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istanbul – february 2017

 I’ve just come back from a few days in Istanbul, and I thought that I should write some things and show some pictures before it fades from my memory.  I have to say that it was a fantastic experience, one that I really will never forget and one that I recommend to everyone and anyone.
On Tuesday, I met my good friend, Ange, at Victoria station in London, to make the journey to Gatwick airport.  After a flight of nearly 4 hours, we touched down at Ataturk airport at about 20.45, local time.  We got a taxi to our hotel in Sultanahmet, the historical centre of Istanbul.  We settled into the hotel, and immediately went to find a bar.  We found a great bar, with an outside area which had great atmosphere and shisha – hurrah!
One of the best things about Istanbul is the architecture, especially the Haghia Sophia (Aya Sophia in Turkish), which, in its current incarnation, was built in 562.  The above picture shows this grand building at night – I haven’t been very good at night photography, but I think I got some good shots; more on this later.

Inside the Haghia Sophia

 Another fantastic piece of architecture is the Topkapi Palace.  We visited here on our first full day, and we were rightly unimpressed with the weather.  It was freezing, raining and just downright miserable.  Before visiting anywhere, we had to warm up with a coffee in the museum shop, which was, incidentally, filled with Japanese tourists.  Tourists are everywhere.  Damn them all…oh, hang on….
Below is a picture taken inside the Harem, within the palace grounds.  This, for me, was the best part of the palace, with ornate walls, decorative ceilings and just awe-inspiring architecture.  We were rather annoyed that we didn’t get to see the Circumcision Room, as I think this was at the top of Ange’s To see… list; mainly in order to torture me with imminent danger.  I just wanted to see Ange in the Courtyard of the Favourites.

The Harem, Topkapi Palace

 Our second, and indeed last, full day, was mainly spent on a boat and getting royally drunkard with a cat.  For the record, the cat wasn’t drinking, although maybe he’d had a few puffs of the shisha.
Below is a picture of two continents.  Europe on the left and Asia on the right, split in the middle by the Bosphorus heading out to the Black Sea.  It was a great experience, and one that was a little unexpected, but more on that later.

Looking from the Bosphorus to the Black Sea; Europe on the left, Asia on the right

 There are many more stories to come, and I’m going to write them here as a pre-text to what will follow, although as that is what a pre-text is, there was no need to write that.  Ho hum.
These are the posts I’m planning to write, but given the fact that I’m gonna have a lot of planning to do, goodness knows when I’ll be writing them – although I’m sure I could do one tomorrow.

  1. Get lost in the Grand Bazaar (but no photos – apols.)
  2. Mat-man and the great pressure debate
  3. Marmy, aka Kebab, and the multitudes
  4. Bosphorus-for-us
  5. Haghia Sophia, or how to walk around in an orderly fashion
  6. Several types of weather in 4 days

Needless to say, the reason for this trip was to recharge the batteries and feel ready for the next challenges that I will face.  I think it has done that.  With bells on.

Get lost in the Grand Bazaar

So, there was Ange and me, on our first full day in Istanbul, and we had decided to go out on a bit of a jolly around the city.  We woke up, and the weather was miserable.  And I mean, miserable – come on, I’m English, I know all about miserable weather.  That day, it was cold, a little windy, raining and then sleeting.  Brilliant.  I didn’t even have gloves, because I’d left them at work – more on this story later.  We soon found out that our first day was a learning curve – the following days, and indeed, when we briefly returned to the hotel, was spent with two pairs of socks, and for me, two t-shirts.

After looking around Topkapi Palace, and the Blue Mosque, we went for a walkabout.  We didn’t have a map, but we figured it would be ok – somehow.  On our way, we managed to find a little shop (out of the thousands that we passed) where I thought I’d buy some gloves.  Boy, did they suit me well.  This was after trying to put on what turned out to be ladies’ gloves.  Ah well, old habits die hard.

What you see above is part of the streets that crisscross Istanbul.  It’s all rather amazing, and this one is my own photographic creation.  Can you not see the dampness on the street?  Did I not tell you it was a miserable day?

Below is another great picture, taken by yours truly.  Note in this shot, the fantastic Pink Angel shop, of which I’m sure Ange wanted to have a peek in and buy something for herself, but we soldiered on.

