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Quick trip to Istanbul

14 September 2008 · No Comments

Following Edward to his European layovers, I found myself in Istanbul this past weekend. Ed is on his way to a couple of the *-istan countries to study a bit of language and exploring a bit over the next 5 or so weeks. We also met up with Ela, a friend that I met playing frisbee in Potsdam. Ela is now an exchange student that has been in Turkey for about a month (taking language classes) and had just arrived in Istanbul about 10 days ago. She is now on holiday and decided to spend a couple days with us exploring parts of the city as well. We were very lucky that she had been there long enough to figure out public transport system and know the basic layout of the city. This made our lives much much easier.

Istanbul is a very large (> 10 million people) sprawling city. I think it is one of the cleanest cities I have been in a long time – if ever. The older parts of the city (near the water) is very touristy, but unlike any other city I have been in. The outside areas reminded me of the hills outside of Los Angeles – areas like Riverside, Palmdale, etc – stripped away hills filled with row after row of apartments and townhouses and malls and ‘modernization’ that all looks the same to each other and every other suburb in the world. I found Istanbul (the old parts) to be a pretty amazing city. Very European, full of beautiful people, crazy loud, crazy traffic, full of cats, generally friendly people, hot, at times very different, and full of energy.

On Thursday afternoon, Ela met us at the airport (Ed arrived from Fairbanks about 45 minutes after I did) and we headed back to our hostel (The hostel was very nice. I wish we had a bit more time just to enjoy breakfast and enjoy the view of the water. I would stay there again if I ever get the chance to return). After grabbing a quick snack, we headed toward the Beyoglu district. This was a fun place. Tons of people on the street, bands playing everywhere, lots of music, horns, noise, energy, and life. It is actually the type of place I was very much expecting Bucharest to be, but wasn’t (at least we couldn’t find it). Ela called a friend and got directions to a local restaurant and was completely unmarked. Directions – go to the shoe store on the corner, turn left until the tobacco store, across the street go into the building with an elevator, and go to the top. No signs, no numbers, that’s it. It as a bit strange. But we ended up eating on top of a roof with very good food and friendly service. Beer is expensive though.

Our hostel

Friday morning came and we were unexpectedly awoken by church prayers being blasted over a system of loud speakers at 5 a.m.! We were there during Ramadan, but apparently the happens every single day. I am not sure if it is the worst or best alarm clock I have ever experienced. I guess I would call it the worst just due to the time, but if it was an hour or two later, it would most definitely be the most effective one. At breakfast, we saw a large ship with big guns, a helicopter, and flying an US flag come floating by. I found myself wondering ‘what the f$§k is that doing here?’ I then realized that the country of Georgia is fairly close by… I still wonder though. After breakfast, we met up with Ela and went on the big tour of Istanbul. We started off with the Blue Mosque, then the Mosaic Musium, then Aya Sofya… All this before lunch.

After lunch we went to the Bizaar districts of Istanbul, hitting the spice market, the Grand Market, taking a ferry across to Asia (I have now stepped foot in Asia!) to Kadikoy, then back to Beyoglu district to the tower to watch the sunset.  I found the spice market pretty amazing and the Grand Market very overwhelming.    Kadikoy was a very cool district with a university feel to it.  Lots of young people, alternative shops, nice market, lots of cafes, etc.  The tower at sunset was very crowded, but it had a nice view.

Saturday was a short day.  We were all a bit lethargic.  I am not sure if it was because of our crazy schedule yesterday or just the weather – it was hot and muggy.  Something seemed to suck the life out of us.  We ventured into the Topkapi Palace and wandered around for a few hours.  It was pretty nice – full of gardens, lots of tile work (very nice), etc.  There were a lot of people there – too many for all of us and our morning mood.  After a pretty bad lunch (especially for Ela and her vegi pizza), we went to the Basilica Cistern – an underground cavern for holding water – still in its original condition.  The Cistern was very cool and good way to end the trip.

I really enjoyed the weekend. I wish I had more time there.  If given a chance, I think Istanbul could become one of my favorite cities.  It was very big and crowded, so maybe just for short bursts, but still very very cool and worth many many return trips.

The one bad thing are these things. They are eveywhere.  I found out the hard way that they are quite painful on the shin when you are not paying attention!  I cracked my head a couple times in the hostel as well.

The rest of the pictures can be found here.  We took a lot of pictures – 260-something.  I managed to narrow it down a bit, but still a lot there.

Tags: Friends · holidays · Life · Travel