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Tonielle's European Adventure "It's always better on holiday, so much better on holiday. That's why we only work when... we need the money." - Franz Ferdinand

London to Istanbul - West to East

TURKEY | Wednesday, 14 October 2009 | Views [1034]

After almost three months in Lagos, Portugal working behind a Portuguese bar, I left the warm beautiful beaches (where I’d only seen rain twice) to get on a plane that landed in a rainy, cold London.

I spent a week here, staying with Leah who I met in Lisbon and went down to Lagos with. We get on like a house on fire, so I had a great time with her. The first night I arrived was Leah’s birthday, so we went out that night to a great Mexican restaurant in Covent Garden with some of her housemates and friends.

The next few days were spent trying to track down someone from the Italian Embassy to enquire about a visa – I had a flight to Naples booked for the following day. But alas, it seemed it wasn’t to be, and so I researched countries I could visit outside the Schengan zone, and came up with Turkey. That night I met up with Antony, my first friend from home I had seen since I left five months ago. It was great to catch up with him over a few pints of Magners.

The rest of the time went very quickly with house parties, random bus rides to Elephant and Castle (a town in London), and lots of Scrubs and Friends on tv.

I flew out of London at 6am (meaning I left Leah’s at 3am) and arrived at Istanbul at midday. The view from the bus into the city was pretty chaotic with crazy driving, men on the highway selling water and bread rings, and extremes between built up areas with houses on top of each other, to expanses of nothing. By the time I got to the hostel, I was pretty shattered, so I had a nap, only to be woken at 4pm by the call to prayer from the mosque. Four times a day, a very loud “Call to Prayer” is sung in mosques throughout Turkey, and played through loudspeakers off the mosque towers to call the Muslims to the mosque to pray. As we found out the next morning, the first one of the day is at 6am, and usually woke everyone in the hostel up every morning.

The first night was great fun in the hostel. I got back into the backpacking swing of things and started talking to the only other guy at the bar, which after a couple of hours of wine and kebabs, ended up with a table of about 15 of us, swapping stories and passing around the shisha pipe. Shisha is basically flavoured tobacco smoked out of a water pipe. Its very popular in the middle east – which I found out I am now in!

The next day, after hostel breakfast (which consisted mostly of bread, white cheese, tomato, cucumber and boiled eggs), two girls from the hostel – Sarah and C….. and I made our way through town to the Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is one of the oldest marketplaces in the world, and is HUGE! We spent over four hours in there, and we still didn’t see it all.

I had to start getting harassed by local men again (reminded me a lot of the Philippines) and because we were three girls together, we got an awful lot of attention. Most shop keepers would spot us a mile off, and start yelling hello, good morning, where are you from, you are beautiful, are you angels… to us. You would also get hilarious comments like “are you charlies angels?”, or we walked past a rug shop with the man trying to get us in, and went into the next shop which was selling jewellery and he said “I wish I was selling jewellery”.

After lunch of more kebabs and managing to barter for a scarf from 65lira to 25lira, and a anklet from 40 lira down to 25lira, I was pretty happy, and left the girls to visit the Blue Mosque – the biggest mosque in Istanbul.

What an amazing building. I also loved the ritual before entry – taking off your shoes and covering your head and shoulders with a scarf. It was huge, covered in ornate pattern, with lush Turkish carpet between your toes. There was low hanging lights throughout the building with a barrier between the praying area, and the visitors area.

Afterwards I tried to walk back to the hostel, only to get pretty lost in town, not worried that I could get too far away, I enjoyed seeing different streets of the Sultanahmet area, before I eventually got back. I realized I had got rusty in being able to get myself around a new place from being practically a local in Lagos.

That night, a group of us decided to be brave and try a Turkish bath. With Sarah and C…….. we headed into the bath, with only a towel wrapped around us, to a room with a huge round stone in the middle, heated like a sauna, with about 15 women lying on their towels half naked, and half with knickers on. We felt a bit ripped off since no one had told us we could wear undies, so we put our towels down and layed naked on the stone. We were there for maybe five minutes, when one of the ladies threw us a pair of knickers each, meaning we had to then stand up and put them on in front of everyone. By this stage, I’d gotten over the shock and embarrassment of being naked in a room full of women and was almost disappointed that I could put undies on.

