I arrived in Istanbul on the overnight bus, which was made a terrible experience by a thing called allocated seats. Is it really to much to ask to sit where I want? When I’m on a coach, I like to sit near the back, by a window, especially if it’s an overnight trip. But because of allocated seats, I ended up in the worst possible location, in the aisle right by the side entrance where people were coming and going, wedged next to a fat man watching action movies, and in front of a kid with a louder snore than a drunk tramp. As a result I arrived feeling less than well rested.
After escaping the catacombs of the central bus station, I began my valiant journey across the public transport system of Istanbul. One metro train, two trams and a funicular later, I emerged exhausted at Taksim square, just a few steps from the Chambers of the Boheme, where a comfy bed awaited me.
Was it worth it? Hell, yes. Istanbul’s one of those cities people idolise, to the extent that I was worried I had romanticised it too much, and it wouldn’t live up to the hype. It’s certainly different from what I expected – its sheer size means there’s always going to be something unexpected to find. I love the street food – where else can you find roasted chestnuts, grilled corn on the cob and freshly squeezed orange juice available right on the street anywhere in the city?
Of course, a highlight to any visit of Istanbul is the iconic Hagia Sophia, and its neighbour the Sultanahmet (Blue Mosque). I visited in the morning, attempting to beat the inevitable crowds, but they were already out in force. It didn’t matter, as Sophia is more than ample enough for all her visitors.
It looks impressive from the outside, but the interior was nothing short of mind-blowing. Normally my camera struggles with low light shots, but it was around this time I realised I could reduce the Michael Bay-esque streaks by giving the lens a bit of a wipe. Duh.
A less conspicuous sight nearby is the Basilica Cistern, a creepy underground chamber that once supplied the city with water. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d miss it. I was pointed in the right direction by a fellow who was very keen on selling me a Turkish carpet. There was no way I was going to be buying a Turkish carpet, although I did later pick up a long-handled pot for making Turkish coffee.
Despite the heat, Istanbul is well suited for my favourite activity of just walking around exploring. I came across the spice market, with rows upon rows of pungent-smelling herbs and spices, and the Grand Bazaar, where anything under the sun could be purchased in the network of stone corridors.
The Galata Tower, overlooking the city from the hill, provides must-see views, and even houses a restaurant and nightclub. It was a bit of a squeeze at the top walkway, but the panorama was worth it.
At night the area beneath this tower was transformed into one of the venues of a huge jazz festival. I spent last night rocking out to the incredible Turkish band Gevende, whose music, an eclectic mix of styles and genres, deserves a closer look when I get home.
It was a great way to end the trip – yes, you read that correctly, after 4 months and 13 countries, the end is finally upon me. But don’t despair, I plan on continuing the blog with photos and tidbits from my travels past present and future. Watch this space!