... is Constantinople
Trip Start Aug 25, 2006
47Trip End Dec 15, 2006
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
I've already eaten myself sick on the sweet pasteries everywhere. They're just so hard to pass up, a few small ones here, a few there and soon you're a walking stick of butter.
I had a bit of a cruise around the town last night and really I'm surprised how safe it is here. Considering how empty the streets were at about midnight I didn't come across any groups of people who looked dodge or did I see any trouble at all. There were hawkers with their sheets of goods on the ground all along the waterfront until about 10pm. There was also fishermen still fishing off the bridge at midnight. There is about 10 times as many during the day, and why they're fishing there is beyond me as the biggest thing it seems they catch would be lucky to fit into a can of sardines, but there they are - night and day. The shops shut pretty early, about 6.30pm which is a change from Spain where they seem to stay open as long as there are people. But the main drag, Istikal Cadessi was pumping even until past midnight. I have heard good things about the nightlife and as soon as my antibiotics are done I'll give it all a good once over.
I've been a little annoyed at having to constantly check how much I'm being charged for stuff, just like Morocco. I've caught out shopkeepers 3 times so far blatantly overcharging for stuff. If I really could be bothered I could barter for everything but would only get half as much stuff done during the day. The supermarket seems to be the only place they don't try and rip you off but I wouldn't be surprised if there is a sly add 10% button somewhere on the till they hit at the end. One trick is they'll feign translation difficulties. One guy said 5 lira for something I was buying then when I expressed disatisfaction with the price he goes oh, I mean 50 lira cents. Sure mate - if I'd given him 5 without questioning the price he wouldn't have given me change.
The transport around Istanbul seems ok, but there's no easily accesible metro line running from the southern part of European side to the northern part. There is a pretty good tram system though. But after buying a tram token I found that 3 days later I still hadn't used it. Every time I set off to go somewhere I would inevitably end up walking the way there and back again due to the fact that pretty much every street in Istanbul has something interesting to look at or going on. I've had several sucessful food crawls around the city and found it was a good way to kill half a day and sample some of the plethora of food there is in Turkey. Typically it would begin with a few different bits of turkish delish which would get me a few blocks before I would come across a kebab store which also sells fresh orange or pomegranite juice. Then there would be a patisserie which always have something the last one didn't and hence an excuse to eat more. Then around the more populated squares and walks there is the ever-present food vendors with their fish kebabs and guys with carts selling all manner of honey drenched cakes. None of this compares with the spice market though, where there's all of the above and more but in a more convenient environment so one can't help one's self but be serially tempted by everything and eventually give in. Yep, definitely prefer walking around Istanbul to taking the foodless trams.
One thing they're cool with here and weren't in Morocco is allowing people into mosques - even during prayer time. There are too many unbelivable mosques in Istanbul's central area and so trying to describe them all would be a lengthy exercise but they're all pretty similar anyway. No shoes inside (and you'll be yelled at for even stepping on any of the carpet near the door). Some people wash before going inside at the taps provided. As cold as Istanbul is this time of year, plenty of people still completly de-shoe and wash their feet, face and neck before going inside. Unsure one day if non-Muslims were allowed in during prayer time I headed into the nearest mosque after hearing the midday call to prayer. They seemed cool about it but when I appeared to be standing in the wrong spot according to someone in the Mosque I was directed to stand in a more discrete spot at the back. The prayer process began with everyone (men only it seemed) standing shoulder to shoulder facing the back wall (presumably the direction of Mecca?) with the mosque's Imam, or head-shed, out the front. The singing guy had his little box and at about 10 past and a fair crowd gathered he started the ceremony and began more of the singing you hear blaring over the city to announce prayer time. About 5 minutes in they then begin the bowing/kneeling/forehead-on-the-ground stuff. Different sequences of that follow for the next 5 to 10 minutes before it seems over and most people leave but some still sit around praying for a bit longer. Then it seems everyone is back to their lunch or business as usual. In total however not many people attend. I'd estimate less than a few percent of people actually go to prayer during the day, but on Fridays and weekends it seems a fair few more do. There doesn't seem to be any restriction on who is allowed to go and pray either. A French photographer I met in my hostel was telling me he was inside up the front of a Mosque when people began to pile in for prayers. He became stuck and was essentially forced to participate in an entire prayer ceremony - following the cues of those around him as they went through the process.
Luke and I investigated doing a tour with one of the plethora of travel companies surrounding the district our hostel is in. Many people we've met talk about doing organised tours - organised in the sense that they arrange everything for you in advance but you still choose the itinerary and where you go and how long you're there for, so it's not entirely bad but still we decided to give it a miss and rely on our own ability to get ourselves around. We also priced hiring a car but petrol here is a little over 2 lira a litre, or about 2 aussie dollars. Turkey isn't small so even before finishing back of the envelope calculations on how much fuel would cost that option was vetoed. There's also an 18% VAT, similar to GST, on everything including car hire which isn't too pleasant. So we've decided to orgaise our own way around Morocco style and hope it isn't as annoying as it was to do in Morocco.
The Pope's visit was a little uneventful in the end. From the day I arrived there was a police presence around the Aya Sofia and Blue Mosque perpetually until the evening of his departure. On the actual day of his visit to the Mosques the entire area around them was closed off about a block in each direction making getting from our hostel to town a longer and more annoyıng journey. The day before and the day of there were riot police in groups everywhere and there were even riot tanks and a military helicopter circling any place he was going to visit. They certainly took no chances with the possibility of him getting into trouble. A guy I met from the UK, Tim (also on travelpod - his username is dynamo, check his site out) who is currently cycling from the UK to Australia hung out with me most of the afternoon waiting to see something go down but alas by about 6 oclock we got over it and decided to go for a beer back at the hostel. Upon arriving and getting our first beer there were live pictures vıa BBC from inside Aya Sofia of the Pope rocking up and going in. We could hear the 2 military helicopters overhead and through the TV they were so close. We decided to head up and see if he was going to walk between Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque (a distance of only 50 meters they had rediculously heavily guarded also) but alas the slacker got back in his car for the short journey and we only saw his motorcade from a far. The locals weren't too impressed by all of this. Every one complained about his visit and I found it hard to believe that they shut down the roads for the entire Sultanahmet area during his visit that night. Upon speaking to the hostel owner though he was more optimistic and said things like this boost the tourism to the area for years to come.
P.S Please ignore any odd symbols in the text. It's the strange Turkish keyboards. They have two i's; one without the dot and one with. The one without renders like an odd y: ı. I try to fix it but some slip through the cracks and end up in the text. You'll live i'm sure.