Istanbul, Turkey

Posted on May 11, 2011


Down into Sultanahmet – where a huge amount of tourists have congregated in the familiar bars and budget hostels.  I head into Bahaus, a cheap-enough place with vacancies, beer, and a breakfast I’d never wake up for.  Rested, showered and fresh to the city, I bump into Eric again outside the place he checked into and we go exploring.

We found a nice cafe half-strewn out on the street, giving backgammon and chess boards to those who wanted to play, me enjoying another tea and waiting to play chess while Eric got increasingly angry on the phone to his ex-girlfriend (they’d split up just before he left Belgium).

I head out the next day on my own, giving the city a little more of my attention.  Taking in how the minarets across the city pierce the sky, calls to prayer battle for your attention and the numerous fishermen line the main bridge over the polluted Bosphorus strait through the day and many into the night.  Some of these fish go to the restaurants below the bridge, some to the waterside stalls selling balik ekmek, a bread roll with lettuce, tomato, onion, a fish and salt inside.  The restaurants beneath the bridge are overly eager, one attention-vying waiter with a never-ending handshake concedes that I won’t in fact give him my United shirt, that I have no money  and sits me down with free çay to pass the time.

After seeing what I wanted to, I ended up having a blast in the hostel I was at with a bar on the roof cooking up 5TL (Turkish Lira) kebabs (about £2), a free bellydancing show and a refreshing mix of travellers heading so many different ways.

The next few days began to blend into each other and gave me the push I needed to head south.  I sorted out my Syrian visa in the UK (painless and £30 for a month) so checked the buses and trains south to find I’d coincided my travels with a Muslim holiday, nothing available in either direction until the following week – but this turned out for the best as it meant I could fly into Beirut then head up through Syria and back into Turkey.  If I went into Syria first, I couldn’t go into Lebanon then back into Syria because the visa I applied for is single entry only.  A shuttle bus the next day, a very modern airport and I get through check-in to get ready to board the flight.  A quick frisk before getting on, then the guy checking me before I get on the flight asks “Have you ever been to Israel?”.  Sometimes, I can’t hold my tongue so the temptation to reply ‘Why, is it nice?  Should I go?’ temporarily chokes my throat.. thankfully it passes and I say no.  Phew!  “Are you sure?” he quizzes, “I’m sure, I’ve never been”.  It feels like a casual interrogation they give to everyone before getting onto the plane and they probably have to ask it out of legal requirement by the Lebanese government, but it put me on edge for a moment.

Inside the Blue Mosque

The Blue Mosque

Balik ekmek

Eric with obligatory cigarette and coffee

Two fishermen avoid the crowds packed along the bridge

Posted in: Turkey