Istanbul - where Asia and Europe meet

Trip Start Mar 23, 2010
Trip End Feb 15, 2011

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sam: After a pretty restless night in our dodgy Antalya hotel, we packed up the car and drove to the airport for our flight to Istanbul. We arrived safely (thanks Turkish Airlines), gathered our bags and found our driver who was waiting for us with a sign saying "Lee Cujes" (Lee: Finally I get to have a guy with a sign!).

We had quite a long drive to our hotel as we accidentally booked flights to the airport situated on the outskirts of the city, but this enabled us to see parts of Istanbul that we would have otherwise missed.  Besides the fact that our driver was going at insane speeds, my initial impressions of this city were ones of contrast - Europe meets Asia, old meets new, ornate mosques located in amongst high-density living, ladies in traditional muslim dress, men selling corn from roadside trolleys. My senses were in overdrive. 

We spent the next three days walking around this amazing city, visiting its key tourist attractions and experiencing some truly memorable moments. On the list of attractions were:
- Hagia Sophia
- The Blue Mosque
- The Basillica Cistern
- The Grand Bazaar
- The Spice Bazaar

We have also experienced some very special culinary delights. On our last day, we both had a famous fish sandwich from the port (Lee: The guy shouts non-stop "Balik Ekmek! Balik Ekmek!" meaning "fish in bread"). These were delicious... a fresh breadroll, with grilled fish (straight off the BBQ), lemon, salt, lettuce and a little onion.  The Turkish Delight here is also unreal. We have sampled heaps of flavours and the best is the rose flavour, covered in coconut and filled with pistachios! Lee also sampled some corn from the roadside vendors and I am a huge fan of the Turkish ice cream "dondurma" which has this weird "gummy" texture.

A real highlight from our time in Istanbul was our trip to the Hammam (Turkish Bath). We had been recommended a particular hammam from some friends we met in Kalymnos, so we decided to give it a try. Wow, what a strange experience. We entered the stone building (which dates to the 16th century), paid our money and were quickly ushered to a small room where we were instructed to change out of our clothes and into a linen wrap for Lee and a linen bikini top, sarong-type wrap and shorts for me. We then went into the hammam and began phase one of our treatment. This involved us sitting in a massive marble room with huge vaulted ceilings that was heated like a sauna and basically sweating! After about 30 minutes, I was really overheating so I positioned myself under one of the taps and used a brass bowl to douse myself in cold water. Two guys then walked in, wrapped in sarongs, took us into a small area and pointed for us to sit down. They then threw buckets of cold water over us and began to exfoliate our bodies with a rough glove. After more cold water, we were instructed to lay on a marble platform where we were covered in soapy bubbles while the attendants sang something in Turkish and threw more cold water over themselves. They then gave us a pretty vigourous massage in between more bubbles, cold water and singing. They washed our hair, threw more water on us and ushered us into another room where they dried us and wrapped us in more linen. The whole experience was quite strange, but was cool at the same time. Definitely something I will remember!

Lee: Turkey was our random pick to round out the Greece leg of the trip, but we encountered such great sights, people, food and culture that I imagine it'll be a highlight of the entire trip. Now, to London.

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