Turkey: Istanbul

After six weeks in Africa on what I came to think of as the ‘plague truck’ and not getting ill, I was most dismayed to develop a cold and cough a couple of days into our stay in Istanbul. I didn’t really get the most out of the city, particularly since we stayed an extra two nights after Nikki and Leigh left, just to see more stuff. Still, we did make it to a few notable sights and the place certainly made a good impression.

The view from our first apartment.

The weather was pretty good – a trifle hot but it was August after all, and the nights were cooler. Our first apartment had 70 steps to climb (and me with 20kgs of luggage), so I was very happy that our second place was on the ground floor. We chose the ‘Cheers Hostel’, very close to the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque. Mosques in Istanbul were much quieter than Dar Es Salaam and provided more of a nice touch of  distant foreign flavour rather than a blare of tinny screeching at 4am.

In the ‘old city’ where we stayed at Cheers, there were some really beautiful buildings. Turkish people know how to go to town with colour and I’ve been totally inspired with regards to home furnishings and craft projects for when I get home.

If unicorns became architects they’d design houses like this.

At night all the lamp shops and bars with lamps and just general abundance of lamps made the place look magical. I may have even bought a few lamps myself, but about 97 less that I actually wanted.

Lucas, Luke and I decided to buy a ticket for a ‘hop on hop off’ bus to see more of the city. It was a bit rubbish, to be honest. The buses seemed to run in different directions each time we got on so there was some back tracking and the recorded commentary was dreadful. For a city with three thousand years of history you’d think there’d be something interesting to say but I can remember almost none of it – and usually trivia sticks in my mind. Heck, with an hour on the internet *I* could’ve done a better tour.

Every time I saw the Istanbul horizon I thought of football because of the pairs of minarets, which is ludicrous because I don’t even think about football when I see people playing football.

However the tour, for a small extra cost, came with a boat trip that we took in the evening. Despite looking like we were going to be crammed aboard a boat like sardines into a can (although that’s a bad simile, because if the can sank the sardines would’ve been fine, unlike us) it turned out that there were multiple boats and the view was great and the guide was ok too. Although I was feeling rather sorry for myself by this point and fell asleep for part of it, the boat did go under a bridge that was huge and did fantastic light displays every half hour with a huge number of LEDs. We’d seen it from our Taksim apartment but getting to get right up close to it was excellent.

This photo does it no justice at all.

Apart from that I basically slept most of the days away or dragged myself around like a snot-producing zombie. One of the things I did quite like was the Basilica Cistern, a huge cavern underneath the middle of Istanbul which was, as the name suggests, a water storage area.

About 1500 years old, it shows how we really don’t make things like we used to. Plus there were big fat fish swimming in the metre or so of water under the walkways. They were a bit creepy. Apparently the place was used in ‘From Russia With Love’, many years ago.

Apart from that Istanbul was notable for the vast number of cats everywhere, the fact that everyone’s brother/cousin/uncle’s-father’s-former-roomate-in-college had a carpet shop we should definitely visit, and the foooooooood. Turkish food is great – and dramatic. They do this thing called a ‘testes kebab’ (yes, I know what you’re thinking, but no!) which is a casserole cooked in a clay pot and then the pot is broken when served. We have also been loving the turkish delight and baklava. I’ve always thought baklava seemed like a good idea but never really had much of it. Until now!

On the topic of food, but only just, Lucas and Luke became addicted to something I dubbed the ‘squishy burger’. These were sold at street side kebab and sandwich vendors and would be stacked, pre-made in a bain-marie. They looked … well, you can see for yourself.

Bun, meat and tomato sauce, left to sit in a glass cabinet all day. It’s hard to believe nothing went wrong.

Not exactly appetising. But they were super cheap (the equivalent of $1 each I think) and I’m ashamed to say that I, too, thought they tasted alright. I limited myself to a single one but the boys had at least one a day, by my reckoning.

I’d like to assure all the parents out there reading this that we ate this kind of thing more frequently:

Farewell drinks with Nikki and Leigh.

Next stop: Cappadocia!

Turkey: Istanbul

Although I’ve got a bunch of things left to write about Africa, here’s a few first impressions of Istanbul and a little of what we’ve done so far so our parents are up to date.

We caught the red-eye from Nairobi airport, which partially, and quite spectacularly, burned down a few weeks ago.

Photo courtesy of euronews.

Unlike everything else in Africa, authorities managed to get it up and running again within days and so our flights were on time and everything ran smoothly. We did get there several hours early, but due to the wonders of technology we had plenty of entertainment watching David Attenborough Africa doco’s. If you haven’t seen ‘Savannah’ and the rest in the series I highly recommend them.

All five of us slept through pretty much the whole flight and missed the evening meal, which is almost unheard of for me. When we landed I felt almost normal. We arrived in Istanbul at 10am but couldn’t check in until 2 so we perused duty free,  I drank an iced chocolate from Starbucks that was as big as my head and we used the internet until it was time to get a cab.

Everything was so quick and painless and as the scenery slid by we marvelled at how clean and modern this place is. Cities on hills always have a special charm and Istanbul, or at least the part we’re in, seems to be nothing but hills.

We found our accommodation without a hitch, and apart from the 70 steps to get to our top floor apartment, it’s pretty cool with a small kitchen and a stunning view over the Bosphorus to Asia.

We unpacked a few things then walked up the hill through little alleys lined with cafes and shops to a main road that runs to Taksim Square. It’s Istanbul’s equivalent of Trafalgar Square, I suppose. A big open paved area where tourists and birds gather, people sell food on sticks and there’s not much shade. The boys marvelled at the variety of kebabs on offer and then we walked back, stopping along the way to get bits and pieces of food to snack on later.  We’ve all been looking forward to the food here – having all the food cooked for us on the tour was great but it was all the kind of food you can cook easily in large quantities. I’m so happy to be able to buy small, tasty snacks like borek, olives and cheese. We’ve also bought some fruit that isn’t bananas or pineapple – hooray!

View from our balcony.

Tomorrow I’m hoping to head to the Grand Bazaar and whatever else I can fit in. There’s also a pile of belongings to be sent home so my pack doesn’t weigh as much as a baby elephant.