2030 local time, Istanbul, Turkey
Well here we are in good old Istanbul (was Constantinople, now it's Istanbul...etc.)! The flights were fine - I can highly recommend Swiss Air - so much legroom, it was like the whole plane was first class. Natalie and I seemed to laugh the whole way - it seems she goes as crazy as I do on flights - just as well; I'd probably have driven her mad otherwise!
Bit of (read total) cock up at the airport...you may remember me mentioning that, as we were arriving after midnight (with my little chicky sister being a backpacking-virgin!) we'd pre-paid with a company who would book us into a hotel for two nights, meet us at the airport (with our names on one of those boards...I've always wanted to be met by someone with my name on a board!!), and transport us to said hotel. Unfortunately when we arrived (buckling under the weight of our way too heavy bags - gotta lose some of the load!!) there was nobody there. We eventually managed to contact the guy who was meant to meet us. There'd been a communications breakdown somewhere along the line, and the long and the short of it was that while the hotel had been booked, he had no knowledge of us, and we would have to get a taxi for the 18 km into town - not an insurmountable problem, but it did kind of defeat the whole object!!
We took it easy the next day, having had a late night, what with all the faffing around, but headed down to the Golden Horn, crossing the Galata Bridge from the old city to the ancient port of Galata. Once there we headed to the top of the Galata tower to take in the rather splendid views, and try to get our barings (...so, which one is the Blue Mosque again?? They all look so impressive!).
In the evening we went out for a meal in the Taksin Maydani district, where all the trendy young Turks hang out. It was quite a groovy experience - the streets were packed and noisy, hustle and bustle everywhere as the forth call to prayer of the day rang out. We walked through the streets, then turned into a covered avenue full of eateries, tables out in the lanes, waiters trying to tempt us in from all sides. At the end of this we came out into a busy food market, the exotic and mundane side by side, people, noise, excitement. We left this behind and started down a steep street lined with restaurants, tables in the open air, the dull roar of voices, music, laughter; faces looming from either side, thrusting menus under our noses - it was surreal and wonderful. Once we'd chosen a restaurant, we had a traditional mezze - a selection of cold apertizers followed by hot, accompanied by copious amounts of bread and water. I tried some mashed aubergine, minty yoghurt, a kind of salsa dish, and some cute little pickled mushrooms, and followed this up with some yummy fried goats cheese in breadcrumbs - all very good - it seems I have found yet another country whose food I like...so much for the idea of shedding some excess pounds on this trip!!
Today we took in some of Istanbul's cultural delights; we started with the Blue Mosque (or Sultan Ahmet Camii, as it is more properly known). We had dressed correctly, long sleeves, long skirts, scarves to cover our heads, and - at the sign outside the entrance, that said remove your shoes - we removed our shoes...we were then told off for taking off our shoes outside where it was dirty! Just can't win!! The mosque was impressive, but paled compared to our next stop, Aya Sofia (AKA Hagia Sophia) this is a huge gargantuan building, built as a church in Byzantine time, and later converted into a mosque - I would challenge anyone not to be impressed at its sheer monstrous size! Third on our list was Basilica Cistern; we didn't really know what to expect here, but it turned out to be an underground reservoir built in Roman times (of course!). We were awe-struck to find ourselves in the most atmospheric underground cavern, filled with rows of pillars supporting arched, brick ceilings. A boardwalk led through the large room, over water filled with peculiar looking fishes, and waters dripped on us from above. In a far corner, two stone images of Medusa had been used to prop up two columns, strangely one was upside-down, and the other on its side...apparently no-one knows why!!
Anyway I think I shall have to finish soon - my stomach is growling, and there are lots of new flavours out there to be sampled. I also have an urge to try a water pipe - don't worry, all you customs folk I've left behind - there is nothing sinister in it, only apple tobacco - I am told it is very pleasant, and contains no nicotine. When in Rome, & all that!!
Just one more thing...I have a sneaking suspicion that my sister has been bitten by this wonderful travelling bug - I mentioned wanting to one day hike in the Himalayas, "Hmmm, maybe I'll come with you," she said. "I'd like to do something like that." I'll keep you posted...
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