The Arrival.

Istanbul Travel Blog

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Preamble: This is a blog about my impressions of Istanbul. It does feature some sights and some do's and don't's, and if you plan to go to Istanbul and want to get in the mood, read it! However, it's not a travel guide. If you want one of those, go look at Fatih's blog "Istanbul in 7 days", wherein he has published several amazing tours around the city.

Welcome to Istanbul!
Step out of the stinky, air-condition-frozen, loud and shaky airplane. Heat embraces you, no cloud stains the sky; a sky which gradually fades from plain azur into a hazy yellow and merges with the hilly horizon.
I am travelling with a good friend of mine; we just finished our high school career and have some spare time to kill. We're gonna stay in this place for nine days. So we show our passports to the Sabiha Gökcen airport officer, pick up our suitcases from the ever-rotating black rubber serpent and head for the lobby. Within fractions of a second, a polite gentleman approaches us and offers us a ride to Sultanahmad in one of his shuttle taxis. Supposedly, the price is unbeatable (15 Euro for each of us), so we take the offer and enjoy a drive to downtown at breakneck speed.
Tip: The price is beatable. There are shuttles that commute between Sultanahmad and Sabiha Gökcen for 10 Euro per person. They drop you (or pick you up) at the ho(s)tel you're staying at, so ask them about that.
So we get to our hostel all right. It's called "Sinbad Hostel", we found it through hostelsweb.com. They have the marvellous advertising slogan "World Peace is Inevitable". Well, whatever, lol :-)
Since my mom would always tell me that living out of the suitcase is frowzy and chaotic, we piously start unpacking. Opening the drawer, we stand in awe. It has no compartments, it's just one huge wooden box with nothing inside. Not even a steelen bar with some hangers. So screw that.
We suffer from a terrible jetlag (one solid hour!), so we decide to hit the hay first, which is is near impossible thanks to some moron across the street. He blasts Pink Floyd and Queen out of a megaphone, at approximately 200 decibel.
Down in the lobby, we make the acquaintance of Peter: a German like us, and he works in the hostel. Two days ago, he was a tourist like us, then he decided he were gonna start a study of history at the University of Istanbul in fall, and as he was out of money, he spontaneously became a receptionist at Sinbad hostel (I wonder if such undertakings comply with the rules of his tourist visa, hahaha). Peter's English is crappy. He starts each and every sentence with "at least", God knows why. His German is better, but listening to him is no joy in either language. Poor guy, his life must be more than boring. Returning from our first walk to the sea, he reveals to us why the Sea of Marmara is crammed with anchored ships. Giant vessels, carrying oil, containers and what-not, uncountable, they are spread over the water and vanish in a brown cloud of fog. They have to wait until they're let into the Bosphorus strait: sometimes, ships may go to the Black Sea, sometimes the other way.
We've bought food! Here we are: indefinable pastries, a canister of water, plus something incredibly sour (like green plums, in German "grüne Pflaumen" which we combine into "Glaumen"). The greatgrandma running the shop didn't know one single word in English, so she took two handsful of the fruits and unbent one of her crumpled dactyls ("one Lira, please"). Well, communication always works somehow.
Tip: Always have some bottled water around. They have 10L-bottles for two to four lira, which is affordable. The water from the tap is pretty germ-free, at the cost of strong chlorination. Alright for brushing your teeth, but it doesn't taste like Pellegrino exactly ...
Our first sight is the Blue Mosque, 500m from our hostel. In fact, the Blue Mosque is 500m from every hostel, 'cause all hostels are in Sultanahmad.
We aren't inside yet, just approaching and shyly looking around for the entrance, when a man friendly points to the left and tells us where it is. Incidentally, he asks us where we were from, and if we knew anything about the mosque at all. My dear friend Heinrich, who is one born conversationalist, is very friendly to him. I follow the two of them into the mosque, and as 3 minutes are over and the guy is still explaining obvious things about the building ("the Blue Mosque is called Blue Mosque because of its blue interior"), heavy anxiety takes hold of me. This guy ain't doing this out of good Turkish hospitality. I try to pull Heinrich away from him, but he's too polite to walk away. One minute later he's like: "So thanks then. And because I give information to people, usually, people give something to me, like, 10 Lira each person". Hahahaha what a loser. I knew it. Even the book in my backpack could've told me more about the Mosque, and we never asked for a tour. So I exert myself seemingly raking around in my pocket (which contains about 50 Lira), only to fish out 2 Lira in the end. I tell him I don't have any more. Heinrich has nothing on him. Our guide is evidently maddened by that outcome. Then he gruffly sneers "Well, you look like you're a very poor student. Take this one lira back!". Whoot we got off with one Lira instead of 20!
Tip: If someone approaches you in public, starts a nice conversation with you and offers you something (like a tour), chances are about 99% that he is out to make money. Others have reported that their "tour" miraculously ended in uncle's rug shop, where they got invited to a cup of tea and were presented wonderful carpets. Anyways, it's harmless folkloric mischief and if you don't have the balls to veto in the first place, play along - but don't feel any urge to pay for anything afterwards.
In front of the Hagia Sofia, a concert is taking place; the stage girdled with AKP party flags and banners, and even though the music itself is pleasant, it melts right into the noisy cacophony so inherent to the city of Istanbul. It is the 19th of May, one of the four national holidays in Turkey, and the nation remembers the beginning of Atatürk's struggle for liberation in 1919. Every shanty, house, plattenbau, skyscraper, they all have their facade covered with blood red Turkish flags hanging from the topmost windows. Some have the size of a football field.
Our guidebook highly recommends dining at Köftecisi Sultanahmad on the Divanyolu Caddesi Street. It's supposed to be famous, and indeed, they have pictures and signatures from high-ranking politicians and media stars hanging from the wall. Truth be told, the restaurant is flat out ugly, all they have is Köfte and Salad, and to make it worse, Köfte (greasy meatballs with a special Turkish spice mix) is one of the most disgusting things I've ever had in my life, and Köfte became a synonym for all yucky stuff the Turkish kitchen has in store (while there is some excellent food too!). Object if you want to, perhaps it's your favorite dish, who knows :-)
Back home in the hostel lobby, Peter teaches me how to play Backgammon. Next thing that happens is a blackout. The hostel doesn't have a generator, so all is pitch black for the next four hours. It's nothing uncommon there.
When the lights come back on, we're lying in bed already. All of a sudden, it's as bright as day. Right before our window, a tenthousandmillion-megawatt-streetlight illuminates a dark backalley that has no requirement of illumination whatsoever, anyway, it keeps us from sleeping. I climb into our window and try to stuff a woolen rug into the latticework in the windowframe. In that very moment, some old man appears on the street, out of nothing. He incredulously stares at me, and justifiably so: I'm in boxers! Then I slip and crash-land on the hardwood floor. First day in Istanbul.
alicegourmet says:
Hey Seb! You did a good job...it would be perfect if you have some pictures in here! ;)
Posted on: Jun 18, 2008
JeAr says:
wahahaha! i got it all wrong then! but i was only joking about what i said before this :) anyway, when can we expect the next chapter of ur adventure? and the pics, of course! :P
Posted on: May 31, 2008
skosch says:
don't get me wrong, I'm glad you like it! I meant it's not necessary to pack food cans, =D
Posted on: May 31, 2008
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Istanbul Hostels review
Nice staff, great fellow guests; rooms not too clean
There are zillions of hostels in the Sultanahmad quarter, so first thing you should do is check out some directory like hostelsweb.com for availabilit… read entire review
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photo by: Memo