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The Big O.E An epic adventure across the world, backpacker style :)

Istanbul

TURKEY | Sunday, 15 June 2008 | Views [729]

Sunset over Istanbul

Sunset over Istanbul

Ok, so I have some ground to make up here! This is my impression of Istanbul six weeks after we were there, written from my comfy bed in an English manor house. Luckily, the geek in me kept a diary during our travels, so at least some of it will be authentic "of the moment" thoughts!

The first thing that struck me after we crossed from Asia to Europe on the ferry (incidentally, Istanbul is the only city in the world that straddles two continents) was that Turkey really is a secular country. After weeks of staunchly Islamic countries, we were bemused to see women without head scarves. And I found myself tut tutting at tourists daring to expose their shoulders and calves - only to find that they were locals!! Six weeks in Muslim countries and I had turned into a conservative grandmother wearing high necked shirts and keeping all skin covered at all times. Three days in Istanbul and I was back into t-shirts and 3/4 pants. It took another two weeks for my brain to adjust back into the mindset that bikinis are acceptable swim wear though!!

Turkey shares borders with Greece, Bulgaria, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria. So many different influences - a fascinating mix. So we both expected Turkey's biggest city to be an interesting place. And it truly was. Nowhere in all our travels had we seen such a mixture of people. Sitting in the gardens outside the mosque of Aya Sofia there were Russians, Turks, Brits, Gypsies, Kiwis, Iranians, Japanese, French, Poles and Italians - just to name a few. This has got to be tourism at its best - people from all over the world, with different cultures, languages and religions, all coming together to admire the same impressive mosque and share in the history of another country. Perhaps this will be the path to world peace?!

Istanbul was also the place we said goodbye to the group we travelled with from Cairo. Goodbye English speakers, hello independent travel on a budget. We found a bed in a semi-clean room in the centre of the old town. No fan though. Quite a challenge to sleep in an oven. It must have been 38 degrees in our room at night. We drank huge 5 litre bottles of water in 24 hours.

As a goodbye thing, we had dinner over the sea and were treated to an amazing sunset (the one you can see here). Then we took our group leader Sakai to a bar in the new town. What a pumping atmosphere on a Friday night! Thousands of people out for a good time filled the streets. And those streets had a distinct European flavour to them, with Starbucks, H&M, fairy lights and clean, flat paving stones on the ground. We managed to find the bar Sakai wanted, have a token drink, and then we left him there with gay abandon (that's a pun).

In between siestas, we did lots of sweaty walking in the old town, window shopping (is it window shopping when the shops don't have windows?) We visited the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar, which is an entire city of covered markets and it's got to be where the Middle East goes to buy diamonds. Speaking of diamonds, we went to Topkapi Palace and saw a few that rivalled the Crown jewels in London. Unbelievable treasures - like a solid gold sofa/throne completely encrusted with diamonds, rubies, emeralds and pearls. I think that one came from India and there were amazing gems from Persia (now Iran) as well.

James' favourite thing was the 'ekmek balik salata' for 3 lira. It's basically a barbecued fresh fish sandwich drenched in lemon juice. And you eat it under a bridge while the fishermen dangle their lines into the sea. You watch the ferries crossing and we even saw little dolphins playing and stealing the fish off the fishermens' lines before they had a chance to reel the fish in! Not a bad meal for three NZ dollars.

My favourite Turkish delight (ha ha) were the super sweet, sticky, tiny little pretty pastries covered in nuts and honey. A few of those babies with a little cup of Turkish coffee - mm mm!

 

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