Eventually, we started walking into a covered street, and we immediately thought this was the Grand Bazaar.  We thought we’d have a look around, as it would be rude not to.  My goodness, we didn’t realise that it is absolutely humongous (is that spelt right?  Is it even a real word?  I’m an English teacher, and I don’t know…).  Apparently, there are over 58 covered streets in the Grand Bazaar, and I think we must have traversed around half of them trying to get out.  Even though it was February, the streets were still ablaze with traders selling their goods, and often we heard shouts of ‘Hey, where are you from?’, ‘You want pashmina?’, ‘Look my candles, very nice, thankyou, please’.  Not kidding.  Someone even asked us if we were German.  The thought!  I didn’t want to take any photos of the bazaar, because it felt kind of, well, bizarre doing it – I mean, it’s like a shopping mall, and who in their right minds takes pictures of shopping malls?  I’m sure there are some…

After many twists and turns, we found ourselves out into the light, albeit grey and dismal light, of the outside world, never again to darken the streets of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar – although I was very happy that we did darken those covered streets.

Mat man and the great pressure debate

I said that I would tell you about Mat-man, as I have decided to call him, and here I will fulfill that promise…

On Wednesday, after our interesting getting lost visit to the Grand Bazaar, me and Ange decided to head back to Sultanahmet to get some lunch, which we did at a lovely little place by the roadside.  We sat outside, even though it was freezing – I don’t think I’ve ever eaten a kebab, freezing cold, outside and sober.  I think we even wore gloves.  But at least the outside heaters were on.  Not that they did a lot of good.  Having finished the delicious kebab, we headed on back towards the hotel to put more layers on, when we saw a mummy cat and her four kittens…yes!  Four of the little buggers.  All black they were as well.
So there we were, admiring and cooing over the little darlings, when a man approaches us, talks about the kitties and asks the obligatory question that everyone had asked us while we’d been there – ‘Where are you from?’.  So, we told him and he said that he liked England and London.  He then mentioned that he had a little shop, just over the road which was good for little souvenirs.  He told us that he would get us a business card, and we should follow him over to the shop.  So we did.  Hmmm, bit of a mistake, methinks.

We enter the shop, down a dingy alley and down some scary-ass steps to be greeted by his ‘brother’.  I put ‘brother’ because I don’t believe him for a minute.  He just wanted to create a welcoming atmosphere.  The first thing that ‘brother’ said was that there was no obligation to buy.  Alarm bells ringing yet??

We got a complimentary shot-glass of hot, apple tea (very nice, by the way, if a little sweet) and then we were shown the products.  Lovely rugs and mats.  All hand-crafted of course.  Each with their own story.  One was apparently showing Noah and his Ark.  Couldn’t really see it myself.  Just looked like some nice pretty patterns on a rug.  I think that he uses that story for each mat, as we didn’t hear another story.  He even had a certificate on the wall.  I imagine it was from the university of blagging your way through trying to make a sale.  I didn’t stop to check out the small print.

So, there are all these rugs on the floor, and they/we/I had chosen out the ‘best’ one.  Well, they were all really nice.  In a kind of pound shop kind of way.  They then started talking prices.  Extortion springs to mind.  I wasn’t going to pay those kinds of prices for something I could get in Poundland, and something that wouldn’t clog up my suitcase, (even though I had half of Ange’s suitcase weight – in your face, Curtis!).

They started getting a little pushy, so I reminded them that they had said no pressure, and that I would think about it.  This went on for about 5 minutes, so I decided enough was enough, put my shot-glass down, coveniently empty now, and made my way towards the stairs, with Ange following in hot pursuit.  She somehow, (I think she must be Wonderwoman, or She-Ra), made it to the stairs first, and shot up them.  I, however, was collared by ‘brother’ mat-man, and was grabbed by the arm, almost being begged to take the mat – he even mentioned that I could have it for free.  Nope, not having it.  I wrenched my arm away, and sprinted up the stairs. 

We walked calmly away, passing mosques and happy people, openly cursing Mat-man, or should that be Mat-men?  I told you that our first day was a learning curve.

Welcome to Istanbul, people, welcome to Istanbul.

Marmy, AKA Kebab, and the Multitudes

Crazy, friendly ginger cat

 As you may have noticed from the earlier post about Mat-man, I mentioned we were looking at a family of stray cats that were roaming the city.  It soon became a ritualistic saying ‘There’s a cat.  There’s a dog.  And another cat.’  Istanbul seems to be full of stray cats and dogs, with the odd parrot (photo taken, yet not shown).  Above is the little ginger cat that we saw, avec mon leg, as we were walking up to the fortress after our boat trip.  He was a little friendly fellow, and quite…well, how can I put it?  He got around, so to speak.  He was liberal with his affections for the tourists.  And fickle.  Once he’d said hello, he’d spot other people and prance off to do the leg thing with them.  Humph.  We didn’t give him a name.

