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east meets west in Istanbul

Monday, May 17th, 2010

I always like going back to a city for a second time, after you have ticked off all the big things you have plenty of time to chill out and enjoy the city.I had enjoyed the last time I was in Istanbul with mum in 2008, but was disappointed in its less than exotic feeling after 6 weeks in the middle east, at the time it just felt too western. Now however, this is exactly what I liked about it, and this visit has put Istanbul as one of my favourite cities. I think Iran would be a lot like Istanbul given the freedom. Istanbul really does have this great mix of western Europe and the middle east, which makes sense given its location spread out on both the Asian and the European side of the Bosphorous.

(get your shoes shined in style)

Me and Yochim had finally made it to our hostel, a really nice clean place in the main tourist district. Free wi-fi, free breakfast, a bar and super friendly staff. Sometimes tourism is great. I had 3 nights before my flight to London and very little plans. After finally updating my blog, checking facebook and looking at news- all things that were banned in Iran- me and Yochim headed out in the sun (wearing a t-shirt and no headscarf!). We wandered over the bridge, took the funicular up to the main shopping street. The definite western part of the city, a street heaving with people, shops, street sellers. An old tram trundles up and down and Christmas lights (?) hang above us. We stopped down a little side alleyway for tea, and had some lunch further up. We walked back down the hill and along the water where hundreds of fishermen fish day and night providing fresh fish for all the seafood restaurants behind them. It was a beautiful day, people were happy, the views are stunning down by the water of the mosques, the palace and suburbs on the otherside of the water. Back at the hostel bar, the late afternoon sun was just hitting the tables, we drunk beer and smoked shesha with William and Nad, a French Canadian couple I had meet in Yazd, in Iran a couple of weeks earlier. They had been travelling for 2 years and were in their last couple of weeks before home time.

Yochim had seen a free student theater show advertised so we all headed off, with another Canadian guy from our dorm, to try find it. We failed at actually making it their so had dinner instead, on a little side street off the main road, which even at 8.30pm was packed. Afterwards we went to a couple of bars, we found one little street which was packed with little tiny chairs and tables spilling out from the bars, a live band was playing some crazy Turkish music that everyone knew and were clapping and singing along to, occasionally getting up in groups and dancing. It was great! We stayed for a couple of drinks packed in tightly with everyone else. After the band finished we wandered back to the hotel, getting a bit lost and taxing the rest of the way.

I had one last full day before home, and wanted to do a bit of shopping for some things for work. Yochim headed off for the asian part of the city and I went over to the main bazaar, getting far too overwhelmed with what to buy and ended up not buying anything. I went down to the waters edge for lunch, a row of little boats float on the water cooking fish and you can buy a fresh fish sandwich for 4 lira (about 2 euros) and sit on the side on little tables (always these little tables and tiny stools) with salt and lemon juice and order tea. I grabbed my sandwich and looking around for a place to sit I saw a big group of Iranians from the train, I went and ate with them, they were drinking red wine which they pulled out fro their bag, all of them looking very much like they enjoyed the freedom of Turkey.

(fishermen off the bridge)

Back at the hostel Yochim was heading off to Bulgaria, so said goodbye to my travel buddy for the last week. William and Nad were still around and after explaining how good the fish I joined them for some more fish. We talked about how great asian is for street life, being able to sit around on the sides of streets, how its always busy and warm enough! I was not feeling super excited about heading to London the next day, I would have much preferred to stay in Istanbul, sitting around on street sides drinking tea. William went off to take photos, and me and Nad walked back towards the hostel stopping to buy a box of sweets, baklava and other sugary goodness. We went and sat outside the blue mosque, lit up beautifully in the evening. A guy sold us cups of apple tea, the call to prayer was playing, we ate our sweets. The last night of my trip, albeit a short one. Tomorrow would be back to London and almost time to start work.