I will add photos to the post once I get some more solid wifi
Istanbul has got to be one of my favourite cites in the world and I only managed to see about 15 percent of it, probably the most interesting 15 percent however. The old city of Istanbul is dripping with atmosphere, specially when I saw it first, which was just as night fell on a Friday in Ramadan. Things started well when we managed to get to the Kalyon hotel easily after fighting through the stop go traffic in the city. The hotel I had chosen was built into the ancient city walls so Nelson was parked up nose in to the ruins of the wall, with 24hr security I felt safe to leave him there for two days and we unpacked into four star luxury for a change. When we got to the room and opened the curtains planning had again paid off with a nice view of the Aya Sofia or the Blue Mosque at first we were not sure which. A Lonely Planet tip off took us to the rooftop terrace of the Four Seasons hotel for a beautiful view of the sun setting on the Bosporus River one way and the Mosque the other way, hard to beat for one hour into the city experience.
As it was already 9pm we settled for a garden table and an all you can eat buffet of Turkish food at the four seasons with helpful guidance from the staff we worked our way, in a culinary sense, around Turkey – recommended were the little puff pastry parcels and the multiple grilled meats, names all long forgotten but washed down in my case with cups of strong black tea in glasses.
Later that evening, wandering between the beautiful and majestic Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia the park area was thronged with crowed of mostly local people celebrating the breaking of the Ramadan fast with picnics on the grass, whole families or groups of families happily set up camp with flasks of tea and food filling the air with laughter and chatter. It was one of the most friendly and comfortable crowd events I have been a part of and the atmosphere was made almost magical with the call to prayer ringing out from the minarets in the warm summer air. The whole experience would bring any person closer to any higher power that they happened to believe in, for me it was a magical moment.
Oddly, as I am not a Muslim nor do I have any intention of adopting conventional religion, I find the call to prayer, which is heard all over the Muslim world, a very comforting and even homely sound. In my mind it is associated with ancient civilization, community and generous hospitality so when I hear it I feel that the cloak of all that history is protective and reassuring for the traveller.
The next day was spent touring the two Mosques we had seen from the outside the night before, the grand bazzar, spice market and the magnificent Topkapi palace. I really liked this experience as, unlike Venice or Dubrovnick, there was nothing of the Disney attraction about this place, it is a real working city and the businesses of the bazzar is to sell things as much to local people as to tourists. To my mind having some tourism is fine, even a benefit, as you get the facilities of English speaking staff, ATM’s and menus you can read (at a price) but too much tourist content in a place spoils a city and takes away its authentic nature. The bazzar of Istanbul and the streets of Istanbul still have that lived in buzz of reality which makes the experience for me.
There are of course the carpet sellers and restaurant touts here in Istanbul, they are persistent but friendly and cheeky, so if you are in good mood you can get a little banter going if you are clear in your own mind that you are not buying it is fun. I did admire the opening “excuse me but where are you from?” its almost impossible not to answer that one and I will use it myself as an easy icebreaker from here on!
I shall not say much about the palaces and the mosques – there are super illustrated web pages and guide books for that if the reader is interested – but I will report that it is possible to be mosaiced out, if that is a thing, just as it is possible to get painting fatigue in the Louvre and want a coffee and a bun instead. The Topkapi palace was a highlight with the stories of harems and sultans enough to kick off naughty daydreaming in most men, I could probably manage a few days of being a Sultan before I got bored with being stuck in the palace…..
On the last evening we went to a crazy and fun fish restaurant overlooking the sea. We had one of those cultural gaffs that happens when travelling when I helped myself to some very lovely lobster that had been placed in front of us only to find it was the job of the very stern waiter to put the lobster piece by piece on the places and add just the right amount of sauce to each piece, this went on for four courses and we had to wait for the nod of the head before tucking in to what was absolutely beautiful food. One of the best fish restaurants we have eaten in and a super setting allowing us to see the crowds at the mosques again and to even spot a whirling dervish.
Setting off on the final day Lee and I went our separate ways, I am now on a ferry in the sea of Marmaras heading to Ephesus and Lee should be boarding her four hour flight back to Edinburgh after a trip which took in Venice, Dubrovnic, Croatian beaches and waterfalls, the mountains of Albania (favourite), Montenegro, Macedonia, Greece and finally Galipoli and Istanbul in Turkey – not a bad collection for a two week trip!
I now have four weeks of solo travelling through Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakstan before I pick her up again in Almaty for the run to Russia and Mongolia – if all goes well or as is said locally – God Willing !