Beautiful dog, in Asia, just posing

These two dogs were at the top of the hill, after climbing up countless steps, trudging through mud, tackling wind, rain and hail (!) too.  Top dog was just sitting there, almost begging to be photographed, so I had to do it, and I have to say I’m very proud of how it turned out.  Could be a B&W pic, this.  Bottom dog was rather like the ginger, aforementioned, cat – liberal with affections, as can possibly be seen from the pic – mouth open as if to say ‘Who can I say hello to next?’. 

Friendly dog in Asia

  Below is whom we named ‘Mountain Cat – grrr’, with an obligatory ‘grr’ at the end.  He, or indeed she, was spotted on the way up, but only approached on the way down.  As soon as Ange got near, Mountain Cat grr decided to play nice, and then swiped at her.  Needless to say, we hurried down further steps to escape the wrath.

Mountain cat – ggrrrrr!

You might be asking yourself, where is Marmy, aka Kebab?  Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me, but I so wish I did.  He came to see us in the bar – hence in a previous post I mentioned about getting royally drunk with a cat.  Marmy, aka Kebab, is said cat.  He popped in, and went to another table to scrounge for food.  Then he met us.  After a little persuasion, he sat down between us, laid on my scarf and went to sleep, curled up in a little fuzzy ball of fun.  We joked with the barman, and he said where did we think all the meat came from for the kebabs?  That’s where the aka comes from.  Oh, and he wasn’t ginger come to think of it.  Don’t know why Ange decided to call him Marmalade.  Strange lady.  I thought Florence was a better name.  Even for a boy.

Bosphorus-For-Us

I can’t believe it’s been over a week since I last wrote – the days have been flying by.  This time, I’ll tell you about the trip on the Bosphorus.  Me and Ange decided that we wanted to go on the river, and we were going to plan it for the Thursday we were in Istanbul, but I think we’d had too much raki the night before and so we were a little slow.  We took a saunter down towards the harbour area and found the ticket office.  There were only two options, as it was out of season; a 2-hour tour starting at 2.30pm, or a 6-hour tour starting at 10.30am.  We looked at our watches, and it was coming up to 10.30 in the morning.  We didn’t really want to do the long tour, but then we didn’t want to wait until the afternoon – so we bought tickets and ran on board.  The photo above is leaving the harbour – no matter how hard I tried, I could not get that damn flag taken correctly.

 We travelled up the river, stopping off at various ‘towns’ along the way, until an hour and a half later, we arrived at the above photo, where Asia and Europe meet, along with the Bosphorus and the Black Sea.  We’d read on the boat that there was a fortress on top of the hill, overlooking the river and the two continents, so we thought we’d take a wander up there.  Ha!  Us, along with what seemed like thousands of Italian students, and various other randoms.  We got off the boat and had no clue as to where to go – so we followed a lone man who looked like he knew where he was going.  The Italians followed us, and so did all the rest.  Rather like a damp pilgrimage.  Walking through dingy streets and houses, and many, many stray dogs and cats, a very wet dirt track, millions of steps, we finally made it to the top, and the photo below is what we saw.

 It really was stunning, even though we battled with hail on the way down.  We had lunch, and baklava at the top of a restaurant overlooking the harbour, on the Asian side.

These were the boats next to our ferry – Ange thinks I took too many photos of birds – couldn’t help that they were in the way.

We made our way back down the river, very thankful that we had done it, and pleased we chose the long trip – certainly something worth doing, especially as we had lunch in Asia!

Hagia Sophia, or how to walk around in an orderly fashion

 One of the biggest and best sights in Istanbul is the Haghia Sophia (Aya Sophia), which is this amazing building in the middle of Sultanahmet.  It has been many things, including a mosque and a Christian church as well, but now it is a museum.  Therefore, no shoes had to be removed, and poor Ange didn’t have to cover her head – of which I might post a pic if I’m feeling particularly evil.

 Above is part of the maze of tunnels we had to walk to get to the top of the building.  It went on forever, or so it seemed, but we eventually got to the top.

 This is the sight that greeted us at the top.  Amazing, isn’t it?  The space was vast, and there were many guards, ordering us to go in the right direction.  I didn’t realise we had to walk one way.  It seemed a little pointless as we had to come back towards the guard anyway because it was a dead-end.

I was pretty surprised to find lots of references to Christianity, as you can see the Virgin Mary peeping through a chandelier.
An awe-inspiring place, a must-see when going to Istanbul.

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