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Here, there, everywhere... A modest attempt at chronicling my around the world adventure over the next year (or so).

Part Asia, part Europe...all one great city

TURKEY | Thursday, 18 September 2008 | Views [627]

The Aydin family after lunch in their home.

The Aydin family after lunch in their home.

Istanbul was the final stop on our nearly three month journey around eastern Europe. We were excited to stay in Istanbul so we left four days in our schedule to tour the city. We were also very tired and exhausted from traveling so much that it seemed like a daunting task to see a city of over 16 million people in four days. We did our best and I left with a newly found interest in how Istanbul and Turkey exists in the world today.

Again we arrived on the overnight bus from Goreme in Cappadocia with two of our Aussie shipmates from the blue cruise. They had a hostel already booked we did not but had a few contenders from our guide book. We found a cheap and conveniently located hostel just down from the Blue Mosque and booked a night. We were hoping to couchsurf with a host in Istanbul but it never panned out so we ended up staying at this hostel for 4 nights. Not the cleanest or nicest hostel but the people were very nice and other travelers were more interested in exploring the city and sleeping then the inside of beer can.

Our first morning after checking in and storing our stuff we toured the famous Blue Mosque with all the other mobs of tourists that seem to arrive when we did. The Blue Mosque is arguably the most recognized mosque in the world and very beautiful inside. Having a requirement for ladies to cover their heads, shoulders and legs, and for men to cover their legs and everyone remove their shoes before entering, we were a little dismayed that we saw so many women with the head scarves removed once inside the mosque. Even though the Blue Mosque is still used daily as a place of worship it is more of a tourist attraction then anything else. We then wandered over to the AyeSophia which is directly across from the Blue Mosque. This is much more impressive inside and was actually built first as a Christian church before begin turned into a mosque after the Turks conquered Turkey and is now a museum since the 1950s. Because Islam forbids using images of living things in mosques, etc, all the religious icons in the AyeSophia were covered up, rather poorly in my opinion. We then left the AyeSophia for the hostel and a nap. Jessica napped while I showered and got things arranged in the hostel. During this time we were communicating with a Turkish guy who was trying to find us a host in Istanbul. He said he could not host us but wanted to meet the following day. We found dinner and crashed for the night with plans to visit the Grand Bazaar the next day.

The Grand Bazaar has been in existence since the 15th century as a place to sell your goods. It is unbelievably huge and hard to describe to someone who has not been there. There are 40 entrances, and so many different vendors you could spend weeks visiting everyone. The problem now is it has become mostly for tourists so everything is expensive and the shop keepers are constantly trying to sell you things. It is still worth a visit just to view the structure and see some interesting people. We did meet an older Turkish guy who had a stall that invited us in for tea while we waited to meet our couchsurfing friend Selim.

Selim was picking us up in his car his younger brother to tour Istanbul. Selim is 23 and his brother is 20 and neither have done much traveling. Selim was getting ready to tour Europe for two weeks and wanted to talk about Europe and practice his English. They asked us if we had eaten we said no and so he called his mom and they drove us to their house for lunch.

Turns out Selim’s dad owns a restaurant that the whole family works at but most were not eating because of fasting for Ramazan (Ramadan to most but Turks call it Ramazan). We felt bad that in the end we ate this fabulous lunch prepared by his mother with just his father because everyone else was fasting. Of course that did not last long as we dug into soup, pasta, stew, bread, salad and Fanta. It was an amazing lunch and they just kept feeding us and feeding us. No one else in the family really spoke English so Selim was the translator. Their hospitality for two people they had never met until that afternoon was so overwhelming it just amazed us. After lunch Selim and his brother drove us all around Istanbul which is a feat in itself because the traffic is horrendous. They also drove us to their uncle’s baklava shop and fed us four different kinds of the sticky sweet treat. We drove around some more and the traffic was so bad to get back to the Europe side that we took the ferry across the river. Then they drove us to a little spot along the sea where we watched the moon rise, drank some tea and talked about the world. The entire time they would not let us pay for anything, even as we protested. Their hospitality extended well beyond anything we had witnessed for a long time.

At the end of the evening, Selim had a football match to attend so after walking through the shopping district of Taksim we said our farewells. He was leaving for Europe on Monday and had lots to prepare on Sunday. His father had invited us to the restaurant on Monday for lunch. I am not sure if they thought we would actually return but they don’t know Jess and I because it was an offer we would not refuse. The next day we toured The Topkapi Palace which is absolutely huge and expensive. I opted out of the harem extra admission fee, Jess paid and enjoyed it but agreed that I would not have enjoyed it as much. We also walked around the city more and decided to take the public ferry up the Bosphorus on Monday to see some different areas of Istanbul before traveling to Selim’s family restaurant.

The next morning we got a late start and missed the ferry because the schedule changed from a summer to a winter time with only one a day instead of two. So we walked across the bridge to the Taksim shopping district on our way to the metro and the Aydin family restaurant. We arrived at the district where the restaurant was and it seemed like an area of Istanbul where most tourists do not venture. We found the restaurant which was a kebab shop tucked next to a larger restaurant and met the family. Selim was already gone to Europe by this time so we used our best Turkish and they drummed up a little English and we had a great time. I ate two wonderful kebabs, Jess had one, two glasses of fresh squeezed OJ and some tea. Of course when we tried to pay they would not even think of it. We took pictures and the father was so proud we had visited his restaurant he was tearing up as we said goodbye. It was one of the most endearing and heartfelt experiences I have ever had traveling, and really endeared me to the Turkish people.

At our hostel we met some Dutch girls who had cycled through Turkey and were headed to India to ride in a few weeks. They were very interesting and had traveled many places. We also met two French guys named Marc and Julian. They loved to talk about traveling and we shared Turkish breakfasts with them several times. One last thing about Istanbul they we observed in other large cities. The population of stray animals, in this case cats, was crazy. There were cats everywhere and most were malnourished and mangy looking but sweet if you paid them a little attention. They also would eat just about anything you would feed them like bread, cheese, and egg. Amazing that so many cities have not figured out how to keep their pet populations under control but I guess every place has its priorities. Our final day in Istanbul we just walked around and did a little shopping. Our plane was at 5:15pm so we caught the tram and metro to the airport a few hours early. Check-in at the airport was easy so we ate a little ice cream while waiting.

We were getting ready to end our journey of nearly three months and were both happy to return to a familar setting in Italy and sad that is was over. It seemed to go by very fast and I can almost not remember what we were doing just two months ago. For Jess it is back to school to finish her Masters in Italy. For me it is off to Asia for three months of what I believe will be a very different experience from that of Europe and the USA. So stay tuned to the blog, I arrive in Bangkok on September 24. Thanks for reading, I promise to be more vigilant about keeping it up to date but be patient. Ciao.

From Florence, Italy.      

Peace….

Michael

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