Monday, 30 September 2013

Istanbul, Episode 4 - Taksim

When we came to Istanbul we expected to be here a week. 20 days later I am writing this in Taksim, Istanbul while we wait to go to the airport to fly to India. It's safe to say we have been here a lot longer than we ever wanted. However, we are both really glad as we could have easily have left Istanbul underwhelmed.

We decided to stay in Taksim for 2 main reasons. 1) The India embassy is here so our multiple trips there would be easier and cheaper. 2) The metal travel guide reliably informed us there are plenty of rock clubs in Taksim. Sultanahmet had almost no night life. There were lots of bars and the bars had plenty of people in them drinking but it was pretty boring, sat down having a nice little chat drinking not having your ears bleed listening to Avenged Sevenfold drinking.

The protests in Istanbul that were on the news all summer took place in Taksim so we were a bit weary. The protests are now on the Asian side in Kadikoy but we waited a few days over a weekend to make sure nothing kicked off in Taksim before we moved there. I checked twitter and other websites and there was no mention of protests in Taksim so the decision was made - off we go to Taksim.

The main high street in Taksim is called Istiklal Street, as soon as you arrive there you feel like you could be in a different country to Sultanahmet which is only 30 minutes away. It is a massive busy high street with shops, restaurants, street vendors and bars. It even has a Topshop - I can't tell you how excited I was when I saw that. I was even more excited when I bought new clothes there and there was 30% off everything. That was a great day. No matter what day or time it is Istiklal Street is super busy. Think Briggate on the last Saturday before Christmas - even at 3am it is heaving. 

Midnight on a Sunday

The street vendors are pretty interesting. From roasted chestnuts to fresh fish to a guy walking round popping popcorn over charcoals. The locals grab a handful of popcorn as they walk past, he doesn't seem to mind.

Fresh fish! Get your fresh fish!

Our favourite part of Taksim was the night life. We loved every bar we went in. We found 4 really good rock bars plus some other really nice bars that played good music, albeit not rock music. There is an ace rock bar called Dorock that has a live band on every night. The weekday bands leave a lot to be desired, the band members were all really good but the female singer was a bit too Anastasia for my liking. The bass player though was ace, really smiley and he has a great bass face. He is now number 4 in my favourite bass players list. He comes after Steven Wormald (Leodis) Jeremy Davis (Paramore) & Kim Deal (formerly of Pixies).

On Fridays a really good band play, all the songs they play (various covers) manage to sound like Avenged Sevenfold, which is fine by us. Don't ever let anyone tell you the Turkish don't know how to rock out!

The alcohol in Turkey is quite expensive. Apparently the government don't want the Turkish drinking so are taxing it pretty heavily. In fact, in 1 rock bar a German lady who lives here told us that was part of the reason for the protests in Taksim. The locals love drinking & nights out & the government are trying to change their way of life. We did manage to find the cheapest beer in Istanbul though in a rock bar called Haydar. 4 lira for a pint, that's £1.26. They're pretty proud of that - their wifi password is bira4lira.

We had been getting pretty lazy and sitting in our room watching tv on the laptop so we decided to be tourists & go visit the Prince Islands on a ferry. The Prince Islands are a chain of 9 Islands just off the coast of Istanbul. In the Byzantine period princes & other royalty were exiled on the islands which is how they got their name. Only 4 are open to the public. On the ferry on the way there a nice lady gave us an apple and what I thought was a lime. I was thinking thats pretty weird, I can't eat a lime like an apple. We opened it up & inside it was orange. It tasted of a limey orange, delicious. We called it the lorange. 

We read that there are no motorised vehicles on the islands, the only transport is horse & cart so the 1st thing you notice is how quiet it is, we really liked the thought of that as words can not describe how noisy Taksim is at all times. We chose an island at random and got off the ferry, sat down ordered a beer and what did we see? A big truck! What the hell happened to no motorised vehicles? Istanbullshit!!

Anyway the island was a lot quieter than Taksim (but to be honest standing next to a space shuttle launch would be quieter than Taksim). We had about 3 hours to wander around before the next ferry arrived to take us back. It was really nice and peaceful, we skimmed pebbles into the sea, had a few beers and some crisps and even came across an exercise area which was quite welcome after a few days of our only exercise being walking up & down the hostel steps to buy kebabs.

On the way back from the island we sat upstairs on the ferry. The sun was going down & just behind us some Turkish men started singing & dancing which was quite funny. Then I noticed the sunset. Easily the best sunset I have ever seen. Everyone was stood up taking pictures.

One evening we decided to walk to the Galata Tower. This is the oldest tower in Istanbul built in 507. Despite that there seems to be no history to it, the literature provided when you visit doesn't tell you much about it apart from who owned it & when. What was it for? Who knows? The views from the top are pretty good though. The walk to the Galata Tower is good aswell, there is a small street lined with music shops. Every shop sells only musical instruments, Russell had a big smile on his face walking down there.

Staying in one place for so long you run out of things to do & laying in bed watching tv was getting a bit old so we scoured the net for things to do & Russell found out there are lots of free art gallery's in Taksim so we spent a few hours visiting 6 of them. The only one we thought was really good was the Dogancay Museum. It had a wide collection of the work of Burhan Dogancay who was born in Istanbul in 1929. His father was a well known artist so his early training was by his father but he spent a significant part of his student life in Paris and later lived in New York which greatly influenced his work. The works on exhibition ranged from painted ribbons to tiled areas with New York subway style graffiti all over them. There was also a small collection of his fathers work.

We found a couple of gallery's by accident & 1 of them was really strange. It was the whitest room ever, it made your eyes go funny. Russell took a picture but the camera couldn't handle the whiteness and it has come out with grey lines across it.

So after 20 days in Istanbul and 12 of those days in Taksim I am leaving with nothing but great thoughts, pictures and memories, oh and new clothes from Topshop :)

Just a man cleaning his gun
Guess who cheats at Guess Who? wtf Russ?

This concludes the Europe part of our trip. It has taken us 11 weeks and 3 days to get to this point which is just about on target. We have both really enjoyed it, we have visited 23 towns and cities in 8 different countries and loved all but 1 of them. That's good going I reckon. As we wait to fly to Delhi (I am quite apprehensive about Delhi) I can only hope the rest of our trip is as great as this 11 weeks and 3 days has been.

India - we're coming!

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