drink of Turkey, a watered down yogurt refreshment. But this is contested strongly by many of the locals because they believe that Rakı is the national drink. It’s a strong anise flavoured drink that eventually grows on you. But it’s really not about the taste, it’s the experience you have with it. It’s not some regular hip flask drink but is meant to be enjoyed with good friends over good food. We met up with some of Erens friends and had a few beers and nibbled on sunflower seeds in the park. They brought this cute little colour wheel just for fun.Naturally these kind of things attract children passing by. We managed to snag this little girl, she approached us and was chatting to our Turkish speaking friends about various things. Funniest thing was she would block her ears every time we started to talk english, she was hilarious kid stating “I’m always angry” when we asked what was wrong. Erens pad was one of the best places we have stayed, better than most places we have paid for in fact. It was a sad day when we left but we knew in our hearts that we were defiantly coming back so it didn’t feel so bad. See you soon Istanbul!