After another five minutes of heating up lying on the stone, one of the women tapped me and lead me over to another part of the stone where I layed down, and she proceeded to wash and scrub me. They had this kind of soapy mesh that when they put it through the water it created thousands of bubbles, where she then used her hands to scrub you down, then you turned over and they did the same again, definitely not shy to also massage your breasts (I’ve had a Philippino woman do this before, so it didn’t overly concern me this time). They then get you to sit up and they do your arms and rinse you off with buckets of water.

The woman then took me into one of the side alcoves and sat me down on the tiles next to a water basin to wash my hair and do a final rinse off. By this time, I met up with the girls again, and we all went into the next room where the hot bath was. The size of a small pool, the bath was so hot, I only managed to stay in there for five minutes or so. By the end of the hour, it was totally normal to be walking around with a group of women topless and it had a bit of a sisterhood feeling to it, women of all nationalities, shapes and sizes together.

Feeling fabulously clean and chilled out, we headed back to the hostel to tell everyone about it – the guys enjoying the re-account a little too much. We then headed out to a big group hostel dinner, about 10 of us, to a restaurant down the road, where they organized to get us 10% off and free apple tea and shisha at the end of the meal. We were by far the roudiest table in the restaurant, getting evil looks from the other diners, but we had a great time. We continued on when we got back to the hostel and ended up in bed well after 2am.

The next day, I went into town with Mike (a guy from the hostel) and checked out the Aya Sofia – which was pretty amazing. It is a huge old cathedral that was converted into a mosque, so you can see crosses painted over on the ceilings, and Christian mosaics plastered over – only revealed after the mosque was converted again into a museum. Afterwards, picking up another chick Sheryn, we made our way to the Spice Bazaar, on the Bosphorus River – getting ridiculously hassled to pick somewhere for lunch. It was amazing the different way you are treated in town when you’re walking with a male – they’re a Turkish man repellent. When Mike was walking with the two of us girls, he was getting comments like “lucky man”… hilarious.

The Spice Bazaar was pretty fun – complete with Turkish Baklava Viagra! I did get a heap of Turkish Delight which was delicious and then walked back through town to visit the Bacilica Cistern. This was a built way back as a water store for times of siege and during tough summers. It has since been restored several times and is now a fantastic attraction in town. It’s lit up by red lights, giving it a dramatic feeling, walking through the maze of columns on a boardwalk, with fish swimming in the shallow water underneath. When you got to the back corner, there were two statues of Medusa’s head underneath two columns… no one knowing how they got there. I really enjoyed walking through there, playing with the settings on my camera to get some great shots.

My last day in town, I spent the morning riding a ferry up the Bosphorus with a couple from the hostel – basically just a few hours enjoying a new view of the city, swapping stories, and getting rained on for lunch. That afternoon I battled through the rain (without an umbrella) and I went through the old palace which was ridiculously ornate and extravagant. Cloth made with gold thread inlaid with rubies and emeralds, huge gold thrones with massive gems in them, gold everywhere! It was interesting to walk through, but I was wet, cold… and after an hour of battling through crowds to look at a crown behind glass, I decided to head back to the hostel.

That night, I met up with Harris, an aussie guy I met back in Lisbon and caught up on the goss over a wine and a game of backgammon (which I won, by the way), and then headed into town, over the bridge to his mate’s restaurant. I didn’t even see a menu, he just starting putting stuff on the table… and it was all delicious! They had a live traditional Turkish band playing, and I had a great night – well overspent my budget – but we were there till 1am, and then went on a mission to find Taxim Square (the night district). There were hundreds of people down the main “mall” street – it reminded me a lot of The Valley actually. We had a drink and watched the world go by, before we got a worrying taxi back to my hostel, and then Harris attempted the journey back to his place by himself… I was happy to hear he made it back ok.

A 7am bus the next morning was hating me, on the way to Gallipoli… but loved Istanbul, and will be back there before I leave Turkey.

Photos: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2021424&id=219300161&l=9e754c16c1

Tags: aya sophia, bacilica cistern, blue mosque, bosphorus, grand bazaar, istanbul, london, taxim square, turkey

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