Turkish delights

Trip Start May 27, 2011
1
8
10
Trip End Jun 19, 2011


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Where I stayed
Antique Hostel - Guest House Istanbul
Read my review - 4/5 stars

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Friday, June 10, 2011

DAY 1

Today was the day I've been most stressed about, even back when booking this holiday, as it had the lowest connection times and the fewest flights available. As it turned out, I had absolutely nothing to worry about (yet again).

We woke up at another horrid early hour, maybe because we wanted to still be on Australian time, and packed up everything to wait for our taxi airport transfer downstairs. Ted was concerned that the taxi wouldn't turn up but it did, and with no traffic on the Lisbon streets, we were there in ten minutes. After checking in, I thought I could ask the Iberia reservations office for some advice or assistance for our connecting flight in Madrid.
 
The lady at the counter said we didn't need to list ourselves for the flight and that there were at least ten seats left. When we mentioned we only had two hours in Madrid to collect our bags and check in again, she pulled a concerned face (not mine), and suggested we speak to her colleague who was operating the business class counter. The gentleman there made a note of us on the flight and printed us stand-by boarding passes to avoid having to check in again in Madrid. Whilst we didn't have anything guaranteed, we were at least halfway there.

After passing through security, we headed straight to the Easy Jet boarding gate. Even though we hadn't used priority boarding here, Ted still made sure we were first in the "other passengers" line. As it happened, all the passengers turned up on time, so we departed 15 minutes early and arrived in Madrid 15 minutes early as well. Ted and I thought we were being really smart by sitting in Row 2 so we would be amongst the first to disembark. Unfortunately the disembarkation was done by the rear door instead, so that plan didn't work very well.

When we reached the baggage belt, our backpacks were already sitting there waiting for us (unlike Ryan Air's 50 minute wait) and our transfer bus to Terminal 4 departed a few minutes later. Then it was just an easy stroll to the Iberia counter to drop off our bags, catch the transfer train to our boarding gate and collect our confirmed boarding passes at the gate. I gained twelve grey hairs for all this? We thought we'd have to fly separately, or divert to Munich, or not arrive in Istanbul until next week. 

We couldn't understand why the internet website displaying passenger loads had a red frowning face for this flight, as it was half empty (or half full if you're an optimist). We'd made sure we ate a hamburger and chips before boarding in case Iberia offered us the same service as SAS (nothing) but it ended up we had to find room for a pasta meal with red wine they offered onboard. Whilst Iberia cabin crew may not be as sunny as KLM, they are still a thousand times better than Mexicana.

When we arrived in Istanbul airport, it was really a chaotic yet strangely organised place. We had to buy a visa upon entry (another thing to show off in our passports) before collecting our bags and trying to find our transfer driver in the arrivals hall. There were more pieces of paper with names written on them flying around than any other airport we've seen so far. It took three turns of walking back and forth before finally finding our name, were put in a mini-van and sent on our way.

The city was not a pretty picture straight away, although when we were driving along the waterfront with several container ships to be seen, it made me reflective of the days when we lived in Newcastle, NSW. When we arrived in Sultanahmet where our hostel is, Ted became really excited by the area. Whilst the area is clearly catered to tourism, it is done so well in its presentation that you really look forward to staying there. And with the Blue Mosque, Topkapı Palace and Hagia Sophia all within easy walking distance, there is no better place to stay in Istanbul. Ted kept saying how he had expected the area to resemble a big, dirty city like Cairo and it was much better than he'd anticipated.

Our hostel is great too, with a rooftop bar and meeting area, as well as breakfast provided and wifi. You can literally walk five minutes from the front door and the Blue Mosque is right there. We also have a balcony which has a view of the Aegean Sea (which you can just see past the rooftop bar of the hostel next door).

