16th August 2014
A 4 AM start is never a good start a day… however, maybe today was the exception. Myself and my friend Scott, got showered and changed and skipped through Heathrow security for what would be our first unchaperoned adventures abroad.
At 12:20 PM our British Airways flight landed in the seemingly distant Atatürk Airport, Istanbul. (It’s sad to think that some citizens of the UK can now be arrested on terrorist charges for making that same flight now) We took the Havanas bus to Taksim Square… finding ourselves greeted by 31 Degrees Celcius of Anatolian-effulgence.
After wandering aimlessly for an hour we found ourselves outside our hostel ‘The Chambers of The Boheme’, which was certainly bohemian, and very much in the middle of the gay district.
To say “we found ourselves outside our hostel” is slightly false, perhaps it would be more accurate to day the hostel owner, Ahmed, found us. The sprightly fellow, a former King’s Road, New Holborn Sandwich Shop Owner, sat us down and gave us a complimentary apple tea. (which by the way is fantastic) Ahmed gave us an itinerary for the day and a list of Do’s and Don’ts for tourists in the city:
Don’t eat street food
Don’t carry your passports around
Don’t use Taxis
Don’t set your self epic tasks, you english will collapse.
Istanbul is great, in the proper sense of the word. So vast, enormous infrastructure programs, large roads, very impressive. The buildings are an odd mix of plush new luxury flat blocks built right next to dilapidated piles of rubble. The social inequalities in the deep city seem rather blatant. Scott and I played chess in the evening. Note to self: never play chess against Scott, he always wins.
17th August 2014
Today, we had an 11am start and walked to the old city, Fatih, home to the great Mosques, Hagia Sofia, and the Sultan’s Palace. Wow. Just wow. Go there. Go there. Go there. The Sultan’s palace is well worth the gander, we chilled by the coast watching the busy confluence of the Golden Horn and Bosphorus rivers. Atatürk, Turkey’s first leader, was everywhere, unavoidable. Statues, Graffitis, Names, Paintings. They loved him, and he, to change his name through parliament to mean “the great turk” clearly loved himself. He was the great moderniser of Turkey, however his illiberal use of repression to enforce secularism has left the legacy of a slight revival of islamic conservatism nowadays. Before going to Turkey I watched a series of documentaries on Turkey called “The Ottomans: Europe’s Muslim Emperors” – I would highly recommend giving it a watch.
The calls to prayer are rather foreign, but at the same time having a comforting feel. It reminds me in a strange way of Portishead’s Severn-sirens that are tested on the third hour of the third day of each month to guard us from chemical leaks. In the same way, the prayer calls protect each muslim by ensuring they remember their prayers.
Talking of Portishead, there are posters for the band everywhere here… you can’t fricken leave them.
I had calamari and a kebab for lunch, oh how healthy… We were shunned and told not to go to the blue mosque because we were rather stupidly wearing shorts. HOWEVER, We’ve been told since that if we just put duct tape to cover our knees then we’d have been allowed in. It’s strange to thing that knees are the scared thing… Mmm gotta love them knees. Perhaps Imams have knee-fetishes? – that probably most definitely blasphemy.
The Hagia Sofia is AMAZING. Cathedral cum Mosque cum Museum, it’s certainly changed with its leader’s ideologies over time. plated with the most beautiful of byzantine mosaics , with christian idols, and arabic calligraphy symbolising muslim figures. £12, it was well worth the visit.
We wandered through turkish markets… I didn’t feel the need to buy anything though, I never really do. Other than books…
Come nightfall we bought Hookah in a bar. No, not a prostitute as I first worriedly thought as Scott suggested it,but rather an apple and mint flavoured Mu’assel pipe. At first, I coughed and didn’t really enjoy it then after a while I found it rather enjoyable. Much nicer than smoking anything else I’ve ever smoked. Much nicer on the lungs and throat.
After learning an entire THREE words of the turkish language I tried to put my skills to practical use and attempted to say thank you to the waiter, “teşekkür” (thank goodness one of Ataturks reforms was the transliteration of the whole Turkish language from ottoman caligraphic script to a latinate alphabet) Unfortunately the act was a complete failure, the waiter left and came back with “two kolas” Fab day, bring on tomorrow.
18th August 2014
Today was our penultimate day in Istanbul, what a fantastic city it is. So vibrant and exciting for a 18 year old with little travelling experience. We walked along the south-east side of Istanbul’s Beyoglu district, then walked to the Grand Bazaar in Sultanahmed. Determined this time to actually but something I brought my mum this beautiful silk scarf that she’ll probably never wear but it looks pretty nevertheless. The markets are making, so many street vendors and people carrying huge loads of products. In the evening we went for a boat tour of the Bosphorus, which was just amazing. So big, everything so beautiful.
19th August 2014
Today was the final day in Istanbul. It’s a truly beautiful city with such friendly people. Scott and I went to the Hamman after being recommended going by so many people. The Hamam was the top bathhouse in the world according to the Guardian, and cost €30 each. I was very apprehensive. Bathhouses are such a foreign concept to me… I would even be hesitant to go to Bath Spa. A fat nearly naked turkish man then led me, with much body contact to the room, with a brush, a towel (strictly towels on (although one tourist seemed to ignore this policy when he thought he was the only one still there)). It was amazing, after being steamed, cooled, rinsed, and exfoliated, I was perhaps the cleanest I’ve ever been in my life… although with very starchy hair.
We went to this cool café in Sultanahmet, and spoke to a Lebanese lady who told us that she came to Istanbul to see Arsenal play and then to see Portishead perform live. Did you not know that Istanbul is apparently the beacon on British Culture… apparently so.
We also watched the whirling dervishes, who were quite… mundane; conservative islam’s answer to a Drag show and were given free Qur’an guides. We then got on a rail replacement coach (Istanbul’s link to europe by rail is closed for some foreseeable time whilst it gets modernised) and left Istanbul to continue what had thus far been an amazing journey.