Thursday, 22 January 2009

A City with Two Tales...

Another week, another country... Last week was Istanbul, which was a LOT different to anywhere we've been previously, and, thankfully, a bit warmer than we expected, yay! It seems we've come away with slightly different impressions of the place, so:

Kent wasn't impressed with Istanbul mostly... things didn't really start well on our first day, when we went to the tourist information centre and asked for some, well, information. The man there was less than impressed that we had walked into his domain, expecting to be helped and decided the best way to deal with us was to be bloody rude. Nice.
Things got even better when we walked into the Grand Bazaar that afternoon... he hadn't really anticipated just how forward and pushy the merchants would be... as it's winter, there are very few people around, so they were keen to make a sale out of those who were there... us! Virtually every single shop we walked past had someone in front of it who asked where we were from ("New Zealand." " Aah, key-vee, key-vee!") and didn't really want to let us get away without buying something... Kent was NOT into this approach at all. We did get better at this though, and our visit to the Spice Bazaar a few days later was less painful for him... plus he bought a massive bag of proper chewy dried apricots for 3YTL (about 50p). To slightly compound the problem, our hotel was in the middle of the Bazaar district, so there wasn't really any escape from the relentless "Hello nice couple, you like something to eat/tea set/new jeans/turkish delight?"
We did however discover that real Turkish Delight is actually really, really, yummy, and not at all like that rubbish they put in the Roses chocolates! Also, their fondness for Apple Tea and how frequently people offer it to you when they are attempting to make a sale is brilliant - we brought some back and are making our way through it rather nicely.
We trekked up to one of the universities to see a Salvador Dali exhibition in its museum, it was interesting, and the paintings themselves were colourful, but mostly it was an eye-opener... I know this just demonstrates my lack of artistic understanding, but it seems the guy was a bit of a nutter (sorry if he's your inspiration) who was rather self obsessed. I'm probably going to be lynched by crazed art students now.
His biggest highlight was going to see Galatasaray play football. I have to confess that even I enjoyed it, in spite of the cold, the crowd, though small was very loud and it was quite a festive atmosphere. Galatasaray won 4-2 over Mulatyaspor, although we accidentally supported the wrong side for the first 18 mins of the game - in our defence, we were supposed to be supporting the home side, who play in dark red and yellow vertical stripes... one team was wearing said dark red and yellow stripes, and the other was playing in white, so we assumed the former was 'our' team... thank goodness Galatasaray scored first, and we figured it out, although it was somewhat bewildering when the crowd (wearing home colours) erupted in cheers when what we thought was the opposition (in white) scored!
Kent was disappointed with most of the touristy things, as there doesn't seem to be the organised preservation that there is in the UK and other parts of Europe. They were pretty expensive and there isn't a lot of information for the fee you pay. He did really like the Yedikule Hisar (Fortress of the Seven Towers) though, and the adjacent city walls... although the homeless shanties "built" in the terraces beside the wall weren't really to his taste! It was a bit of a shame that we only made it there on the day before we left, or he might have had a better time...

I LOVED it! The noise, the hustle and bustle, the riot of colour in the Bazaars, it was fantastic. Although the rude man in the tourist information office did throw things into a bit of a spin to start with, once we had our bearings and worked out the public transport system though, it was pretty good. I loved the Bazaar - most of the men are pretty good if you just say 'no, thanks' and smile at them, and they seemed to know when they were flogging a dead horse... apart from the guy who managed to blindside Kent and talk him into buying a backgammon set unexpectedly, we managed to escape fairly unscathed. We also watched a couple of the merchants playing a couple of rounds of Backgammon while we were there; they made our games look positively snail-like! We made the mistake of giving in to one of the restaurant chaps near our hotel, thinking that if we dined there once he would be satisfied... oops! He was a bit persistant after that, but seemed to realise it was all just a bit of a laugh and didn't make a nuisance of himself.
The Muslim aspect of life there was really interesting - there are mosques everywhere you look (not surprising, as there are 15 million people in the city) and the call to prayer plays five times a day from the speakers on the minarets... the first time we wondered what on earth was going on (as the prayer wasn't what we consider 'tuneful'), but it's actually quite eerily cool.
We visited the Blue Mosque (alright, but not as pretty inside as Aya Sofya), Aya Sofya (a former church, turned mosque, turned museum), Topkapi Palace, Galata Tower, Istiklal Caddesi (the modern shopping street) and all the usual tourist spots, which were quite pretty.
We took a ferry trip over to the Asian side (Istanbul straddles both Europe and Asia) for a day, and had a wander about there, and took in a belly dancing show (Kent ended up strutting his stuff on stage with a couple of the dancers! Photo below) in an underground establishment that we think might also have been a brothel... classy.
The fish market was also a bit of an experience, am not particularly good with fish in the first place, but it was mostly the cooked whole sheep heads on display that caused a bit of squeamishness with me - but travel is all about getting into a different culture, so it was ok.
Plus, we ended up buying a carpet from a less pushy man outside the Grand Bazaar, on our last day. We negotiated with three different shops and finally found one willing to come down a bit further on one we both love, so it was a happy (and slightly heavier luggage) note to leave on.
As usual, click on the photo below and it will take you to the album...

More when we're back from Wales.
K & E x

1 comment:

Caro said...

Oh dear, I've been telling people you didn't like Istanbul and it seems that's not quite right at all. Kent didn't like not being fully in control, is probably the truth. Nice to hear the bazaars etc do sound like my impression of the place, Eryn.

Cheers, Carolyn/Mum.