Istanbul or Constantinople ?

Trip Start May 02, 2006
Trip End Mar 02, 2007

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Saturday, July 8, 2006

Istanbul.. Finally.

To say we were looking forward to getting to Istanbul is a grose understatement. Not that we were sick of Eastern Europe by any stretch of the imagination. We were simply looking forward to getting to a city and country that one of us was familiar with and also to begin the next phase of our trip.

It's my third time to Istanbul and Turkey in general, a city and country that I adore. I was first here back in '96 then '04 and again this year. To say it's changed over the last ten years would be an understatement. It's a whole lot more European now and there's a load more tourists but it's a big city so it's relatively easy to escape the maddening hordes if you feel so inclined.

I'd been looking forward to showing Kat Istanbul ever since we'd planned to go on the trip as it truly is an amazing city worth spending a minimum of a week if not two. From Sultanahmet and all it entails; Aya Sofia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace up to The Grand Bazaar and over the Galata Bridge to Taksim and Nisantasi, there is so much to see. Add to that our need to get the Syrian visa and we were up for a jam packed five or six days.

We decided to spend our first day away from the Sultanhament area and the crowds that entailed. After a slow walk through the now public Topkapi Gardens we made our way over to Taksim where we ran into Oliver heading the same way. To be honest we became inseperable from Oliver for our time in Istanbul and he is now known as the honorary honeymooner. We ate, drank and watched the worldcup together on a nightly basis and managed to tick off a few sights as well. Our Istanbul experience certainly wouldn't have been the same without you Oliver where-ever you are at the moment (actually, we know where you are but we're not telling).

Anyway, with a salty tear in my eye I'll move on. Taksim and Istiklal Caddessi leading into it is probably the main Turkish part (i.e. non touristy) of central Istanbul. It's where your average Istanbullies go to eat, shop, promenade and at night, party with a capital P. We visitied it on a Sunday so it was pretty quiet but we were happy with it just like that. When next in Istanbul make sure you take the time to leave Sultanhamet and check out Taksim, it's certainly as close to real Turkey you're going to get in so close to the main tourist drags. Karl and Luke, you'll remember it as where the Istanbul Hilton is and the free bar at the casino.

We of course toured the Grand Bazaar (Kapališarsi). By all accounts it is one of the largest covered markets in the world with more than 58 pedestrian streets and 4000 shops, and has upwards of 400,000 visitors daily. It is well known for its jewelry, pottery, spice, and carpet shops. Many of the stalls in the bazaar are grouped by type of good, with areas for leather coats (70's stylin'), chunky gold jewelry (bling) and the like. In other words the place is absolutely huge and is exceptionally easy to lose not only yourself but a complete day. You do get tired of saying, 'no thanks, I don't want a shitty carpet' after the first thousand times however. As much as we would've like to have spent up bigtime we had to restrain oursleves as we have some way to go yet. A definite must for anyone who visits Istanbul.

As every other tourist does we took in Topkapi Palace which is outstanding. I loved it 10 years ago and we loved it this time. They rush you through the Harem section these days and make you pay for the priveledge but it still adds valuable insight into what it was like to be a member of the royal court all those years ago. You can harldy see anything for the tourists but it's still a nice way to while away half a day and if you look hard you enough you can find a quiet spot to yourself. It stopped serving as the royal palace back in 1853 and has been a museum ever since and well worth the visit.

Add to the palace the Hagia Sofia (Ayasofia) or Red Mosque which is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. Of great artistic value was its decorated interior with mosaics and marble pillars and coverings which have sadly been mainly lost over the years but some remnants are scattered throughout. The temple itself was so richly and artistically decorated that Emporer Justinian proclaimed "Solomon, I have surpassed thee!". I think it's a penis thing but it is pretty big, the Cathederal that is.

We took in some other sporadic sights while we battled to get our Syrian visa (a problem with the Australian consulate being lazy and unco-operative, can't believe we pay those bastards) over the course of three days. Generally however we just wandered about taking it all in, eating and knocking back bevvies at night in the main backpacker area.

Anyways, our visa finally came through so it's time to depart Istanbul. Fortunately Kat loved Istanbul so I'm off to a good start with her catching my 'love for Turkey bug'.

Next pod, Gallipoli - Turkey.

Hope all is well.


Nath and Kat.
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