Turkey

The reason Istanbul is on my list is because visiting here last year was the moment I decided I would quit my job to go travelling. So I felt like I needed to visit it whilst I was on my travels. I also neglected having a Turkish Bath the first time (because I’m stingy with money even when I have a job apparently) and I thought that that needed rectifying!

Luckily, a friend who I met in Edinburgh for Hogmanay has managed to hook me up with a friend she has in Turkey so that there’s a couch I can crash on for the time I’m there.

Day One

I arrive at the airport. Kindly, the lady I’m staying with has already messaged me instructions on how to travel like a local and ride the metro so it doesn’t cost me a fortune getting from the airport. By the time I figure out how to buy an “Istanbulkaart” (the equivalent of an Oyster in the UK) I’m feeling pretty chuffed with myself for figuring it out (even with instructions).

When I arrive at the destination there’s a lady selling some fairly fresh looking flowers outside and it seems like the rightful thing to do is get some for the person who’s hosting me that I will meet shortly. Unfortunately, my ability to follow instructions didn’t succeed all the way and I get lost before giving in and giving Selcen a call. Eventually, I get a taxi to Trump Towers where we meet and I follow Selcen back to hers. Immediately, she’s warm, kind and a joy to be around. The fact she’s a stunner also helps somewhat. What a stroke of luck (and thanks to Ceren for introducing us) that this has worked out like this.

The couch is probably one of the comfiest beds I’ve slept on so far. It’s big and soft and there’s even an adorable cat roaming around which makes it feel homelier. Here is said cat making some strange bird noises that I find beyond funny.

Day Two

Today I start the sightseeing. Selcen has already drawn me up a personal tourist guide for me to see a load of new stuff. With that, I roam along to catch the metro and find it fascinating there’s a rainbow tunnel to one of the lines.

After a short walk I make it to the top of the local castle with views that are just fab.

I have lunch in a restaurant looking out on to the Bosphorus river. It’s 2.30pm but they waiter is shocked that I don’t want breakfast at this time. He’s keen to please me though so he runs to get the owner and the chef and they decide they can cook me something up which was very kind. The view is incredible and it’s just another moment which lets me appreciate how lucky I am to be here.

I move on to the waterfront which has so many people just casually fishing you have to be careful not to get caught in the many lines being thrown out.

The next destination is Galata Tower, which provides views of all of Istanbul. It’s very touristy but the views are great.

For the night we joined two of Selcen’s lovely friends for a pizza in Taxsim Square. It makes me uneasy when I hear that one of them got held up at knifepoint on the walk home but apparently this is the place to be, whatever the cost.

Day Three

Today’s tourist guide was a revisit of a few places I went to on my first visit here. This included one of the local mosques which is a world heritage site where I took a kip under a tree for a couple of hours and a street that has suspended rainbow umbrellas which can’t help but make you smile. Topped off with a ferry trip to Asia where I did a little bit of shopping.

In the night I try to meet some people from Couch Surfing. As I approach Besiktas, it becomes obvious that town is going to be packed.

There’s some football game on at the new stadium and town is rammed. I’m never going to find the group so I decide to stay for a few beers and soak in the atmosphere but decide it is probably best to leave before the match ends. I do just that and catch the last 15 minutes in a small café much closer to Selcen’s. Even here, it’s a little bit rowdy but it feels safe so I stay. The match ends with one of the managers getting told off for walking on to the pitch. Then it erupts. One of the players looks like he purposely hit another one, then the managers come on the pitch, then all of the extra coaches and players it seems decide to come join. The referee starts just throwing his card around at people. We don’t hear the whistle blow but the game has ended. Besiktas won – at least the guys in town will be happy!

 Day Four

We went to a lovely breakfast place so I could say thank you for having me. Every breakfast I’ve had in Turkey has been exceptional and today is no exception. There’s these baked bread turnovers with cheese in, cooked to the perfect moment: hot, with melted cheese and not burnt whatsoever.

I almost forgot: the Turkish bath!! A big reason I have come to Istanbul and I almost didn’t do it. Selcen gave me a recommendation and off I went. I found a “hamman” and it was perfect, not at all touristy, decent prices and very authentic.

It all starts with a period in the steam room. I advise drinking plenty of water beforehand because the whole Hamman is hot, let alone the steam room. I feel as if I was about to faint just as the gentleman came to grab me to say he’s ready. Then the “bath” begins. It’s like a massage but with some insane stretching, pinching, cracking and deep exfoliating of dead skin. You’d be surprised how much comes off!

After another half an hour or so it comes to an end and I’m given a room to rest up in. Then they provide a bottle of fresh, cold water. You’d be mad not to accept it, you’re hot, sweating and dehydrated from it all. It was the best taste of water I’ve had in my life up to this point.

After a little wander around town, it’s time for me to take the metro one last time. I arrive at the airport and say goodbye to Turkey.

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