I don’t fall in love easily. Especially with big cities, but somehow Istanbul won my heart. I suspect it is in part thanks to the four fantastic friends I was lucky enough to explore the city with, after all travelling with good friends always makes a huge difference to the experience. I have wanted to go to Turkey for a long time, it’s on my bucket list to go to ANZAC cove, so as soon as an opportunity arose I snapped it up, similar to how I have since snapped up almost all of the Turkish delights I bought while I was there. During last semester I was lucky enough to befriend two very lovely Turkish girls who live in Istanbul. Then I got the news that my two Latvians would be visiting Turkey, and I jumped on the bandwagon; there was no way I was missing a chance to explore a city like Istanbul with these 4 amazing people. Plane tickets were booked, the girls contacted and arrangements made; and all this back at Easter. Everything was perfect, and I looked forward to the trip for weeks. The fact that I had neglected to tell one of the Latvians that I was going added to the sense of excitement.
When I arrived at Ataturk airport I had precise instructions to take the shuttle bus to Taksim where one of the girls would meet me. Cue first failed attempt at communication in a country where I am constantly being told no ones peaks English. I couldn’t find the bus stop, and thinking that a passing police officer would be the perfect person to ask I stepped up to him, ‘excuse me, but..’ He barely looked at me, said ‘no,’ and kept walking. I stared after him with slight confusion and a bit of amusement. Okay cool, so people really don’t speak a lot of English. Shortly after that I found the bus, and this was reaffirmed. ‘To Taksim?’ I asked the driver. ‘Yes, get in the bus.’ Out of context that would have seemed vaguely kidnapperish, but I got on anyway. Luckily, it turned out to be the right one and I somehow avoided paying 10 lira for a ticket.
I arrived at Taksim, a bustling transport and shopping hub and found my friend/guide/awesomely-kind-person-who-was-allowing-me-to-freeload-at-her-place. We walked down the main shopping street, detouring here and there as she showed the side streets populated with restaurants, cafes and bars that undoubtedly came to life when the sun had set. Now that’s the kind of place I like, the kind that comes to life at night which is exactly what Istanbul turned out to be. The first day was over quickly; after stopping to eat we headed to the other part Istanbul, dubbed the Asia side.
The next morning was spent exploring parts of the Asia side near where my friend lived, before taking a ferry across the Bosporus to meet to my other lovely Turkish friend and all head back to the airport together to meet the Latvians. While we were waiting at the airport we made some last minute signs, one with the Latvians’ names and for me to hold that simply said ‘suprise.’ We meant surprise, obviously.
Hugs, smiles and a reunion photo later, we were back on the shuttle bus heading to Taksim. This time I did pay. We essentially repeated the evening before, but this time walked all the way down to Galata tower. Those who play Assassin’s Creed are probably familiar with it. This part of town had an almost hippy feel to it that I enjoyed, the fresh juice stands also helped.
Saturday was dedicated to sightseeing, with one of the girls and her friend playing tour guides, we headed to the old part of town where you can find the Hagia Sofia, mosques, the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. I love markets and the two bazaars were no exception; stalls crowded close together with the vendors calling out to you in various languages trying to sell their wares that varied from spices and sweets, to lamps, scarves and jewellery. My favourites were the ones offering small pieces of Turkish delight for tasting. I have always enjoyed Turkish delights, but now I have a whole new level of appreciation for them.
In fact I have a new level of appreciation for Turkish food in general. Everything was fresh and delicious. I realise now that a prerequisite for me to love any place is good food. In that sense it was probably a good thing I didn’t stay very long in Istanbul. After months of relatively bland and uninspired home cooking, the food in Istanbul was heaven. And cheap. I could easily have eaten my own weight, twice over if given the chance.
But where was I? Oh yes, so after the hustle and bustle of the markets we escaped to a slightly quieter area to share a shisha pipe and have our fortunes told from the remains of our coffee. With the evening setting in we went back across the Bosporus to finish off the day with beer at the sea side. The park where we went was full of people and the festival-like atmosphere leant itself to a nice relaxing evening in one of the biggest cities in the world.
The following morning found us back there, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Red Bull sponsored air show, before bussing it back to Taksim so the Latvians could go to the airport. For the rest of the afternoon I was flying solo in Taksim, going back to Galata tower so I could go up and admire the view before a leisurely stroll back down the shopping street for a little retail therapy.
My final day in Istanbul was uneventful, as I passed time until the afternoon when I had to leave for the airport with promises I’d be back again soon. And I really do hope I can go back to Turkey soon. Sitting in rainy Salzburg, I’m dreaming of that gorgeous Turkish sun, delicious food and, of course, my amazing friends. I hope I can see you guys again soon!