Travel Stories - East meets West - ISTANBUL

Travel Stories - East meets West - ISTANBUL

I have been fortunate to do many trips in the decade of my 30's. Following on from a recent decision I made (see the post "Dress for the job you want") I am going to be sharing some of the writing that I did on and about my travels while I was in my thirties, as I continue to do more "travel blogging" going forward. These would either have appeared on my Facebook page, or as emails that I wrote at the time of the trips, along with pictures that I would have taken at the time. Reading them back, I can see areas which could do with improvement, however my memory of the trips doesn't allow for such augmentation, so I will simply bear these points in mind for the future. So here goes - my trip to Istanbul. I was here for a "long" weekend, so I did not elaborate on everything we saw, but it was definitely a fun trip. Here goes...

This trip has definitely raised a lot of questions for me – right from the time I got to the airport to begin my travels. How had I ended up in business class yet again? Had I inadvertently booked it (and paid for it? I hope not!) How did I end up in the seat next to a weapons inspector for the UN discussing a breach in a weapons embargo, artillery and the situation in Darfour (3 subjects where my knowledge is sadly lacking). Why did he only have 8 teeth… and so on… Upon arriving at the airport though – only 2 questions mattered to me: (1) is Britain the only country where people know how to form an orderly queue (smug look) and (2) Where in the world was my passport!!! I would only have one of those questions answered for me - fortunately it was the more important one and I was able to enter Turkey – passport in hand. It was nothing like Torquay. On the way in we drove past several beautiful mosques and buildings and I could feel my camera in my bag – it was going to be a good weekend. 

I arrived at the hotel 5oda – a small central hotel with friendly hosts – and settled in while I waited for Karen to arrive and once she made it over from Bonny Bonn we headed out for something to eat. The buzz was instantaneous. We ventured up the main pedestrianised street which ran between the Galata tower and Taksim square. It was late at night, but the street was alive with people and trams and live music, with the smell of roasted chestnuts and Turkish sweets in the air. We wandered up the busy street, narrowly avoiding being run over by a tram, and several taxis (who it would appear have little respect for pedestrians) before being hauled down a side street and into a cute little Turkish restaurant where we had a large (and most delicious) mezze. 

Friday morning saw the arrival of one another one of the girls, and after a lazy morning and breakfast brought upstairs to our room, we left the hotel to explore. We were in quite a good central location, in the midst of a modern hub. Just a 5 minute walk from the hotel, and we were on a busy shopping street. Scattered between the local vendors and market stalls were the familiar faces of Starbucks, Accesorise and Lush, while down the side streets were the smaller, locally owned shops with handmade jewellery, scarves, nuts, fish and Turkish delight to mention a few. We climbed the Galata tower for a great view of the city including the older part of the city, as well as a view of the rooftop apartment that Sadya instantly claimed for her own. We spent the rest of the day wandering around the local area, and managed to taste some Turkish pastries and coffee before the other arrived, and a few of the group headed for the local hammam and Turkish baths, before venturing out for a late dinner at one of the local fish restaurants. 

Saturday was packed with sightseeing. Karen and I started the day early with a quick trip over the bridge into the old city, where we visited the Topkapi palace. The grounds were beautiful, with tulips of every colour growing, and the only thing that outnumbered the colourful tulips growing everywhere were the hoards of people flocking to see the ancient Turkish artefacts.

In addition – Karen and I got pap’d! Looking glamorous (as always) Karen and I were mistaken for celebrities (not sure which ones) by a group of teenage Turkish students who were absolutely desperate to have their photos taken WITH US!! They ran up to us as we were having a “photo shoot” by the Tulips and with their limited English, asked us to take a photo – we thought they wanted us to take a photo of them, but as it turned out they wanted their photos taken with us! They got very excited, and using cameras and mobile phones, took their pictures with us singly and in groups for several minutes. Ah – how the other half live!! We did a quick tour round the palace grounds, and then went off to meet the others for some more touring and sightseeing around the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofya. The Blue Mosque was a gorgeous building inside and out, and we spent a few minutes inside looking at the architecture. We also took some photos outside, and yet again we were joined by complete strangers who wanted to have their picture taken with us! 

We went off to the Aya Sofya next. The building was originally a Catholic church that was converted into a mosque, but now isn’t used as either – instead it is a museum. A long day of sightseeing left us thirsty, so we met a friend of the group – a Turk – and went to a café where I had a most excellent chocolate brownie and latte complete with a chocolate spoon! With our energy renewed, he directed us to the Grand bazaar for a spot of shopping (and of course my "FAVOURITE pastime" – haggling!) Those of you familiar with my travels know how I feel about haggling. I managed to escape without buying anything. The Grand Bazaar was a place where the price tags were about as useless as a chocolate teapot (at this point I should note that I found the chocolate spoon very useful… but I digress!!) Karen was successful in haggling her way to a new jacket, even though I was left with the feeling that we could have gone slightly lower, despite the shopkeeper’s insistence that what she paid was his cost price! 

Sunday brought with it sunshine – the perfect backdrop for the Bosphorus cruise. Karen and I managed to catch the early boat, and took the scenic cruise down the river – thoroughly relaxing – and then made a stop North of the town centre at a local “beach” area. We wandered around the town for a couple of hours which was great, and got a good glimpse of everyday Turkish life and had an altogether more relaxed day than the previous had been, and then back on the boat, and back for some last minute souvenir purchases and lie down before dinner. We had dinner at a packed restaurant where I was finally able to try the famous Turkish pizza, and then off for dessert and coffee at a nearby Turkish bakery – what a nice way to end a great weekend!