Turkey Diary Part 3: Istanbul
NOT YET FINISHED
Getting to Sultanhamet, Isatnbul
To get to Istanbul I took a 3 hour coach journey to Bandirma, and from there a 2 hour fast ferry. Alas you could not go on the outside of the ship, but I must admit to feeling quite excited when Istanbul's domes, minarets and mosques started to appear in the window.
I arrived at the ferryport at (from recollection) about 4:30 pm, it is not usually used by tourists and I had no idea how I was supposed to get to Sultanhamet (tourist and hostel area). There were about 30 bus bays and I didn't have a clue which was the right one or what the bus would say on it for destination. After attempting to ask a few bus drivers, both of us speaking our own language and waving our arms around, I eventually gathered that the bus I needed ran along the main road in front of the bus bays. I walked along the road until I found a bus-stop; luckily the 2nd person I spoke to spoke good English (a Turkish businessman who travels the world as a fishing consultant). He told me I only needed to go 2 stops on the bus then walk 500m uphill on the left. The buses reqd purchase of tickets before alighting but the businessman paid my fare on his card and refused to take any money (I only had large denom and dollars).
I arrived at Sukanamet in the park between the Blue Mosque and Sophia - fantastic introduction. I set down to catch my breath and work out where the street with a few cheap hostels and hotels. Two minutes later someone introduced himself and said he liked to practice his English with tourists. Although cynical I did chat to him after a while I told him I would have to go and book into a hostel. He showed me the road I wanted and said farewell i.e. he was perfectly genuine. I can't remember his name, only that he was a Kurd.
The third ho(s)tel I called at had a dorm bed. I guess it was run by devout Muslims - no alcohol on premises and muslim literature in English, and the manager once asked me to intercept anyone whilst he prayed. This place had the first hostel toilets I had come across without loo paper, on the doors were notes instructing you not to flush your own toilet paper down the toilet but put them in the bucket provided. As with most toilets in Turkey it incorporated a "bidet" squirty thing which I did have to resort to on one occasion when I forgot my paper.
The toilets were actually clean - far better than ones in a hostel down the road where some of us went to drink at a rooftop bar (Hi Maeve and Garvan - it was a good couple of nights). The other travellers were the usual international mix and included Danes off to Syraia for a documentary, a Columbian and someone from Tagikistan or Tazikstan.
The next morning I was befriended by another Kurdish student, but surprise - his cousin owned a carpet shop, which I must visit for a cup of cay (chi). I made it quite clear I wasn't buying but he insisted I went anyway, had my cup of tea met his cousin and left! People seem to like chatting in Istanbul these are Iraqis (still living in Baghdad.
Although the area is geared up for tourists it still retains its exotic wow factor - and you get a sense of the history of Constantinople/Bysantium/Istanbul. Did all the usual tourist stuff - my favourite was T Palace I wish I could have seen it 100 years ago during the time of the Ottoman empire. It's expensive to visit (don't bother paying for the treasury) but pay the extra for the Harem it is apparently well worth it but by the time I had seen the rest 3:30 pm they had closed entry to the Harem.
By the end of my stay in Istanbul my arms and legs looked like Baldricks in Blackadder i.e. lots of red boils courtesy of mosquitoes - okay I'm exaggerating a bit, but for some reason I am attracting them on this trip.