I was tired from the night flight from Singapore as I stepped off the bus in Taskim, a downtown area of Istanbul. The foreign sights, sounds and smells were amazingly different from any I had experienced before. Right at the bus stop was a Turkish café where my kids were waiting for me with my first Turkish coffee. The beans and water are slowly boiled in a long process which produces a thick unfiltered coffee that is super strong. The more froth the better it tastes. That soon perked me up.
Taksim is a bustling centre with a huge statue of Attaturk. Attaturk means “father of turkey” as he is credited with moving them out of the old Ottoman Empire and establishing the country. He also changed many other things including the way they write, speak, pray and live. Turkey is quite progressive in some respects and has a liberal attitude to personal freedoms and religion. For example you can pretty much buy alcohol anywhere, dress reasonably casually and women have more freedom of dress than many other Muslim countries. Mind you, when I tried to upload some videos to YouTube I found that access is denied form Turkey so there are still some areas which need work.
After the coffee we left for the hostel. To get there we walked down the main street which is paved in stone and is made up nearly entirely of food shops, sprinkled with clothes and souvenir stores.
The streets become more and more narrow as you get further from the main streets. The buildings become more and more dilapidated and stranger in design and construction. I don’t know if they have any real sort of planning process and I note so many dangerous electrical fittings it’s positively scary. I’m assuming that people just make alterations and additions themselves.
We arrive at my first hostel in many a long year. The main “lobby” area is a largish room with a commercial soft drink fridge, a desk in a corner with an old time monitor, some tables, chairs and old sofas. A really small room off the back is a makeshift kitchen.
We took the bags up to our dormitory room which had 2 double decker bunks sleeping 4 people. It also had an ensuite. Turkish bathrooms and toilets are notoriously weird (in my mind). The designing is not good. Water seems to go everywhere for no reasons. The toilets in the western style have a bidet type outlet in them as well for those wishing to use the water and hand method of cleansing. Pass.
A great benefit we have really enjoyed is the company of Owmz, my daughter’s fiancée who speaks Turkish. He was born here but grew up in Australia. Owmz took control of the day’s events. We headed back up to the Taksim main drag and caught a cable train. Then we jumped on a street train. Fantastic public transport in Istanbul. Our first stop was the Blue Mosque. Of course any places I mention can be googled for much more detail than I am going to give you. It really is an amazing building which was constructed between 1606 and 1616. Istanbul is very hot in summer so it was nice to walk inside, barefooted, into the cool dappled light of this huge place of worship. It is entirely tiled by what must amount to hundreds of thousands of individual tiles. Most women had to wear a scarf although the guard at the door waved Jacqui through without one.
Next we went to the most amazing Christian church in this regiaon and possible the world, Aya Sofya. Built in 537 it took 5 years, 10 months and 4 days. A huge domed church used by the Byzantine. We hired a very interesting and informative guide to show us around. Money well spent as we all leanred a lot and thoroughtly enjoyed the experience.
Next Day we went to the Topkaki Palace. If you ever go there, bring water with you. The palace is on an amazing piece of real estate with beautiful views of the city and the river. We saw a wide range of religious artifacts including the beard of the prophet. Now I feel entitled to use that old curse I remember seeing in old matinee movies “ By the beard of the prophet..” In the treasury we saw untold wealth. The biggest diamonds and jewel encrusted swords, medals, clothes etc. We even saw 2 solid gold candle sticks which weigh 100 kilos each!
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