Istanbul, I Wanna Give You a Big Kisstanbul

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The week in Istanbul was, hands down (as someone I met there would say), the most fun we’ve had so far. We arrived safely from Athens, and got settled into our hostel – the Orient Hostel – which was full of excellent people having a great time. Still being so full from our massive lunch in Athens, we passed out quite early on our first evening, but were up bright and early to go exploring the next day.

After breakfast we set out to see some mosques and whatnot, but not ten minutes out the door we were caught in a downpour, so we haggled with some 9-year-old kid for some crappy umbrellas and stood in a doorway for a while. When it sort of started to ease off, we got walking again and decided to change our plans and go the Grand Bazaar instead as it’s covered and huge.

There’s loads to look at, but we weren’t really feeling like shopping (especially as a lot of the stuff is fake designer duds and accessories, and as I’m not exactly on holiday, it’s not like I have the space or the cash to bring home an oriental rug!). We ended up wandering through until we were at the end where the locals shop – totally different experience. Strangely enough, there were loads of mannequin shops. It was super creepy, but I suppose answers that age-old question, “Where do store mannequins come from?”

Eventually we sat down for some lunch, and I pulled out the Kindle just to see what was up on email (Um, LOVE that thing by the way, thanks so much CMay!), and saw I had a note from the secretary of one of my dad’s clients inviting us to dinner that evening with said client’s nephews! You know when I mentioned we DIDN’T feel like shopping? Well we took off back to the Grand Bazaar like we were on fire, because now we DID need things! Bro needed a shirt, I needed jewelry – we were like crazy people running around! It was successful – Bro got a nice ‘Ralph Lauren’ button-down and I got some beautiful silver and turquoise jewelry.

After that, we walked back to the hostel (took us ages, because we were lost now and couldn’t figure the map out) and got ready for dinner. We weren’t exactly sure where we were supposed to meet these folks, so the guy at our hostel spoke to one of our new friends on the phone and threw us in a cab. We assumed we were being taken where we needed to be, but we got dropped off in the middle of the city with no idea where we were. We were talking to Berat (one of our new friends), but he couldn’t figure out where we were either! Eventually we had to hand the phone to some ancient Turkish guy on the street with a dodgy glass eye and have HIM tell Berat where to find us!

Eventually Berat turned up in a taxi and took us to meet his cousin and two of their friends for dinner, miles away from where we were supposed to be! It was a lovely dinner (again, backpacking is rough, people) and everyone was so nice and spoke excellent English. They took us to a few bars afterwards and we had some drinks – it was a real treat of an evening!

The next day we got up to do the Blue Mosque (brilliant), the Aya Sofia museum (fab) and Topkapi Palace (EXCELLENT). I loved the palace – it’s where the Sultans used to live and there are so many shiny sparkly things and places to recline! If I ever own a house, I will model the decor as such!

After all the sightseeing, we went back to the hostel and watched some, you guessed it, World Cup with our new roommates, Laura and Lissa from Kansas and Arizona respectively, and Wouter from Holland. One of the guys who worked at the hostel (Freddy – what a loon, no words can describe. Oh wait, yes they can…sleaziest Turkish dude you’ve ever met but love him anyway) was organizing a bar crawl so sometime around midnight we all hopped onto two buses and ended up in some crazy area with club after pub after bar.

It was a nightmare trying to keep everyone together, but we had a great time dancing to the Turkish DJs’ odd choice of music (ranging from “Lyrical Gangster” to “These Boots Were Made For Walking”) and just absorbing the culture, I suppose! Everyone petered out around 3am and we somehow managed to explain to a taxi driver where we were going. Bro kept saying the name of the hostel in this funny Borat accent as if talking that way would help the driver understand, but we made it home, so who knows!

I proceeded to sleep from the majority of the next day (I think I just needed a rest in general!) and in the afternoon we went with Laura, Lissa and Wouter to the Turkish Baths. Here, again, is the TMI alert – more nakedness. We arrived and haggled the price, and after being handed a scrubby loofah thing each, the three ladies were led to the female section of the baths. We changed (into nothing) and went into the Hamam (the name of the actual bath). It’s a beautiful room with marble and little sinks where you sit and pour pans of hot water over yourself.

After a little bit, a topless lady came over and took my hand. She took me over to a huge marble slab in the middle of the room, where other naked ladies (not attractive ones, sorry fellas) were being scrubbed and cleaned. She had me lie down, and then disappeared for a minute, and came back with a bathing suit on (phew- wasn’t sure I could handle nude on nude). Then she got to work with my scrubby thing – she exfoliated me to within an inch of my life, in every area of my body, getting dirt out I didn’t even know was in there. Dang, I felt clean.

