Istanbul Travel Blog› entry 13 of 22 › view all entries
OH MY GOD- after Egypt this place seems like the pinnacle of civilization. Clean air, cars that stay in their lanes, other backpackers...it's just too much. But even when we thought we were free from Egypt's grasp it seemed like it would not let us go; did you know that you cannot exchange Egyptian pounds directly into Turkish Lira? Noone at the airport would do the exchange...apparently Egypt and Turkey don't like each other too much. Eventually we found a place in the backpacking district near the Blue Mosque that let us convert them but what a pain!
Istanbul is beautiful! The architecture and the food! And the people! Wow, Turks are nice people. I went to high school with quite a few Turkish students and I always thought they were nice, but the way we were treated as tourists was quite amazing.
Our original plan was to spend most of our time staying around Istanbul. Unfortunantly that just wasn't enough for us. It's a lovely city with an easy transport system (once you get the alphabet down) but Turkey has so much to offer. We decided that the best use of our time would be to see the rest of the country. The hostel we stayed at has an in-house travel agent and we booked ourselves on a tour through him.
Not a real tour- like hop-off hop-on - but more like a system of arrangements with guesthouses and bus companies. Doing it this way saved us a hell of a lot of hassle and a little bit of money. Now we had an itinerary and guaranteed places to stay when we reached our destinations.
In the end we stayed in Istanbul a few nights. We hit the Blue Mosque, the Palace, the Hagia Sophia (fulfilled another life dream), the Grand Bazaar (so not worth it unless you have oodles of money), Whirling Dervishes, the normal tourist stuff. We also just walked around a ton and ate little picnics in the city parks. It was so nice to be able to breathe fresh air and not be sweltering in the heat. We also went to the "hip" part of town where all the local Turkish young things hang and are seen-to-be-seen. That was a hoot: sitting in a second floor pub watching the crowds float by and seeing how crazy some people can dress.
Since we knew our departure date from Istanbul we knew how to plan our days (and what to save for when we came back through Istanbul). And when to take our bath...which is a must. There really is nothing like having the crap slapped out of you by a very large Turkish woman. I went to a bath that gave us a discount through our hostel...not a tourist bath house. And i'm wicked glad I went this route. Yeah, it smelled a little musty and I saw one cockroach, but it was a great experience. And I had the whole place to myself- which made it easier for me to get all the way naked. I really did feel the cleanest I have ever felt and I would do it again in a second if I had the money.
Leaving Istanbul was a little odd- we got picked up by a minivan and driven two blocks to a big bus where we waited for about 30 minutes while the minivan toured the district picking up other backpackers. The buses are nice and big with seats that recline a bit...BUT they have no bathrooms! WTF! That was the biggest shock, plus the drivers seem to stop whenever they feel like it to pick up people on the road or for bahtroom breaks...