Istanbul. The city were east meets west and devided by the Bosphorus, it is a city were lots of things are happening. Once known as Constantinople and a lot of other names, it has a rich history and that becomes clear from the very beginning when you visit this city. It is a very dynamic city as well and there is lots to see. Wander around the old area of Sultanahmet or go visit some of the islands laying in the Bosphorus to escape the crowds. It is all there!
After staying a night in Tirana, we got to our first stop of the trip: Istanbul! Jenny had already been there, but for me it was the first time so I was pretty excited. We decided to stay for the weekend and take the train to Ankara on monday.
After our arrival I soon found out that I would create a love/hate relationship with this city. It started at our arrival at the airport where we had to take the ferry to the European side. When taking the ferry from the Asian side to the Beyoglu area, we had a beautiful view over the Topkapi palace and some big mosques in the old part of town. We were sitting in the middle of the ferry and I was planning to go outside to look at the view, but then something in front of me happened. Apperantly, the Turkish James Dean came to sit a couple of rows in front of us. With his nonchalant attitude, I was immediately smitten. Looking at him for a while, he finally looked back. He smiled. What do you do when a guy looks at you? Avoid all eye contact, so I looked away. When I looked back at him, he looked and smiled again. After doing that ritual for a while, I looked out of the window for a minute or two. Wrong choice, because he was gone when I looked back at the spot where he sat.
Okay, going outside it is then. Finding a good spot to watch the city go by, there was another guy standing next to me all of a sudden. He couldn’t speak any English, but wanted to chat with me and took out his phone to use google translate. Turned out only the first sentence was appropiate to say to a woman you just met. I cursed (can’t a girl just watch a beautiful view in peace? Apperantly not) and went quickly inside again. He walked after me and went to sit in front of us. I told Jenny about it, and it seemed he sat in between Turkish James and me the whole time and probably thought I was flirting with him. Bummer. After following us for a while he finally took off and we could get to our hostel.
It was clear that the Turkish men are just full on when traveling as a single woman through the country. Also when going out for dinner and walking around the old part, men can approach you quite agressive.
The first day we went to the old part of town to go to the Grand Bazaar. Being easily overwhelmed by busy areas it was quite the experience. Entering the narrow old streets close to the bazaar a lot was happening already. The noises, the smells, the colours, the people. Soon I decided to just take it all in without wanting to see too much for one day and just observe everything that was happening. While walking through these streets you will get into human traffic jams, salesmen try to pull you in to their stores, you smell at least ten different smells from sweet to spicy, you hear people yelling and see the most beautiful things that are for sale in the shops.
After ten minutes we reached the Grand Bazaar and it was time for some coffee and tea! Despite all the people we found a perfect spot in the middle of the old part of the bazaar to sit down for a while. After that we had a look around and the most beautiful stuff is being sold. We bought way too much (expensive) Turkish Delight and after a while we decided it was time for something else.
Because a visit to Istanbul wouldn’t be complete without a visit to an old Turkish hamam. Located near the Grand Bazaar there was an old traditional one that looked good. It sure was a welcoming change to the busy bazaar! We indulged ourselves in the sauna, foam and honey massages, cold baths and hot showers…good stuff!
As our hostel was located in the Beyoglu area, we had to explore this part of the city as well. It is crowded as well, but here the locals hang out so you can experience the city in a more authentic way. I thougt this area was way better than the old part of town actually. I wandered around Taksim square and the main street. Went into a couple of nice side streets and ended up at Galata. Especially the Galata part was very charming. At the end of my trip I would find a hostel located here, so more about that later.
A good place to have some drinks is the Algerian or French street in the Beyoglu area. It is basically a steep long street that is full of nice cafes and bars and was a good place to end our first day in the city.
The second day we decided to split up as Jenny wanted tot go to the Modern Art museum and I wanted to see the rest of the old part. There were a couple of things on my list: Topkapi palace, Hagia Sofia, the Cistern and the Blue Mosque. I ended up only seeing the Hagia Sofia. There were just so many people around and huge queues everywhere. I didn’t feel like standing in line all day and instead of running around like some hysterical tourist, I decided to just walk around and enjoy the city itself. The Hagia Sofia was beautiful though!
After that I strolled around the city, had a Turkish tea at Serbethane and went back to the newer part of town.
As I was going to go back to Istanbul on the way back I was pretty satisfied about the first days here, despite not seeing a lot. It is nice to just observe a city like this first for a couple of days and after that visit all the sights the city has to offer. So I was pretty dazed and confused about the city (and even writing this blog post), and love it and hate it at the same time. I was wondering how I would feel about it the next time I would visit.
The next day we went to the train station to get to Ankara!