Istanbul: A taste of the Middle East

Trip Start Dec 22, 2010
Trip End Feb 25, 2011

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011's been a while since I've passed through Istanbul, and now I'm firmly back home in what do I remember??  Hmmm, for one, it was exciting!  Despite the horrible train ride in and so on, as soon as I got off in Istanbul, I was so excited!  This place is just so different to Europe.  Minarets everywhere, people trying to drag tourists into their hostel, hotel, restaurant, store, street vendors and the sights!  Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque hehe, what fun.

Istanbul really helped pick up the spirits of us tired travellers, especially after the disastrous train ride soon as we saw what there was, we didn't even take a nap!  Went out straight after and took in as much as we could.  Checked out the Palace first and had a nice tour of everything.  Shame there was no furniture inside but the decorations and mosiacs on the walls were amazing and a real change to all the European ones that we've been used to.  The grounds inside the palace were cool too, SOOO green!!  And then we went to their treasury which was WOW.  Jade, emerald daggers, gold everywhere...hehe so shiney!  No photos unfortunately =(.  That actually took quite some time so we just wandered around Istanbul after that, the city is so different!  Still slightly dirty but feeling very much alive.  Street hawkers everywhere, people bustling about, wonderful smells coming from all these shops...we of course got sucked in and bought some Turkish delight =D.  The first few ones really were a delight haha, the next kilo of them weren't >.< (OK, not a kilo but there's only so much chewy sugar that I can take!).  Eventually we made it to the spice market which was a lot of fun to see.  The smells every time we passed one of their spice stores is amazing, like super intense curry all at once in your nose.  And of course they had the wonderful coloured glasses/pottery that the shop keepers are so keen to sell you.  Pretty....

That night we were taken out by one of a friend of a friend of May's, Bahadir and his wonderful wife Burcak.  Was so cool getting taken around by yet more locals =D  They showed us some of the newer parts of Istanbul...though by newer, I mean like 200, 100 years old as opposed to 1000 or something haha.  Walked down their massive famous main street which for the life of me I can't remember (this was a while ago now, I'm writing this almost a month later!) BUT it was amazing!  Looked like Europe almost with the cool decorations but with a slight middle eastern twist.  Bahadir took us to eat Kokorec which is pretty much friend intestines but my goodness it tasted NICE!!  Well, Paul had most of it, but from the little I tried the thing is amazing!!  Slightly spicy but what wonderful the spice market makes more sense haha.  They had some awesome friend mussels there as well which was eaten in bread, mmm.  Afterwards they took us to this cool high class bar for drinks and a fantastic night view over Istanbul.  Was a little chilly and windy haha but we enjoyed our beer and popcorn (yes popcorn) with lots of good conversations (handy that Burcak is a Turkish history buff =P) and to top it off, there was an turkish band + dancers hitting the floor!  Cool eh!?  Ended the night with a lovely Turkish drink called Salep...mmmmm, like sweet milk??  Not really but it tasted so nice!  Perfect for the nice little warm up while you chilled along the waterside admiring the lights of Europe AND Asia =)  Thanks a ton guys for showing us around!!! 

The next we headed out to the Hagia Sofia, the biggest church for over a thousand years,
converted to Mosque to now Museum and of course a must see in Istanbul.  Man the inside is just wow, and felt really old haha, well, it is almost 2000 years old.  Some really beautiful gold mosiacs preserved inside there.  Was funny hearing the guys telling everyone no flash please everytime a flash went off...unfortunately that was like once every 2 seconds XD.  I just wish
there was more information on the place but I guess just being there is pretty amazing.  Next we headed across the road to the Blue Mosque, my first Mosque!!  Was actually very excited to see the inside though it took a little while to get in, first had to find the "tourist entrance" =P and of course, shoes off.  Inside the place was really cool.  Carpeted floors and mosiacs everywhere!  The most striking difference is the fact that there's hardly any furniture inside, just a really open space for praying.  The seperate women section also made an impression but I guess that's just how they do things.  Went to the Grand Bazaar after that.  Yay!!  I love this place, mainly for all the things you can buy here and the bargaining!  The Turks sure drive a hard bargain but I think they'll say that more about us haha.  I think I needed to remember that Turkey is not China where going half the original price is still a rip off cos the next day when I got to the airport, the same things that I saw at the market was 3 times the price!! =S  Anyways, we spent AGES there trying the find the best bargain and we annoyed quite a few shop keepers haha, hey we're poor backpackers and we're allowed to use team tactics to get the lowest price =P.  So by the time we left, it was well and truely dinner time and we were all feeling it.  Hiked all the way to the other side for a truely Turkish it was hard on an empty stomache but I think we were all glad that we did it haha.  Had a weird yoghurt drink which was...hmmm, interesting XD  But the FOOD!  Sooo nice and filling!  Most of it was grilled, eggplant, kebabs, chicken wings...mmmmm.  We were going to have kokorec afterwards too but no more room >.<

The next day was my last *sigh* but was a good day, didn't have to leave for the airport until night time so we hurried on a ferry and took it to the Black Sea!  w00t!  The ferry ride was chilling and windy to say the least haha but was cool seeing Istanbul from the sea and have masses of seagulls follow us.  Ended up in a super touristy coastal town but I guess they had some nice seafood.  Hiked up to the ruins of an ancient Roman castle too only to find it CLOSED for "excavations"  Well I showed them! =P...don't ask haha.  And that was it really, ferried back just chilling and reminiscing about our awesome exchange trip. 

What a trip eh!?  Can barely remember all of it now and it's only been a month!  Ah but what memories!!  Limited though they might be haha, but hopefully this blog will keep it alive, will be interesting to read back through it I think and reminisce about all the wonderful people I met and awesome things that I saw.  Exchanges ftw!!
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