I found my old Livejournal where I had been writing let my family know I was alive during my year abroad. Here’s what I had to say about Istanbul…
My adventures in Turkey began December 26th in Bulgaria. They began on the overnight train from Veliko Tarnovo to Istanbul. Late at night or really early in the morning, the train stopped at the boarder and we had to go through boarder patrol and get our entry visa to Turkey. I looked online and talked to people and knew it was going to be 15Euros for my visa. That was great because all I had was 15Euros. The rest was in Turkish Lira and Bulgarian Lev.
So I wait in line and I get my turn with the boarder agent. As a Canadian it is now 45 Euros to get my visa and they only take Euros or US Dollars. I was so screwed. I found the conductor of the train and let him know my problem. He lent me 30 Euros and I gave him my cheap phone, to be exchanged when we reached Istanbul and I could get more Lira from an ATM to pay him back.
On my train ride I met other Canadians that were travelling to Istanbul including Ilya. He didn’t have a place to stay booked so I let him know what hostel I was at and that he could see if they had an empty bed for him. They had space (most hostels usually will) and we spent the next few days travelling around Istanbul together.
One day we went to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque named the “Blue Mosque” for the interior and exterior details.
After we went to the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia began as a Byzantine church as was later converted to a mosque when Constantinople (ancient Istanbul) was conquered.
One night we went to see whirling dervishes. The dervishes continually turn in a circle with their hands placed so one hand is turned up to God and the other is turned down to the earth. They went without stopping for about 30 minutes. Just watching them made me dizzy.
Another day we went to the Grand Bazaar to do some shopping and to smell the spices. Then we went to a Hammam. This is a Turkish bath in the style of Roman Baths. There is a large room and you are segregated by gender. There are different pools of water in different temperatures. There is also a large warmed stone in the middle of the room to lay on. At the Hammam you could get an attendant to scrub you down, in this case you were provided a pair of new underwear to take and wear for this. It felt amazing to lay on the hot stone and be cleaned and massaged by someone else.
That evening I took the ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul. The view from the Bosphorus River was amazing. The night time pictures taken on a digital camera in 2009 were not so good.
At my hostel I met Adam. He was a clothing designer in Turkey to check the quality of manufacturing. We were both headed in the same direction so we decided to travel together to Ephesus. You can check out Adam’s goods at Clothing Arts where he has designed some Pick-Pocket Proof Pants or P3 (cubed). He is always designing new things including a new travel jacket.
In the morning Adam and I had to buy bus tickets to Selcuk.. It was 55 Lira, 25 Euros, for a ten hour night bus. We bought the tickets, but we went to the next agency to see what they would have charged. They would have charged 50 lira, but the bus was full. We literally had bought the last two seats on the bus.
We took a walk to the Grand Bazaar and had lunch at the Gold Market. It was great, the food was good and we were able to watch a live market. Men on a phone buying and selling stock. In North America this is all done by computer, there is no live stock exchange left. Lunch was also good. It was beef sausage with salad and rice pilaf. Adam had the leg and thigh of a chicken with all the fixings. We were also right next to a hole in the wall chai (tea) place.
After lunch we walked down to the Archaeology Museum. This is two buildings. A small one that had ancient artifacts from the world. Local items from Egypt, Rome, Greece, Ottoman, and many other cultures. Then there was the large main building. There were rooms dedicated to Sarcophagus, including the very large one that once contained Alexander the Great. There were also relief’s, sculptures, and mosaics from all over. Then was a room dedicated to small figurines. Then onto the tools of the homes. Stone, bone and metal tools. There was jewellery and ornaments. There was also a huge obsidian core. It was a thing of beauty. We never finished the museum, it closed before we could make it to the end. I will have to go back.
After the museum we went to the Spice Bazaar to pick up a few things for the long bus ride. We bought Turkish delight as well as half a kilo of corn nuts. The nuts will take days to eat, literally. We bought from a corner stall on the outside of the bazaar where there were a lot of locals buying. This is the best way to know that something is good, both in taste and value.
We crossed the bridge and found a place famous for their Baklava. They have been on TV all over the world. Baklava is philo dough with a lot of butter. Then there are different things to put inside. The walnut is the best. But Baklava is to rich, more then one or two pieces and you will feel sick or the amount of butter will instantly clog your arteries and cause heart failure.
Then right by the bridge we had dinner on the Bosphorus. There was a little fish place. They had literally caught the fish that morning and put it live into pools of water until you wanted to eat it. We had a carp like white fish and about ten little red mackerels. The mackerels are gutted, battered and fired. The head, tail and skin is still there. You eat the fish of the bone. They taste fine, but are little and you have to be careful of the bones. The carp is de-scaled, but the skin is left on and it is baked. The skin comes right off, but you are supposed to eat it. It is good, adds some crunch to the fish. Again you have to be careful of the bones. Adam also dug the cheek out and had me eat it. It was fine, not really anything special. There is also the muscle along the fin and the back spine that is extra fatty and a delicacy. I ate them, but I like the main body of the fish better. Best to leave the parts to the people who like them more then me.
Then we had to haul ass back to the hostel to pick up our bags and get to the agency to get the shuttle bus to the bus station. It was easier then trying to station on our own. Then only thing is the shuttle goes to almost all the agency’s in Istanbul. We had to run, but we made it about two minutes before the shuttle arrived. So we sat in the shuttle and waited for the bus. Then we got to the bus station and had to wait for the coach to arrive. Nice thing is that it is cheap to sit and have chai anywhere in Turkey.
We went onto the bus and it really was full, we had booked the last seats available. It was a huge stroke of luck. The bus has to cross a strait to leave the section of Turkey. We got to take a car ferry across the strait. This only took about twenty minutes, but it felt good to be on a boat, especially since it was not a BC Ferries boat. The boat also has only one toilet for each sex. This means that most of the women on the boat did not have time to use the toilet. It was a tiny boat that fit about 30 cars. After the ferry the bus went strait on so it was time to go to sleep.
Read about my time in Ephusus