First tastes of Istanbul

After our perilous journey the day prior, we woke up bright eyed and clean faced for our first day in Istanbul, taking advantage of the free hotel breakfast and shuttle into the city too.We started our day at the small fish markets where the day’s catch was pretty much all in, just a few straggling boats puffing smoke into the harbour. From regular varied silver fish glistening in the sun to tubs of mussels and the occasional lobster, alley cats hung around for those delicious throw-aways. The markets are overlooked by the famous Blue Mosque on the hill above.As we strolled along the harbour front, we noticed what looked like a cute outdoor café decorated with vintage furniture, but soon realised it was in fact a series of poverty stricken tea sellers who had set up using a mishmash of run down chairs and tables, probably picked up from the local tip. Nevertheless these guys had set up in front of a great view, so we settled down at the one with the best outlook to the Sea of Marmara for our first taste of hot sweet Turkish tea. After ten minutes, the sun was beating down on us, so we paid our friendly vendor and walked up through Sultanahmet to check out the huge and stunning mosque.Unfortunately we arrived at a time during which we couldn’t see the inside but we spent some time taking a look at the outside and experienced the haunting call to prayer for the first time.Already we had the distinct feeling we weren’t in Kansas anymore. Even after travelling through the east of Europe alongside horse and carts in rural Romania and trying to decipher the Cyrillic alphabet in Bulgaria, Turkey felt different. The tagline they use for all tourism is “Where East meets West” and it really sums up the feeling you have when you’re there.Wandering the winding streets of the old town area of Sultanhamet, we happened upon the Grand Bazaar and got lost in its walls for about an hour, getting hustled left right and centre to buy typical touristy wares such as turquoise necklaces and colourful pashminas. The building itself has more to offer than what’s in it and thus I spent most of my time staring at the ceiling instead of the shops. We managed to find our way out of the maze with our wallets unscathed and spilled out into an alleyway filled with young Turkish men on multiple cell-phones each. While I purchased a chocolate pudding with crushed pistachios from a street vendor (delicious, if you must know), Colin questioned a local on what was going on. The closest we could get to an explanation in broken English was that they were trading money, and that we weren’t allowed to take photos.After a delicious cheesy pide and Turkish coffee for me and an Iskender kebab for Colin, the next stop on our trail was the Basilica Cistern, which was recommended to us by Colin’s brother Patrick as a must-see. We didn’t know anything about it but on his word ventured inside to check out what all the fuss was about. Built around the 530s, it’s also known as the Sunken Palace Cistern and that gives you an idea of what it looks like, dark and cavernous, and all spectacular columns (336 in total) and strange sculptures, the most famous being the upside-down Medusa head at the south end of the building. Water still drips from its walls and fills it’s floor – it was for a long time how locals got their water and the Ottomans used it to supply Topkapi Palace with theirs. There were even fish swimming in the waters, residents no doubt since the Constantinople days.We bypassed Topkapi Palace as we were already feeling a bit tourist-attractioned out (and broke as we were splashing out on the hotel) and decided to head down to the harbour where the mighty Bosphorous River meets the Golden Horn. We wandered through the park that surrounds the palace amid many young Turkish families and groups of friends out walking. It was here that we started noticing the open affection that Turkish males show each other in public. Many men were arm-in-arm and young boys hand-in-hand, without any awkwardness at all. We wondered what made them so comfortable with each other, in the way that Western men and boys so obviously aren’t. Perhaps it’s just that it’s so unspeakable to be gay that it wouldn’t even come up as a possibility in the minds of an onlooker? Whatever the reason, it’s sweet to see – so much so that Colin started trying to capture a pic of some of the boys in the act.As we reached the harbour we caught our first glimpse of Asia. It was a pretty cool feeling to have come so far south-east after only a month from leaving Amsterdam, and to be able to stand on the edge of the water and look at two different continents at once. Surely we were just a hop, skip and a jump from being down under by now?We also had our first taste of Istanbul street food, fat mussels chopped and mixed with a spiced short rice that made them look like maggots and served in their shells, two for the equivalent of a euro. We a watched a local dude knock back about 10 shells in the space of a minute, at his girlfriend’s obvious disgust, but opted for only a couple each for ourselves, tasty as they were.Crossing the Galata bridge to Karakoy harbour, we jumped on a ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul. The 20 minute boat ride was a steal at 1.50 and we had done a little bit of research into the nightlife scene in Istanbul and heard the Kadikoy area on the Asian side was were it’s at. Luck was with us and we arrived at the perfect time to watch the sun go down over the Bosphorus – one of those ultimate sunsets where everything goes a dense bright orange and people clap at the end.After some walking through the food markets that seem to go all night in these parts, and a long conversation with an apparent bike tourist that looked more like a junkie, we found our spot. Kadife Sokak is also called Bar Street, and is well worth getting to if you’re in Istanbul. We only ventured into two establishments, but all looked worthy of a few drinks if you had the time.We had come to check out Ducktails, the solo project of the guitarist from Real Estate at Arka Oda, but we arrived too early and decided to grab something to eat at the bar/eatery across the road to pass the time. As we were too crap at Turkish to read the menu, the waiter instead bought a giant tray of mezze around for us to pick and choose from. We stuffed ourselves with the tasty morsels and were rewarded with a free glass of raki for our troubles. Then it was off to Arka Oda once we saw it was filling up. It’s a great little bar and we were looking forward to checking out Ducktails, but he had two support acts beforehand to sit through. The first turned out to be a DJ playing atmospheric tunes and the second a Belgian outfit called Dolphins into the Future. They sound like dolphins, going into the future. In our books, that’s a bad thing. And they went on…and on. We decided to bail rather than wait around for Ducktails. We headed back to the harbour in order not to miss the last ferry and have to deal with getting a taxi after a few too many drinks. We eventually got back to the hotel, tired and ready to stretch out in what felt like a giant bed compared to the bee’s smaller sleeping capacity, dreaming of what sights, smells and tastes were in store for the day ahead.

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4 Responses to First tastes of Istanbul

  1. Matthew says:

    Hey – some cool tips here – we will be in Istambul in the next few days. dig the photos!

    • liz says:

      sweet you will love it, posting more on the next day now. def spend some time on the asia side, little jealous now of you guys! hope you have a great last few weeks of your trip!

  2. K Sen says:

    how good is istanbul!!!!

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