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Published: February 5th 2009
The Blue Mosque at night. A truly amazing sight.
Well we finally made it .. Istanbul. We were starting to get a little tired of eastern Europe and have been looking forward to this for a couple weeks. There are few cities like Istanbul, it's at the crossroads between the East and the West and it's history is unmatched.
To get here we took an overnight bus from Sofia. That was an adventure unto itself. The bus pulls up to the border at about 2 am where everybody gets off and goes through the usual border hassles. We had to buy travel visas which unfortunately cost 3 times more for Canadians than any other western country (go Canada!). After the required stamps were received our bags were quickly searched for contraband and then we were on our way into Turkey!
At the bus station we coordinated with 2 other english speaking travellers and shared a taxi into Sultanahmet (the old town). The cab drivers here are a different breed. They are very efficient in that they will do anything possible to get you to your destination as quickly as possible. It's scary at first but in the end we made in record time. Once we found our hostel
The Blue Mosque at night again
we slept for most of the day after our continuously interrupted sleep the night before.
The next day we got an early start and headed straight for the Grand Bazaar only to find it was closed for the day. We kept wandering and found ourselves in cool old neighbourhoods that weren't hit with tourism. There were mosques everywhere and you could hear the echo of the call to prayer all through the city. We ate some very cheap and tasty kebabs along the way and eventually made it back towards Sultanahmet. In the evening the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia were lit up in all their glory so we sat around enjoying the sights while sipping Sahlep, a milky hot tea made from a wild flower (our new favourite treat). There was only one street vendor selling the stuff and we spent every evening of our stay in Istanbul searching for him.
The following day we finally made it into the Grand Bazaar. It's massive and confusing and hectic but probably the most fun we had in Istanbul. We were there to do our Christmas shopping (which we pretty much completed in a day) but we also
As close as the Turks get to Christmas decorations
managed to haggle for a beautiful, brass hookah pipe for ourselves. It was fun because we haven't really bought anything on our trip and now here we were with bags of stuff for only about 75 euros. We were exhausted from dealing with all the salesmen so we spent the night in the hostel. It had a really laid back atmosphere with a top floor bar decked out with all the essentials. We had many backgammon battles there and tried the Raki, the local anise-seed liquor.
In the morning we went for a walk along the boardwalk on the Sea of Marmara. It was very busy with people everywhere. We bought some pistachios from a vendor and walked up to the outdoor fish market. Jay doesn't seem to enjoy the fact that I always drag her to the fish markets but I find them quite cool. They'll sell you freshly fried fish there for quite cheap too. We spent the rest of the day wandering around again looking for nothing in particular, just enjoying the atmosphere.
The next day we did what every tourist has to do when the come to Istanbul, take the 20 minute ferry ride
Lamb kebab master in operation.
over to Asia. The Asian side is quite different. The shops aren't so much geared towards tourists and the food is amazing. We ended up buying some fresh goat cheese (we think) and bread and had lunch in a small park. We were hoping to buy a small Turkish carpet for Jay's mom there but we could not find a single carpet shop. This re-affirms the sense that this part of the city was far less touristy as they are a dime a dozen in Sultanahmet and the Grand Bazaar. We eventually gave up and went back over the water to the much smaller Egyptian Bazaar. There we went back and forth between 3 different salesmen until one of them finally gave us a great deal on the carpet we were looking for. That night we returned to our hostel and went to a nearby cafe to share a tasty strawberry flavoured hookah.
We eventually had to leave the city so we went to a travel agent and arranged a ferry from Bodrum, Turkey to Kos, Greece and an overnight bus down to Bodrum. On our last day we went inside the Blue Mosque which was very cool. We'd
Jay in the palace gardens in Sultanahmet
never been in a mosque before so it was quite interesting. We also made one last trip to the Grand Bazaar where Jay bought herself some stylish Aladdin-style pants and we ate our last true Turkish kebabs. That night we were off and sad to leave. Istanbul was one of our favourite places in Europe and we will be coming back for sure. Off to Bodrum now where we will embark on our own Greek odyssey.
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