Happy xmas - my fun wıth the aid of couchsurfing, McDonalds and Eric!
Istanbul Travel Blog› entry 489 of 658 › view all entries
People i met here who contributed to, and improved my trip: Derya and Tuva (Turkey), Eric and Dave (USA)
I was still feeling a bit shaky when i made my way off the bus in Istanbul at 21.30, which was around three and a half hours later than scheduled. I think the accident had been the worst that i had been involved in and my mind was awash with 'what could have been'. I had to wait for a further half an hour in a taxi office for my free 'servis' to the centre, when all i wanted to do was put my feet up and bring an end to the trip. In other countries i would have expected a sorry, or a cup of tea or something, but i received nothing, which i thought was pretty appalling.
Having taken the servis into the centre, i then caught a taxi to take me the rest of the way to my couchsurfers house, which was located near the beautiful district of Ortakoy. My host Derya immediately made me feel at home and after putting my bags into the spare room, cooked me some pasta, as i hadn't had the chance to eat all day. Even though i was pretty exhausted, it was nice to have someone to talk to, so we sat up and chatted until 01.30.
Thursday was Christmas day, but it was probably the least like Christmas that it has ever felt for me. Normally countries make some sort of effort for the day, even if it is just to please the tourists, but Istanbul seemed to do nothing at all, which was a bit disappointing.
Ortakoy has a few star attractions, with the main ones been the Bosphorus Bridge and the Ortakoy Mosque, although its attractive streets also appealed to me. The Mosque is idyllically located on the banks of the Bosphorus, with the bridge just behind and some small fishing boats tied up to the side. The interior was stunning and i sat for some time admiring the ornate decoration on every surface. When i exited the Mosque i went to the rivers edge and was shocked to see that the water was full of jellyfish, certainly not somewhere that you would want to fall in! I left the area through a square full of pigeons and made my way towards Besiktas.
As it was a pleasant day, i decided to make a detour to Yildiz Park and passed a nice mosque at the entrance. I spent the next half an hour walking around the hilly terrain and passing two pavilions, some squirrels in the trees, a small pond that had ducks swimming around and some angry dogs that came charging at me barking. It was a bit odd actually, as there were so many dogs roaming around in the park and they all seemed friendly enough, until i went to take a photo of one sat on a picnic table and then all hell broke loose! What made it even weirder was that i was trying to take the photo from quite a distance away using my zoom, so i don't know what got them so upset!
From the park i walked past Ciragan Sarayi and also a wall that was adorned with photos of Ataturk for about half a kilometre.
Heading North from Besiktas, i passed through some very pretty areas and was already falling in love with the City. I'm not always a fan of metropolises, as i usually find that only small portions are nice and it takes too long to get from a to b, but in Istanbul i enjoyed walking everywhere (at least when it wasn't raining on me!) and always felt comfortable in my environs.
My main stop for the afternoon was the excellent military museum, located a kilometre or so from Taksim. This was the only place that i found in Turkey that offered a student discount and as a result it only cost 1YTL to enter. Sadly they had a hefty camera charge, so i opted to store it at reception and just walk around. Spread over a couple of floors, it contained all kinds of interesting paraphernalia, but the best reason to visit was the 15.00 live Ottoman band performance. For an hour the band thrashed out Ottoman War songs, which had the audience captivated, with young children waving Turkey flags and the older generations clapping and singing along. I really enjoyed it and must confess that my feet were tapping along sporadically.
The museum closed at 16.
As there were plenty of phone booths scattered around the square, i decided to take the opportunity to phone my family and also Julia and wish everyone a Happy Christmas. It was kind of weird that it was 17.00 before i heard the words 'Happy Christmas', or indeed spoke them myself. It was good to talk to everyone, as i hadn't called home for probably 3 or 4 months and i hadn't spoken to Julia over the last month either - i don't really like talking on the phone, i much prefer email.
I had arranged to meet Derya at Starbucks around 18.00, so i sat outside and made use of the free wireless that is available all down Istiklal Caddesi, which is the main shopping street in the area. At 18.30 i was a little worried that there was no sign of Derya, so went back to Taksim Square to call her, only to discover that she had been sat upstairs all the while, even though we had arranged to meet at the entrance - naughty girl :)
I hadn't yet looked around the area we were in, so Derya took the opportunity to show me around, and proved to be an excellent tour guide. She pointed out all of the interesting buildings and directed me into some streets and alleys, which i would otherwise not have seen. A little after 19.30 we made our way to the hostel where Eric and David were going to be staying, as we had arranged to meet them there.
The guys arrived a little after 20.00 and it was great to meet Eric again, and it was the first time that i had met Dave. Eric and I got acquainted in Lithuania at the start of my trip, which was about two and a half years ago and its his fault that i have my Travbuddy addiction. For anyone that doesn't know, Eric is the co-founder of the site and thus we had kept in touch regularly over the last few years and i had even traveled with his Mum on two separate occasions! Dave was a long standing friend of Eric's and regular travel companion, and the three of us had decided to hang out in Turkey for Christmas and New Year.
Now we were four, and there was just one person left to meet, which was Derya's friend called Tuva.
After we had collected her from outside the Galatasaray school, we went to a small family run restaurant, where you pretty much went into the kitchen to choose and order your food! It was a nice meal, although Eric was having real problems drinking Ayran, which is the local yoghurt based drink, which is incredibly popular amongst the Turkish. I was scared for a bit that we weren't going to be allowed to leave, as the staff seemed pretty intent on us finishing every last morsel of food and drink and Eric's half finished Ayran was obviously causing some problems. Thankfully we managed to slip out of the door, before they had the chance to put an intravenous drip into his arm.
So with food out of the way, the next stop was the pub. The first establishment that we frequented served home brewed beer, and after stopping for one pint, we made a move to a place that rustled up its own Hazlenut Vodka. I wasn't really in the mood for shots, but after knocking back my first, i realised how good it was, so we immediately ordered a second. Having drunk a couple of 700ml beers, Dave began to get a little sleepy, it had been a really long day for the guys, but a red bull soon sorted him out.
Around 02.00 we called it a night and the girls and Dave went and ate some mussels from a street stall, whilst Eric and I looked on in bewilderment. Who the hell eats mussels after beer - especially when we were in the land of kebabs!? We said goodnight to the guys and the girls and I caught a taxi home together and stayed up until 04.