Theme: West Balkan & Turkey War Tour Country: Turkey Language: Turkish Unit of Currency: Turkish lira Location: Istanbul Year: 2013 Bucket list: Entering a mosque
DO: EXPLORE ISTANBUL
- Visiting the mosques
- Experiencing the Grand and Egyptian Bazaar
- Nighttime photography
Highlights of Turkey:
First impressions of Istanbul:
With the slew of taxi drivers buzzing around you, it is no wonder why a lot of mates had warned me about taxi driver scams here. Though I was keen to arrive at Sydney Hostel at a timely manner, I still did not want to pay a “special” price for not being local. I slowly approached the line of taxi drivers and asked each of their prices – in the end, I did not get ripped off, in fact, I paid less Turkish Lira than the normal price.
With this great start in Istanbul, these were my favorite moments in Istanbul:
1) Hanging out with a new culture – I randomly met this group of Pakistan Air Force guys back at my hostel. One of them mistaken me for being Dutch the night that I arrived – oddly enough I get this often! At breakfast the next morning, they sat down with me inquiring my last night’s activities. These guys were really sweet and we had a really good conversation about their recent Turkish mayhem, so they offered to take a walk around the city with me before their flight later that evening.
2) Sydney Hostel location – I could not have chose a better location, not only did I almost splurge on a posh hotel, but I perfectly located a hostel within 5 minutes of the Blue Mosque and Hagis Sofia! This particular hostel was a few cobble-stoned pathways down the hill from these great attractions. I was unbelievably quite humbled when I went with my first suggestion (stay in a hostel to meet other travelers) and find an accommodation in walking-distance to the Blue Mosque. Little did I know, that this hostel was bloody close and almost next door! P.S. Did I mention that I was a 7 minute walk to one of the entrances of the Grand Bazaar?!?
3) Signature jumpin’ photos madness – The Pakistan boys had no idea what they were getting into when we made our way to the Blue Mosque. I might have briefly mentioned my signature jumpin’ photos escapades, but when we stood in front of the Blue Mosque it was the perfect moment to really show these guys how to have a good time! Once they snapped the preferred photographs that I travel around the world for, to my surprise, they “jumped” right in as well!
Needless to say, in the entrance of the Blue Mosque a group of male Pakistans and an American were taking dozens of jumping photographs while waiting for the Blue Mosque to be open to the public after the prayer service. To top off this moment, an adorable duo of Korean girls asked us to take a photograph of them. After showing them our awesome slideshow of jumping photographs, they wanted ‘jumpin” pictures for their collection as well! So there we in the Blue Mosque with dozens of people looking and smiling at us, while we continued our signature “jumpin” photographs session!
4) Shoes off in the Blue Mosque – Once the signature jumpin’ photographs extravaganza was over, it was time to get a bit more serious and walk inside the Blue Mosque. It was the first time where I had to be guided into a different entrance – my Korean friends, one of my Pakistan mates, and I entered into the small opening behind the Blue Mosque . We quickly found ourselves taking our shoes off (and keeping them in a small plastic bag), hovering into small tunnels leading into the Blue Mosque, and dozens upon dozens of individuals lingering with their cameras around their necks. My new mission is to visit as many Mosques as I can, but in the meantime, this spectacular site in front of me is going to be a hard one to beat (Though, you always remember your first!)!
My favorite parts inside the Blue Mosque: A) Small written Arabic sayings carefully placed in the ceilings (not sure how they were able to complete this task); B) Entire room overflowing with intricate details and amazingly, submerged in a vibrant array of coloration and patterns; C) Width and height of the room is massive – it could be the deception of the various sketching and statues cunningly situated in the Blue Mosque, but whatever the reason this is definitely a beautiful and enriched Mosque.; and D) Group photo session, with my Pakistan and now my new Korean mates we all took the opportunity and captured our own special moments in our bonding and random meetings.
5) The house of lights – I cannot stress how incredible the Grand Bazaar is, and how its uniqueness and colorfulness really shines. This brings me to one of the best items that are a popular purchase in Turkey – Turkish lamps. While I was seeking a few “small” souvenirs (have to bring them in my luggage to Madagascar!) the Pakistan boys were grinning ear to ear when the word, “light” brushed their lips. I looked at them, and thought there were dozens of lights in majority of these stores/markets, which ones are they referring to? With illumination in their eyes (not sure if it was from the actual lights or if they just discovered where they wanted to take me), we made a mad dash to the “House of Lights.” I was standing outside the shop and must have gazed over at least 300 lamps – talk about a wicked site!
