Friday, 16 May 2014

istanbul: across two continents

My primary reason for going to Turkey was to experience Anzac Day at Gallipoli. Because this is easiest done through an organised tour I decided to do the 8 day ANZAC Traveltalk tour recommended by a friend, with a few days tacked on in Istanbul to start with.

Hagia Sophia
Istanbul blew my mind. In an awesome way.

As often happens when you travel a lot, I have stopped researching a lot into places, so I had a rough idea of the major sites to see but not a lot else. I didn't realise what an awesome place Turkey is and how much there is to see and do.

My flatmates were going just for the Easter weekend so we all flew over together, although we were headed to different places. Walking down the main street in Beyoglu, Istiklal Avenue, with my backpack on and at 11pm, soaking in the sounds of bars and people late night shopping trying to find my hostel was one of those travel moments where I just couldn't keep the smile off my face. Landing in a new city with no idea where anything is and finding your way around is a thrillling thing.

Just when I thought I might need to stop and ask for some directions I spied the name of my hostel and checked in! The Chillout Hostel & Cafe had a great area downstairs where you could meet people and the rooms had big lockers to fit your bags. I met a kiwi girl in my room right away who was going to be on another Anzac tour so we had a big chat and ended up spending the next couple of days hanging out.

Hanging out in the common area of the hostel

The first morning exploring Istnabul it poured with rain. We managed to find a  little bakery and tried the layered cheese pastry, borek and Turkisk tea and coffee. After that it was off to the Grand Bazaar to look around.

Inside the Grand Bazaar

Fountain for washing hands, still used today

Lamps in the Grand Bazaar (annoyingly blurry)

By the time we made it to Spice Bazaar, which I actually preferred, the weather had cleared and we ate Turkish Delight and pistachios outside while the prayers sounded from the New Mosque.

Fruits and Turkish Delight in the Spice Bazaar

All the shops had their spices laid out in cool ways

Delicious Turkish Delight and Pistachios!
Delicious Baklava
The New Mosque

After a wonder around the Sultanahmet area we heading back to the hostel so we could relax before a night out.

Stone marking the road that lead to Rome

Outside the Blue Mosque

Fresh pomegranate juice

Sophie's friends were in Istanbul as well so the group of us went out to a bar street off Istiklal with live music, before heading to a rooftop salsa bar. Dancing under the stars (you could actually see them) when the roof was open was an awesome experience.

Sophie and I out in Taksim

The following morning we got up early and went to the Basilica Cistern, which was built in the sixth century to store water for the city.

In the Basilica Cistern

Trying to get good luck

Creepy Medusa heads at the base of columns

Lisa and I walked through the tulip gardens next to Topkapi Palace -Tulips were actually introduced to the Dutch by the Turks! - before walking across the Galata Bridge back to our hostel.

Tulip gardens next to the palace

Putting on weight already...

Fisherman on Galata Bridge

Giant giant kebab meat
Galata Tower
That night was my last night to spend with my flatmates, so we had Turkish Delight and Turkish beer on their balcony! One of those times when I am totally in love with life.

Beer! Yay!

And Turkish Delight


My last day in Istanbul before my tour I had delicious Turkish coffee and a cheese sandwich for breakfast before getting the ferry over to the Asian side, specifically to Kadikoy.

Mmm bresakfast for 1.50!
Cute cafe where I had my breakfast for super cheap

Istanbul is the only city to stretch across two continents. Most people tend to stay on the European side, but the Asian side is well worth a trip and where I would stay if I was in Istanbul long term. There are cute streets and shops, lots and good places to eat and a relaxed atmosphere.

Looking towards Galata Tower

On the ferry!

On the ferry to Kadikoy

Best kebab ever in Kadikoy

That night I met up with my tour and we went on a cruise along the Bosphorus to see Istanbul by night and get to know people on the tour.

Bridge between Europe and Asia

View from the hotel at breakfast
At the end of the Anzac tour we came back to Istanbul and had a last night out as a tour group.

At a Turkish bar 

Dinner overlooking the Hagia Sophia

And the Blue Mosque!

The following day those of us still around had a half day tour of the Istanbul sights. First up was the Blue Mosque, called so because of the blue tiles inside, made so that the dust slides off and they don't need cleaning! It was built from 1609 to 1616 and has withstood several earthquakes with no damage.

Ceiling in the Blue Mosque
Covering our heads in the Mosque

Next was the Hagia Sophia. This building is amazing. It was constructed in 537 as a church, which it was until 1453 when the Ottomans took over Constantinople and it became a mosque. After 1931 it was secularised and became a museum in 1935, in order to stop conflict over what the building should be. The dome of the church is intriguing to architects because it is so advanced for the time, and even now.

Inside the Hagia Sophia

Paintings from when it was a church
Dome in Hagia Sophia

View out of the window to the Blue Mosque

The last stop of my tour was Topkapi Palace, where the Ottoman Sultans lived for 400 years.

Buildings in the palace

Swimming area in the palace

Blue tiles handmade in the Palace
Last meal in Istanbul - Iskender! Different to home but still delicious

There is actually so much more to see in Istanbul than I thought, and I would definitely go back there again. Highly recommended!!


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