Istanbul

(Emily) My current immobility/boredom has given me the chance to write up the first bit of Turkey (photos to follow). Thanks everyone for the messages and emails : ) Love you bigtime!  

Crossing the border from Bulgaria seems like ages ago (it kind of is – we’ve been in Turkey for nearly two weeks now…) We were a little apprehensive on the approach as our detour to Burgas in Bulgaria meant that we came south to cross at fairly minor point rather than the main border at Erdine; we were worried that we might get turned back! It was our first more ‘serious’ border crossing, with officials directing you from one office cubicle to the next to the next, and we felt excited to be entering Turkey, something of a milestone destination for us. Comedy moment was when we’d got all our documents in order and were going through the final checkpoint. The guy took James’ passport and stamped it, then we tried to pass him mine and he goes “No, no, drivers only”. Er, hello!!! Despite the fact I was there sitting astride my own bike, it didn’t quite compute that a girl could be more than a mere passenger- a little insight for me there of what’s to come!

The highway road leading towards Istanbul was brand spanking new (they’re sprucing up the roads system as part of the campaign to join the EU) so although the thought of motorway for the whole day was not a fun one, at least it would be a relatively easy ride. And it was… until we reached the outskirts of Istanbul. Oh. My. God. For a start, the sheer size of the city was just overwhelming; the high rises and roads stretched for as far as the eye could see. And the traffic; bloody hell!!! I guess it didn’t help that we had arrived at rush hour, or that we then took the wrong exit road which added about an hour’s detour, but it was just crazy town! We were soon following local bikes down the hard shoulder as it was the only way to avoid the constant beeping, cutting up and general nut-bar behaviour. It also didn’t help that I needed the loo more than I ever had in more entire life and was in excruciating pain!!! When we finally spotted signs for ‘Sultanahmet’ where we were heading, we were in a bit of a daze. Luckily a friendly passer-by, a really nice guy called Furkan, gave us directions and eventually we made it into the relative calm of the cobbled streets of Sultanahmet, the main tourist district in Istanbul due to its proximity to all the major sights. Phew! We lived to see another day!

 

Istanbul is one cool city and, despite being tourist-tastic, we really like Sultanahmet. It seems very young and cosmopolitan, with lots of parks and a tram system that gets you about easily and cheaply. Our hostel boasts a fantastic location between the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, both colossal in size and architectural wonders. It’s a chilled place to walk around, people watch and take in a little culture. Food’s not great (to James’ great disappointment as he had high hopes) but then I don’t think Istanbul, and in particular this area, is representative of the rest of the country in the culinary stakes… we hope not anyway, we’re here for a while! It’s also far more expensive than we had expected – especially petrol at nearly £1.70 per litre – so we’re trying to stick to our free breakfast at the hostel then a kebab from Kadir (street vendor, much better food than all the bars and  restaurants) in the evening. Oh, and all the beers of course – prerequisite to accompany the football!!

We’ve been really struck by how friendly and helpful people have been towards us. Inevitably there are the inexhaustible carpet sellers, market vendors and front of house restaurant staff who become your biggest fan for the two minutes you walk past their business then mutter insults as soon as you’ve passed (yeah, we may not speak the language but it’s not hard to interpret), but the people we’ve come to know better are nothing but genuine. The guys down at the bar, that we frequent all too often, have really looked out for us, especially since I had my accident. Little Haci (not to be confused with Big Haci) even invited us to his sister’s wedding last Friday! (Unfortunately it was the day we were visa hoop-jumping but that would have been cool). The nature of the way the Turkish bars are laid out, with cushions on the floor in a horseshoe and shared tables, means that you soon get chatting to the people next to you and so, as well as the guys working here, we met some lovely fellow travellers. On the first evening, we had a real laugh with Aric and Angi from Virginia, Washington (hello guys!) and were also kept amused by Zach and Andy, college students from the US, who got steadily drunker and drunker on their ‘beer tower’. Each evening brings a different set of people and it’s so interesting to find out who they are and what they’re about – ended up chatting to a retired couple, Tom and Penny, the other night who had just been to Exeter (where I went to uni) to discuss an architectural proposal for the new school for the deaf. When they were travelling around Europe in the 70s, they sketched everything instead of taking photos as the film was so expensive to buy and develop: I love that! For the last few evenings we have been watching the football  with Albert from the Netherlands. He and his friend Daniel have been riding round Eastern Europe on their XT and Aprilia and were due to leave Istanbul on Friday, but unfortunately one of the bikes (no guesses which – always the Italian) conked out. Despite them being mechanics, there was no fixing it so Daniel headed off while Albert waited for alternative transport. The drama of the overland biker’s life, eh?!!

 

Speaking of which, as we were parking up outside the hostel on our first day we got chatting to two Aussies, brothers Dean and Paul, who are riding to Magadan in far eastern Russia on a crazy route which took them up the length of Africa including the DRC (Deeply Risky Congo). It was really interesting chatting to them about their experiences in Africa (check it out on their blog; see links page) which seemed to go from the sublime to the ridiculous to the downright scary!! Both lovely guys, they’ve continued from Turkey on quite a similar route to us so were able to give us invaluable advice about visas (lucky for us, they had just been through the whole palaver in Istanbul so helped us find the correct locations for consulates and ensured we filled in the right forms) and are now a great source of info for the countries we heading too. And not only that but Dean gave us his whole i-Tunes collection – up ‘til then we had no music on our netbook – so thanks, Dean!!

One good thing about being in Istanbul for a prolonged period of time is that we’ve had two family visitors (so far…!) As luck would have it, BMI has just started a partnership with Turkish Airlines so Dad has spent a week training some Turkish pilots. He just so happened to start and finish his week in Istanbul so we’ve got to see him twice (the second time was the day after my accident so Daddy’s little girl was very pleased to get a big hug). Then we managed to persuade Dan, James’ little brother, to come over for a weekend break. He was dubious at first as he was leaving for the US on Tuesday to do Camp America but we’re very glad he blew caution to the wind and got his a*** over here – we had a wicked time showing him the sights (er, the bar) and although he had to spend the whole evening without us on Sat while we were at the hospital, he’d made enough friends by then to saunter down to watch the football on his own. Wish you could have stayed longer, Dan, and good luck in NYC! (Maybe you’ll finally start reading our blog now you’re actually in it…)

One Response to “Istanbul”

  1. Angi says:

    GO USA!!!

    I do feel horrible about your condition, but…I had to :) :) :) At least we both have advanced, woo hoo!!

    Nice pic ;) here is a link to our 300+ Turkey pics if you’re bored: http://gallery.me.com/angicarr#100117 You’re right, the food is SO much better outside of Istanbul.

    Have you been back to the bar we met you at or a different one? I’m trying to guess who big and little Haci are based on who we met…I don’t remember anyone’s names.

    Bye!
    Angi