July 31, 2013

First night in Istanbul

The world is a small place. Before even leaving Perth, I ran into a friend at the Dome in the Perth Terminal and then once I was on the Quatar Air flight to Doha, I found myself sitting right next to a friend from high school. We caught up over take off and caught up on a whole bunch of fun movies that we agreed had just slipped passed us during the turbulence of the uni term. We split in Doha and I hopped on my second scarcely populated flight to Istanbul.

Having talked to a couple of people at the hostel I now know I was not alone in the struggle to avoid a single taxi fare into the city from the airport. Despite making a prior reservation (without payment at least) with 'Istanbul airport shuttle', their bus stand was nowhere to be found. After some garbled attempts at speaking non-English with some of the other bus drivers and wanting to stay above ground, I found a Havitas bus which got me two thirds of the way. It seemed most were going to Takasim square, turning North before reaching Sultanahmet. Anyway, it was great to walk the 30 minute road to the hostel, mack bang in the middle of the old town. Cheers Hostel is a lovely, typically narrow three-storey plus roof terrace place down a cobbled lane off one of the main roads. The first people I met in the lobby were naturally from Perth. Small world again. After settling in and recovering a bit from the steaming walk with my pack in Perth winter clothes, I went for a little roam. Istanbul is just so full of beautiful, nicely-run-down charm. The locals are happy help you out if they're not bent on selling you something and even if they are trying to sell you stuff, the gifts and trinkets in Istanbul are actually really nice.

I went up towards the Sofia mosque which is closed on Mondays then after admiring some shop front window carpet weavers and having a chat with this lovely old painted porcelain salesman, I went on up to Tokapi Palace. The massive walls and lavish gateways channel you into one huge courtyard before entering the palace actual. There are armed guards and without reading up on it too much, I would tell that it was a real historical mark of the Ottoman empire. I only got there with two hours till closing which ended up as a pretty perfect time to check it out. Like no European masterplan palace, this came up in the 13 or 14th century, was low lying (one storey all around really) and sprawled out after accumulated additions. It housed all of the treasures of the past sultans of the Ottoman Empire and simply put, it was extraordinary. I saw all of the jewels, gifts from other states, weapons, clothes and holy Islamic relics. The artistry was just hard to behold in the tiny details and also in the shear size of some of the pieces including thrones and beds. 

Back to the hostel and I ran into a mottled bunch of Americans, Canadians and Kiwis to go out to dinner with. They'd booked a table for a Dervish dance dinner and they said I should come on with them. It was on a roof top with a beautifully framed view of the Sofia Mosque that we sat and made our Shish orders before the dancing started. A little trio of instrumentalists took their place and after a slow procession, 4 dancers took the stage then glacially built into the traditional spin that makes up the Dervish dance. It was pretty hypnotic and the whole sight and sound was pretty awesome for the first 5 minutes. What we didn't know is that the exactly same dance started and stopped another four times with slightly different music so it did get a bit old. We were all pretty chuffed with the meal but realized that we probably got a little suckered for what we paid for. All in all, we went on to find a beautiful Turkish delight and baklava shop and relished the flavours.

A drink on the roof top bar back at the hostel tied off a pretty great day. Ready to relive the jetlag red-eye before the first full day in what is already showing itself to be a pretty awesome place!

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