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Trip Start Aug 25, 2006
Trip End Dec 15, 2006

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

We'd had enough after 2 days in Goreme and decided to overnight bus it back to Istanbul. The trip wasn't too bad, but the annoying thing was that we paid an extra 5 lira so we could get a bus from the station in Istanbul to Sultanahmet where our hostel is. Upon arriving in Istanbul we were told the bus was only going to drop us halfway at a tram stop. It was much foggier than when we were here earlier in the week but it seemed much warmer too which was a very welcome change from Goreme.
When we got back to the Bahaus hostel we were told that they were full the night before, but they found beds for us. But we couldn't crawl into them quite yet because it was 9am and some people still had to check out, so as smashed as we were on only a few hours sleep we were forced out into Istanbul to entertain ourselves until the afternoon. Luke checked out the spice bazaar while I opted for a large loop of Istanbul. I headed up north of Taksim square to the modern CBDish district. There was a mall there I decided to check out, and apart from the fact it looked almost the same as any other mall in the world, the only remarkable thing was the security. It was literally airport style security, xraying bags and metal detectors, to get in. Unreal. Afterwards I tried to use the force to direct myself to the northern shore of the Golden Horn but failed miserably. I blame the tiredness. I did come across some strange things though. An entire block in central Istanbul that was steep and covered in grass that had a goat herder with goats on it. I also almost got involved involuntarily in a scrap between two packs of dogs on the street as they sized each other up whilst I was in between them all. I had one of the oldest scams in the book tried on me. The guys that sit around and polish shoes do this one commonly - they get up and walk off and drop something behind them - my guy dropped his brush and I picked it up and yelled out to him. He turns around and acts all grateful and offers to clean your shoes as a favor for picking the brush up. This is where I declined but I've heard and read about others who do it and then naturally the demand for money comes next even though he said it was a favor. It was on a bridge with locals and fisherman all around and one guy I met told me he'd had it happen to him and arguing with the guy only attracts those nearby who come and yell at you until you pay the guy. Sneaky bastards.
They love the word yeni here. It means new. The currency is the YTL or yeni Turkish lira. The biggest brand of the Turkish spirit raki is Yeni Raki, and most stores you see like to be Yeni this or Yeni that.
The Istanbul modern is pretty good. Not too big but definitely well put together and houses almost exclusively Turkish artists which was impressive. The change Turkish society has undergone in the last 10 years is something they are focusing on a lot and there were some very interesting feminist displays, meant to emphasise the increased equality women have enjoyed from the modernisation/westernisation. They had some very interesting media displays with whole rooms with video projected on all surfaces while you walk around in it, and another strange one where you can arrange a room the way you would want it if it were your funeral. You give them the name of the song you would want played at your funeral and they download it and play it then you lie there on an alter while strangers walk past so you essentially experience your funeral in some form. It's only a year old and just being in the building was a cool experience. It's housed in a converted warehouse right on the Bosphorus and has some great views across to the Asian side of Istanbul.
There are a lot of Spanish people in Turkey at the moment for some reason. Quite often if you don't say anything when you walk into a shop you will be greeted with Hola. They seem to do the Japanese tour group style thing. Speaking of which there are a fair few Asian tour groups also. But the warmer weather here has bought many more people out than last week, or perhaps it was the Pope's visit, because the area around the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia have been packed every day. The police presence is still pretty high too.
The Turks are keen on any sort of transport in Istanbul to get it's 10 million residents around. I experienced something that's best described as a public maxi taxi today on the Asian side. I got a ferry across the Bosphorus and wanted to check out Kalikoy which was a little ways south of where I was. I asked how to get there because there's no trams on the Asian side and was told to get a dolmus. They are pretty much maxi taxis and you wait in a line while a very unofficial looking guy organises everything. You're in the line for a specific place and once the guy waves a dolmus down and you're in there's a list of places and prices on the dash and pay the guy accordingly. Like every other form of mass transport here there's no seatbelts and the normal car seats have been replaced with benches so you could squeeze in a ridiculous number of people if required. But they're quicker and more convenient than most other forms of transport here. The metro is a little annoying in that it's very fractured and only really serves each area independently but I believe there is work going on to link the European and Asian sides via metro which would make it much more accessible. The boat across was actually very pleasant - the water in the Bosphorus looks unbelievably clear and lacks any unpleasant qualities, so much so you almost want to swim in it and in summer i'm almost positive people would - but the problem is it took a while to get across.
Another problem with Istanbul is that there is too much food and only so much you can fit in you at a time. Like I've said before a great activity is simply walking around the city and eating anything you haven't tried yet. I have a feeling when I leave here I will get sudden urges for large quantities of sugar and nuts throughout the day.
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