Thursday, 19 September 2013

Istanbul, Episode 1, Sultanahmet district - The one with the 30 (34) bed dorm.

8 days ago we travelled from Bulgaria to Turkey by coach. We found information on line saying that the travel time could be 7, 8 or maybe 14 hours depending on the border crossings & traffic. For this reason we didn't book any accommodation but did note down the address for a hostel which had competitive rates, ace location & great reviews. It also had a 30 bed dorm room. Which we would later count & come to the magic number of  34 beds. It took 2 coaches, 2 tube rides & ages walking around with crap directions to come to a total travel time of 13 hours. If we exclude the waiting times for buses & the time it took to get to our hostel so just the Bulgaria to Turkey bit, I would estimate a 9 hour journey.

The 30 (34) bed dorm was some place. Roof top bar. Bar in the middle. Bar on the street. Restaurant with complimentary breakfast (with French toast!!). Decent WIFI connections. Great location. Reasonably cheap. But it is a 30 (34) bed dorm & there is no getting away from the way it looked. It looked like a prison. One of those massive U.S. prisons that are far beyond "over populated". The ones that have so many prisoners that they have spilled out into the yard or cafeteria & have set up row after row of bunk beds. Despite the look of the room we both found sleeping here very comfortable. Surprisingly comfortable. During the day & in the evening the room was empty. As the room was so huge air could circulate allowing the room to have a comfortable temperature. We stayed here for 4 nights & it is the most comfortable we have been in a dorm so far. 

Views from the rooftop bar

Before I start with all the touristy stuff I want to mention the call to prayer. It is like no other I have experienced. The sing song cry sounding tinnily from the minaret's loudspeakers "Allahu akhbar....." Its Arabic. No one here speaks Arabic. They pray in a foreign language. The blue mosque faces the Hagia Sophia & the call to prayer is like a rap battle taking the deafening verses in turn. Oh and the weather. In the same way we have a dozen names for rain this city knows loads for wind. Pleasant storm, storm of the blackbirds, storm of the cuckoos, storm of the fish, the black wind.... 

Istanbul's friendliest feline

Friday afternoon prayer

Books, lots of books,

The Cistern Basilica is the largest ancient cistern beneath Istanbul. The cistern was used as a location for the James Bond film From Russia With Love. 50,000 tons of mud were removed from the cisterns, and a platforms built throughout to replace the boats once used to tour the cistern.

Two of the columns had Medusa heads for bases. 

Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. I was expecting this to be Hell. It wasn't. There was no pressure to enter someone's carpet shop or buy a "best price" Rolex. It was surprisingly laid back. We were there at lunch time on a Friday which is the main day for prayer so perhaps this explains it. 

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque commonly known as the Blue Mosque is a very impressive piece of architecture with its main dome, six minarets, and eight secondary domes. The Blue Mosque was built from 1609 to 1616.

Hagia Sophia is a former Greek Orthodox basilica. In 1453 The Osman Turks took the city by force. They converted it into an imperial mosque, and now it is a a museum. 

Opposite our hostel there was this waiter. Each night he entertained his customers balancing things on his head while doing the Gangam Style dance (see pic above). One night he balanced a huge plant, pot & all on his head while dancing. We thought we would see what the reviews were like for the restaurant. It was the number 1 in Istanbul on trip advisor. We never did get round to eating there though. 

Over the last week I have been ambivalent about Istanbul. Maybe it was the hard days travel or the day spent visa struggling that put me on a bad foot with the place. But I lay here on my bed in the Taksim area with the balcony door open & laundry on the line feeling very pleased with myself. A little hungover, a bastard behind the eye, but very happy to be here. Istanbul is a very interesting place with stacks & stacks of history. Over the centuries the city has lived in a permanent state of flux; nowhere else on earth did the razing, wrecking & reconstruction go on as busily as Istanbul, previously named Constantinople, which was previously known as Byzantium. For now we will call it home.

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