Then she gave me a full body massage (I think with dishwashing liquid, but whatever), and took me over to the sinks to wash my hair and give me a head massage. Then she rinsed me off. It was AWESOME! I felt so clean, and it was kinda nice to just chill out naked – liberating, you know?Afterwards we were given huge warm towels to dry off with, and we went and sat outside the Hamam and had a girly chat for about half an hour before we dragged ourselves out to meet Wouter and Joseph, who had had an equally interesting experience on the men’s side.

We were all so Zen after that, but strangely energized as well, so we strolled around until we found some supper at a rooftop restaurant with gorgeous views of the Blue Mosque and the Bosphorus and then went back to hostel to smoke some hookah. I slept so well that night – delish.

The next day (this past Monday) we got up and found out that a few people were planning to take a boat to the Prince’s Islands and go to the beach. It was a lovely sunny day, so we decided to join in. We set off with Laura, Lissa and three new friends, Christian from London and Maris and Jane from Estonia (the new loves of my life, all three). We found the ferry, paid $2 for the ride, and an hour and a half later arrived at an island that we still don’t know the name of. We went looking for the beach, but from what we could see, it wasn’t so much that people went to the beach as sat on grass next to the road and jumped into the water off the rocks. Hmm.

We walked on, and learned from some locals that the sandy beach was the other side of the island, but would be an hour and a half to walk. As we contemplated this (it was already 3pm), we saw a guy with a horse and carriage by the side of the road… hmm again. Christian approached the guy as he speaks a bit of Turkish, and before we knew it we had haggled our way onto the carriage – all seven of us! The driver had to take a route to avoid the police as we were overloaded, and after a bit, dropped us off by a sign that said “Beach, this way”. Brilliant!

We jumped out, and merrily followed the sign until we came across this beach. Foiled again! It was really just concrete slabs with cushions that you had to PAY to sit on, and this band of backpackers wasn’t parting with any of its precious cash for that. (We did nick some fruit off some trees though, to make up for it. Little green things called “Gregs.” Really.)

Our carriage (ha!) was long gone, so we set off walking back to the grass and rocks situation, during which we were caught in a brief thunderstorm. No worries, we grabbed some food and after that Christian and Joe decided to go for a nice swim. They enjoyed it for about two seconds, until they realized they were swimming next to two giant sewage pipes – yum.

Desperate for showers, we all hopped back on the ferry to the city. We decided to “go out” that night, so we walked approximately eight steps across the road from the hostel where we haggled a free hookah, chowed on some hummus, watched football and played card games. Delightful.

In the morning, we went back to the bazaar with Christian, Maris and Jane, but this time to see where they sell all sorts of animals. It was sensory overload with regard to cuteness – baby bunnies, puppies, kittens, little chicks…I about lost my mind. Then Christian and Bro killed the mood by attempting to have leeches suck on their arms- nasty. I would only go as far as holding an Iguana, and even then I squealed like a little girl. The rest of the day was pretty mellow, and in the evening we ventured more like 20 steps across the street for MORE free hookah, but also because a guy who worked at the bar was in love with Jane and would have done anything for her.

In broken English he asked me to put in a good word for him, and concocted a master plan involving roses and things to hook her. He kept coming over to me to check on the progress. “These things take time, Hidar,” I said, for ’twas his name, “Easy does it.” Unfortunately I couldn’t get Jane to come around, and poor Hidar (pronounced ‘Hi there’, sort of), was desolate when we moved onto a dance party at a bar that he’d managed to get opened only for us, as things close at 2am in the Sultanahmet area where we were.

The next morning, our last full day, Joseph and I went for a long walk to the military museum. It was, ya know, ok. War and whatnot isn’t really my thing, but Bro was psyched to see a million guns and swords and things. We rushed back to say goodbye to Jane and Maris before they left for Olympos (another spot in Turkey), only to find out that instead of taking a bus, they were planning to hitch a ride in a van with two Brazilians they’d just met. OK, such is the backpacking life.

It meant they were hanging around for a bit longer, so we spent most of the evening at the hostel bar until the Brazilians turned up to drive down to Olympos in, wait for it, AN OLD ROYAL MAIL VAN! (For the Americans, that’s like if someone turned up in a USPS mail truck). It. Was. Amazing. They had bought it in England with a bed already installed in the back…crazy. I was SO jelly, I almost hopped right on in there!

After a somewhat teary goodbye to my new buds, Christian, Bro and I hung out on the roof terrace with our new friend Seana from South Africa (who Bro and I will hopefully see again in a few weeks). It was really hard to part ways in the morning when Bro and I left for Cairo.

It’s really the only, excuse me, shitty part about traveling – meeting all these fabulous people who eventually all have to move on to do what they do best. I do trust that we’ll all meet again somehow, though, and of course we have the magic of the Internet. To my Istanbul friends: Laura, Lissa, Wouter – Stay fresh, stay clean. Jane, Maris, Christian – my heart will be in blood until I see you again.

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