If you have been reading my website at endlessroaming.com you would be aware that I have been blogging about previous adventures across the USA, specifically 2012. Ill also write further about other experiences in the USA and other countries I have traveled. I am now in Lagos, Portugal blogging about about my brief four day visit to Istanbul.
This is actually my third trip to Istanbul so the city is familiar to me, I came here 20 years previously and 10 years previously so in a way I was doing my decade anniversary of sorts. On both my previous trips Id spent a while in Turkey exploring the countryside as well as Istanbul, this time however I had only four days before heading to my next destination in Rome so here are some highlights of my brief time.
Istanbul has a population of approximately 15 million people, sitting on a peninsula that divides Europe from Asia adjoining the Black Sea with the sea of Marmara via the narrow Bosporus seaway. The city is the largest in Turkey and also its cultural capital containing many historical sites going back to its founding approximately 3000 years ago, essentially there is a lot of interesting stuff to do in Istanbul especially for historical buffs. Id decided to stay in a backpacker hostel in the old city of Sultanhamet where most of this interesting stuff is easily accessible.
The nightlife I experienced was around the hostel bar, a lot of travelers that had come to Istanbul, mostly Australians, Turkey is a hugely popular destination for both Aussies. I had not meant any Australians in the past few months of travel so it was good fun to socialise with people from home my country. Where we were located meant easy access to many restaurants selling all kinds of Turkish cuisine so socialising generally meant a few beers at the hostel bar, head to a restaurant for kebabs, rissoles and salad then some Turkish delight and other cakes before heading back to the bar for more beer.
If you aren’t already aware Australia has a unique history with Turkey which is why so many frequent the country, the Gallipoloi Campaign in World War 1 resulted in 8,709 Australian fatalities at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. This campaign essentially became the catalyst for the Turkish War of Independence and the new declaration of the Turkish Republic and also the birth of the Australian and New Zealand nations creating the tradition of ANZAC. Instead of anymosity between Turkey, Australia and New Zealand, this campaign has lead to a positive relationship has been going on since that battle and Australians are very welcome.
As I mentioned there is a lot of interesting stuff to do in Istanbul so between the beer, laughter and kebabs there are a lot of sights which Ill briefly cover including the…..
Topapki Palace constructed in 1459 is a large cultural museum in Istanbul and the old administration centre of the Ottoman Empire during the 15th century. It’s a massive complex sitting on the ocean an contains a great amount of history of the Turkish Empire. My favourite place is the adjoining Archeological museum with the fake Alexander the Great Sarcophagus and other historical relics. Waking the palace grounds is also an excellent way to past the time and take in the view of the ocean and city.
Hagia Sophia constructed in 537 it was orginally Greek Orthodox until the Ottomans changed it to an Islamic Mosque and today it’s a museum. Most mosques in Istanbul are blue in colour, but Sophia is pink, the inside is impressive as you climb up the steps to look at the impressive decorations etched in the walls and roof and the floor below
Blue Mosque is directly opposite the Sophia museum, completed in 1616 this mosque is active and tourists can only enter at certain times. Unfortunately the interior is undergoing a major renovation so mostly all I could see was scaffolding. Fortunately Ive been inside on my two previous tours of the city, at the tie the floor was covered in Persian rugs, the arched domed roof standing tall and lamps burning various oils and incense, its similar in design to Sophia
Bascillica Cistern – one of several hundred underground cisterns built between the 3rd and 4th century during the time of Rome. Walk down a short stair case and you can see a lot of columns darkly lighten up by reddish lights and some of the column bases have the head of Medusa. Its quite a surreal place to visit. It would also make for a really good nightclub but I dont see that happening anytime soon.
There are also plenty of other destinations nearby within easy walking distance from each other, Tip so there really is no need to go on a paid tour, just get a map. There are plenty of tour guides also available if you wish to delve further into the history. The best thing to do in Istanbul in my opinion is the Grand Bazaar and adorning Spice Bazaar. The largest and oldest covered market in the world, the Grand Bazaar has over 4,000 shops, its globally one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world having approximately up to 400,000 visitors a day. Its an easy place to get lost and contains all matter of items from luxury fake clothes, authentic rugs and other trinkets. You can spend a day in there and not necessarily cover all of the market, its like a monster maze and people can easily get lost. Its also a great place to purchase underwear which came in handy as Id been saving my dirty washing for a big load and was running short on clean clothes. The Spice Bazaar adjoins, is much smaller in size and sells all types of cakes, treats and spices.
Other tourist things include going on a Bosporus cruise Tip or better still just pay for a ferry which is a lot cheaper. I headed over the Galata Bridge which connects the Old City with the Northern area Istanbul, the bridge has upper and lower pathways, includes many restaurants cooking a variety of seafood and kebabs as well as fisherman casting lines into the ocean. Then its 15 minute walk to Galata Tower, medieval in design the cue to enter was to long so I continued my walking trip up an almost endless open air high end fashion mall (not fake goods) to Taksim Square. The square itself has a statue in the middle and there is a mosque being constructed overlooking it
Walking back through the mall I saw many mean wearing headbands on their head, some with blood stains, and many women with tape over their noses and some with black eyes, quite a confronting site. I was approached by a shop vendor and asked if I wished to undergo a hair transplant. Istanbul is a major destination for people requiring hair transplant and nose job surgery at a comparatively cheap price compared to other areas of the world, I can only imagine this is the case due to its affordability, its quite odd to see so many men with patches of hair, sweat bands and blood, being a bald many myself I found it quite fascinating, entry level transplant are around $2,000 which was a little beyond my tourist budget and I’m quite comfortable with my skinned head.
After four days of drinking beer and eating kebabs, taking in the tourist sites, in particular hanging out in the Grand Bazaar and contemplating hair replacement surgery it was time to leave Istanbul and onto Rome. As indicated it was my third visit over 20 years, the most obvious sign of change was the light rail system that had been put in place for travel about the city. The ancient sites however had not changed much though there is a lot more security on the ground than I can recall. If interested in history, a phenomenal shopping experience, transplants, nose jobs and Turkish cuisine Id strongly recommend a visit, Istanbul is cultural and vibrant, but mostly really good fun….