Ted was quite distressed though as there is a policy here (similar to some areas of Egypt) where you can't flush your toilet paper down the loo but instead place it in a waste bin next to the bowl (as their plumbing is somewhat primitive). Ick! The toilet does have a built-in bidet, but I think the Turkish need to take some lessons from the Japanese because you have a better chance of pinning a tail on a donkey than you do when it comes to hitting the mark here.

The shower is in the center of the room and not in a separate cubicle, so you can guarantee to clean your bathroom floor every time you wash yourself. As our friends from Dallas, Texas arrived here yesterday (whom we're meeting later in Mykonos), we showered and changed and went to meet them at their hotel.

One thing this city isn't short of is kebab restaurants and sweets shops. And cats too! It was a twenty minute walk to meet Sean and Mike at their hotel and we decided to have something quick to eat before they needed to head out on a gay tour of Istanbul. That had us confused - isn't that like trying to do a gay tour of Tehran?

Sean and Mike had invited us to meet them for a drink afterward (about 11.30pm) so Ted and I decided to have a nap first. Clearly exhaustion took over as I ended up sleeping all the way through to morning whilst Ted met up with them alone. Well I do have to save up some energy for Mykonos later.

DAY 2

As Ted was out late last night, we didn't start sightseeing until a bit later, but with all the sights you need close-by, it wasn't going to be a challenging day. We went upstairs for the buffet breakfast which was basically just bread, cheese, olives and tomatoes but most importantly, didn't cost extra. I made a cup of tea but I stirred what I thought was granulated sugar into it, but when all the "sugar" floated to the top of the tea, I decided not to drink it after all.

We contacted Sean and Mike about going out for lunch but since they were flying out in the early afternoon to Mykonos, suggested we meet them there instead. After heading out, Ted found a cheap kebab restaurant nearby where we had lunch, which cost a fraction of most of the restaurants around Sultanahmet. We decided to head to Topkapı Palace first so after Ted noticed Topkapı on the other side of town on the map, we went to the nearest tram station and headed off.

It wasn't until we were 90% of the way to Topkapı that I decided to double-check the map and realised the palace wasn't there at all. It was actually back in Sultanahmet where our hostel was, so we had to disembark and catch the other tram back. Whilst the journey was completely unnecessary, it did give us a wonderful insight into the crowded public transportation system of this lovely city.

Since the Grand Bazaar was close, we disembarked there to have a look around. Ted mentioned that the markets were a more grandiose version of the Parklea Markets in Sydney. Whilst we bought absolutely nothing in the way of items, we did sit down for a Turkish coffee and baklava to enjoy the atmosphere. It was a relief to not be constantly hassled too as the salesman here are more courteous than in other places in the world. Some of them said things like "Come in and buy something you don't need" or "Please come inside and make me a rich man".

I didn't get the chance to see Topkapı Palace (the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans) last time I was here in 1996 so we went there next. It was definitely a popular place for tourists with beautiful gardens and buildings. Our next stop was Hagia Sophia which is across from the Blue Mosque. We didn't get to go inside as there were swarms of tourists but something tells me we'll be back here some day, so I'll wait till then.

The Blue Mosque is definitely worth seeing inside as the interior is beautiful and it doesn't cost anything to have a look. Since we were wearing shorts we thought we might not be allowed inside but they said it wasn't a problem as long as we removed our shoes. I think they were more concerned about women covering their shoulders. When I was here last you used to leave your shoes out front, now you carry them with you in a plastic bay, hence they may end up on eBay.

I didn't take any photos inside the Mosque due to my policy of not using a camera in any house of worship, although I did pick up an interesting brochure called "What is Islam?" which explains about the Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammad so it will be an interesting read. We returned to our hostel literally just before the skies opened up and it began to pour rain. We'd definitely made the most of our sightseeing day today.

Earlier we'd passed a local restaurant called the Han that Ted was keen try for dinner so we returned there in the evening. An elderly lady sits at the front of the restaurant making Turkish pancakes and you can enjoy your meal sitting on sofas. The meal was great but I should have paid more attention to the lack of feeling in my left leg from sitting on the floor because when we went to leave, I almost fell AOT on the couple next to us.

