...a day late! Last week I promised a quick little visit to Istanbul, Turkey. This has GOT to be one of my all-time favourite places that I have been. The language, the culture, the history is all so incredible. I have been to Turkey a few times and each time I can't wait to arrive in Istanbul. There is something about big, populated cities that I just love to explore. The first time my friend Lisa and I arrived was after our luxury tour through Egypt. We had left it up to our travel agent to find us a room in Istanbul, and once again, blindly trusted him. Being novice travellers we didn't do any research at all, we just kind of flew by the seat of our pants. We arrived in Istanbul in the early evening and made our way to the hotel that had been booked for us. The taxi driver let us out with our two suitcases each, carry-ons, and all the souvenirs we had bought in Egypt, and then promptly drove away. I remember looking at my friend and asking "What have we gotten ourselves into?" If Istanbul has a red-light district, that was where we had landed! Nevertheless, it was getting dark and we needed a place to stay. We entered the red-velvet and mirrored lobby, and of course when we arrived at the check-in desk they did not have our reservation, which we had already pre-paid and our voucher was 'not recognized.' We decided that we would pay again and stay one night, after all, how bad could it be? The bellhop came to take us to our room, and his eyes nearly bugged out when he saw all our baggage! He did not have a luggage trolley, but somehow insisted on carrying our eleven bags by himself. I remember how the three of us crammed into a tiny little elevator that had a grate that needed to be pulled across to close it. We were all literally nose to nose with our bags strategically placed around us. Then the bloody lift wouldn't LIFT! And then the grate wouldn't open! The bellhop, speaking no english, somehow made us understand that on the count of three we were all to jump in the air and land at the same time. Which we did, and thank god the elevator moved. V-e-r--y slowly, but we finally made it to the third floor. Where, there were dirty dinner dishes and dirty laundry littering the hallways! OMG! What a place! But our room was the best. It was a long narrow room, with two twin beds, one in front of the other lined against one side of the room and a small bathroom with a bathtub that was a four foot cube with a seat carved out to plunk your naked ass on. (Bum imprint and all!) The room reeked of insecticide and later that night we discovered why. Cockroaches and bedbugs. Nice.
We got the hell out of there at the crack of dawn and booked ourselves into The Marriot. I always think back on this adventure with fondness because really, in hindsight the whole thing was quite funny. The next time I went to Istanbul, I was much more prepared and in fact, stayed at a B&B right near The Blue Mosque for a fraction of the cost of the Bordello we stayed in that first night.
The Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed Mosque has got to be one of the most beautiful places of worship I have ever laid my eyes on. Living in KSA I would never have dreamed of being allowed inside a mosque, being an Infidel and all. The inside of the Blue Mosque is truly awe-inspiring with it's cobalt blue ceiling tilework.
The Hagia Sophia was once an early Christian Church that back in the 1400's was turned into a Mosque by the Turks. It is now a museum filled with beautiful Christian mosaics and evidence of the transformation into a mosque. It is known to be one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture.
No trip to Istanbul would be complete without a visit to the Grand Bazaar which is a shopping experience and a maze like no other. You can seriously get lost in there for weeks, especially if you have a sense of direction like mine! One of the most friendly customs in Istanbul is tea-drinking. It is the national drink and is served in little tulip shaped glasses with a lump of sugar. I think I was offered tea in every single shop I wandered into! There is regular tea, but also apple tea that the tourists tend to drink. It is basically just very sweet hot apple juice. Who would have know hot apple juice was so tasty! If you have not had enough tea inside the bazaar, there are also Tea Men walking about with huge pots of tea strapped to their backs.
(Click on the pics to enlarge)
Later this year I'll post some more pictures from around Turkey, and I'll conjure up the story of my adventure in the Turkish Bath!