I was summoned to come inside and to my astonishment, there must have been another 600 lamps in this small, very bright-lit room! The amount of detail created into each of these lamps was absolutely incredible, I could have spent my entire 3 days in that place trying to determine which lamps to ship back to America (thankfully the tiny shop across Sydney Hostel sold my rug, purses, and lamps that grabbed my attention when I first walked out of my hostel my very first night in Istanbul!). And this Kodiak moment would not have been complete, without taking a picture in the house of lights. If I would have had more time, I would have opted for a signature jumpin’ photograph, but the boys had to hurry back and catch their flight out of the country!
6) Best doner kebab restaurant – Before my Pakistan mates needed to catch their flight, like all guys they were starving. They were here in Istanbul for approximately 10 days, and when they said that they have tried various restaurants and this one particular one that I am sitting in is the best – then I do not oblige. In light of the good spirit and the great time that I had in Istanbul with these guys, I decided to also order their meal. Hands down, the best Shuma I have tasted! It is in a tortilla wrap with French fries, chicken, tomatoes, cheese, and cabbage) – it was that delicious, I could have easily eaten 2! **The kebabs that I had eaten during the West Balkan States Euro tour was neither as flavourful nor tasty as much as this one! Believe me when I say this, I did have my fair share of kebabs!
7) Stroll in the park – Throughout the photography adventures, I met a now good friend of mine, Faruk. This Turkish 25 year old was a tour guide and at first, tried to persuade me to visit the Asian side of Turkey (I will one of these days!). After explaining my short-time in Istanbul, he rattled off a bunch of local spots that I need to check out during my time here. Being the awesome tour guide that he is, he took a few photographs with me, and then offered for him to be my tour guide. As I welcome new company and an intelligent local to show me the local hangouts, I happily accepted.
One of the “most romantic” places was the park located right down the street from the Blue Mosque and Hagis Sofia. This public park had flowers blossoming, animal statues, and a man-made fountain within it. We ended our time in a restaurant where they had served Turkish Tea. All and all, it was a great stroll in the park!
8) Night photography mayhem – I absolutely adore photography, and am still working on perfecting my night photography portraits, Istanbul was an excellent place to master this skill! I The two main attractions: Blue Mosque and Hagis Sofia were even more beautiful in the nighttime as they were in the daytime! In front of the Hagis Sofia, there was a water fountain that recycled through 6 different color settings. This setting created the best night photography portraits, and added some creativity to these photographs as well! One unique element to add to the night photography of these landmarks was dozens of seagulls flying around the tips of the towers at night – this made for some great action shots!
9) Sahlep and chestnuts – I came across a young man Michael, also a Turkish 25 year old selling ears of corn and roasting chestnuts. I courteously asked permission to take his photograph and his bright red stand. Must be my charm, because he grinned at me and said of course! Once I snapped a few photos, he insisted that I start roasting his chestnuts while he had begun to photograph me in action. He spoke very little English, but it was really cool that he let me in charge of his business for a few minutes. I did try one of his chestnuts, and they were really good! I like to think that I turned them well!
**Then that leads us into the large “copper bowl” of sahlep right next to Michael’s stand. From what bits of English I understood from the older man, sahlep is a creamy milky drink made with powdered root of the sahlep mountain orchid. Usually the mountain orchids have tuberous roots, rich in a starch-like substance. These tubers are gathered while the plant is in flower, then washed, boiled in water or milk and then dried, and ground. This is perfect drink during the winter months, and this particular night was a great occasion for it!
10) Grand Bazaar – Getting lost in the crowd was an easy task to complete; however, finding your way back to a store that you originally wanted to buy your souvenirs from – not so easy! I can honestly say that as much as fellow travelers prepped me for the chaos of the Grand Bazaar, I was definitely not prepared for this crazy, yet fun adventure! The Grand Bazaar was one of those inside places that you have to experience for yourself!
Every few steps there were always someone convincing that you need this or buy that. My favorite saying was, ”I have something to show you, please come inside!” I used to be pretty gullible, but the more I travel, the more I learnt not to fall for their tricks (even though sometimes it is VERY tempting)! And the Egyptian Bazaar outside is absolutely a thrill to visit as well!
There are many other favorites that I had here, but these were the ones that stuck in my mind the most.
Now the Europe ventures end, but I am sure there will be more coming soon!
Time to head back to work in Madagascar!