We are going on a day trip to Gallipoli tomorrow, so we walked around trying to find something resembling a supermarket to buy some breakfast items for the early start. No real luck there as we could only find peanut bars and something resembling a Twinkie, so hopefully we don't starve on our 5 hour drive there tomorrow!

DAY 3

Today was a LONG day but also a memorable one. We woke up at 6am, which isn't that bad considering all the 4am wake-up calls previously. I had asked the hostel last night if we could pick up some items for breakfast but they refused, so I went up early to the restaurant and had a look around for anything I could find. I could only get some bread rolls, nutella and oranges but it was better than nothing. When our pick-up driver came, we collected 5 others on the way through before heading to the Metro bus station.

We'd been under the impression that we were driving to Gallipoli in a mini-bus but instead we were actually put on a coach bus and driven there with the general public. We certainly didn't mind but since we didn't have a guide and none of us could speak Turkish, there was definitely a sense of confusion. As we didn't leave for half an hour, I went and bought a simple sausage, cheese and tomato sandwich but had no idea it would be covered with ketchup, mayonnaise, potato salad and pickles too.

The coach was surprisingly good with reclining seats, legroom, personal television screens and even cabin service, so it was just like business class on the A380 (joke). The only problem was all the additional stops we did, meaning the journey took about 5.5 hours. We had a toilet break at Tekirdag (cost of one lira) and to all complain how long the journey was taking. When we were an hour out of Gallipoli, the Turkish skies opened up and it bucketed rain, complete with thunder and lightning. Miraculously, it was blue skies again by the time we arrived at Eceabat.

Our first stop after meeting our guide T.J was to go to lunch. We didn't have to think about what to choose as the cafe gave us lentil soup and a chicken dish before sending us on our way. We joined a smaller bus before driving to Anzac Cove. Whilst this place has certainly changed since I was here in 1996, the Boomerang Cafe was still there.

Ted had a fear this would be a tour of drunken Aussies and Kiwis as opposed to people showing genuine respect but fortunately it wasn't the case. There were however some middle-aged bogan yahoos but most of the visitors were quite okay. Some of the sights we saw included Anzac Cove where the diggers landed, Lone Pine where the largest memorial sight is, as well as many grave-sites. One interesting thing is the Turkish memorial that is there also - it shows how we sometimes forget that the so-called "enemy" were soldiers with families too.

We heard a lot of other interesting stories too, some we already knew about and others that were new. The youngest soldier to serve was 14 and the average age we saw on the head-stones was about 22. We learned more about Jack Simpson Kirkpatrick, the digger that rescued 300 Anzacs on his donkey, as well as reading transcripts from diaries kept by some of the Anzacs. There were also Indian soldiers fighting with the Anzacs, Maori soldiers with the New Zealanders, and Aboriginal soldiers with the diggers, although most are un-identified as they were registered under English names.

This is my second time to Gallipoli and I am glad I came again, as well as bringing Ted here. It is certainly every Australian and New Zealander's duty to appreciate the sacrifices made by our diggers. As one visitor wrote in the guest book "Too many young people die because of old people's mistakes".

After leaving Gallipoli, we returned to Eceabat and joined another mini-bus for the long trip back to Istanbul. Even though this vehicle only made one stop for dinner and was ultimately quicker, it had no leg-room whatsoever to speak of! By the time we arrived in Sultanahmet just before 10pm, it was good being able to walk again. Gallipoli still remains one of my favourite and memorable places I've visited.

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Lest We Forget."

My Review Of The Place I Stayed



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Comments

Leanne on

What an amazing trip to read about and I am ticking off the arilines I will / will not fly with in the future. (It's like having our own Trip Advisor!)

" Make that DOS"... Leanne

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