A little tired and hungry I arrived at the Atatürk airport in Istanbul the 1st of October this year (2015). I had to awake early that day, because I had an appointment at the hospital before taking my flight. I did not sleep during the night, because I was afraid, to miss it.
At Malta airport I checked in my cabin bag and I only took my little backpack into the plane. I slept the most of the time. Only the small baklava bit I have got. Even I awake in between, I did not get any breakfast. The weather was ok, but neither very sunny nor very hot by entering the flight. The flight was calm and when I entered Turkey I was freezing. Just that day was cooler than usual.
First I was looking for the tourist information for buying a card for the public traffic, because I am always interested in to save money. Unfortunately the tourist information was closed, but the neighbor told me, where I could find such a card. He sent me downstairs to the Metro. Before coming to the tracks, there were a micro shop offering those and other cards. The shop was run by a woman. She was nice, too. I also have got a map of the Metro. I easily could see where to enter the train. A young man told me, which train I have to take and how to continue. We also talked a little with each other. With other words: The first impression of Istanbul was very good.
When I had to change, I found the right route easily, but left already one stop to early, at Şişhane, because I did not really know, where the hostel was situated. Later I found out that the stop Taksim had been the better one. I did not find the road on the map. My Odyssey started throughout Istanbul’s streets and I have seen a lot before arriving at the hostel. It is up and down like Malta and with streets of stairs like in Valletta. When I did not know anymore how to continue – it seemed, the street was not going further, the way I should – I saw two young men and asked them for the direction. They first tried to explain, but very quickly one of them changed his mind and offered me to bring me there. Close to the hostel, one of them called the reception, because we could not see it even we were very close. The helped me all the way to the hostel and were not asking for a bahşiş (tip). They were happy about my “Thank you so much!”
I was at the hostel for around 20 min, very disappointed for the dirty room and bathroom. I went out and asked at the reception for the way to Taksim Square. They told me, that it is just straight ahead. It was, but it was up sharply. It took time for me, because it was not so easy to walk that way. Furthermore I could not use the sidewalks all the time and the road was very small – even it was a one-way-road, it was dangerous to use the road. One more time it reminded me on Malta.
I visited Taksim Square and found out, that there was a big celebration for these days and a fortnight. Some streets were decorated. It look nearly like Christmas decoration. I was hungry and was looking for something to eat. I tried to find a genuine Turkish restaurant, even I was aware, that in such a touristic area, there will not be lots of them. I also thought, that I will try to find a cheap restaurant, but I did not, because I was freezing and was not happy in being outside. I found the Sutis Kebap Dunyasi, had a good Turkish meal and also ordered a dessert. There were a lot of tourists in the restaurant. I watched them a little while eating. There were an Asian family, the father was walking around with a fork and food on it, looking for a bottle of water. A young woman had only bought a kind of sweet bread or cake. After eating that, she took a bottle of water out of her bag and poured the water in the glass at her place. The waiter was only looking, but did not say anything. Anyway I could see in his eyes, that he did not like those behaviors. I did understand him very well. In addition to that, the waiter often had to change the table clothes.
I asked for the bill and the waiter told me, that the service was not included. I think, they must have a low salary. I left a quite good tip and the cashier was full surprised about it. Maybe it was a little much, but Turkish Lira are just one-third of EUR.
I walked the main shopping street from Taksim Square, looked into some lanes, looked at clothes, especially some warm jacket or similar. I was really not dressed for this weather, even I prepared for lower temperatures than on Malta. Most of the shops were open until 10pm and some groups of people were playing here and there, happy about their listeners and the listeners happy about them. Also one or two single persons were singing, but it did not sound well. There were beggars here and then. We have no beggars on Malta by law, though I was surprised to see these. I also came across the Swedish embassy.
In some way Istanbul reminds me on Malta, but they have metal sheets or wooden closing, where Maltese build stone walls for maintenance sites. Though even here there were some ugly buildings, but some of them were refurbished. By the way, the shops has security persons like in the area of the former Commonwealth, but people are very helpful here. – I bought a cardigan because it seems already to be autumn in Istanbul. Some raindrops were falling, too. I chose the one I bought because of its colour and design, unfortunately all cardigans I found here, had neither buttons nor zips.
Breakfast at Route 39 was from 9 – 10am, anyway, when I appeared at the sixth floor, where it was served, no staff was there and no bread. Around ten minutes later, the staff was arriving with the bread. I had to ask for the coffee, their was a very big Turkish tea-pot, but coffee was served in a thermos and it was even worse, because it was not easy to hold the thermos without dripping coffee on the floor – and on my shirt, as I saw later. The staff was not helping at all.
There were a kind of breakfast buffet, but very unusual for me, especially the kitchen ware it was served in. There also were “boiled eggs” and because I did not find a lot of other things, even I took feta cheese and of the sausage, I took an egg, too. I could nearly not eat the egg, because they may have been boiled for 3 minutes only. The best think was the mottled cake and the peach juice. They had three or four kinds of juice to choose, though everyone could be happy about it.
Around 10:30 I finally went out and walked up very steeply to the Taksim Square. I took a picture of course, because this place is so well-known as well as the Gezi Park is from the demonstrations two years before. I tried to twitter a selfie, but nada – nichts – nothing was working. I was disappointed and saved it for the evening back in the hostel. Even it has been a dirty and unfriendly hostel, but the WiFi was working very well.
I walked that main shopping street from the evening before and took lots of photographs. There were small carriages with hot chestnuts or fried corn, some had both of it. Even more than one seller offered Sesamrings. I was still hungry, therefore I bought one immediately. The price was very low – only 1 TL (around 35 Cent) and remembered me at the Maltese pastizzi, even they are very different of its kind.
I also found a bazaar and was walking throughout it. Though I have seen nice tea ware, restaurants and Turkish impressions.
At around 1pm I was going by the Metro and the Tramway to the “Blue Mosque” and the “Hagia Sophia” or better, the Sultanahmet Square, where you can find them. First I did not find the Sultanahmet Stop on my Metro map. When I was looking on it for a while a kind man asked me, if he can help me and he could! He explained very well to me how to come there. It was a pleasure have met him!) I took not only photographs, but also made a video at the Sultanahmet Square to catch the whole atmosphere.
When I came to the Blue Mosque it was time for the prayer for the muslims and I could not get any entrance, therefore I continued to Hagia Sophia. I made more photographs, of course, because there were so many interesting things in the surroundings, too, like the fountains.
It is needless to say, that I became hungry. The area is well prepared for the tourists and I found a car, where I could buy a sandwich with Turkish Sausage for 5 TL – and it was warmed up directly before I have got it.
When I entered the queue for the Hagia Sophia, there were a guide asking the tourists if one or two are interested in to get a guiding of him. Including the entrance fee it would only be 100 TL and when there are two or three 70 TL. It is anyway a lot of money for me, but I decided to take that chance, especially because he was wearing a badge around his neck, telling that he was a certified guide for English. I agreed with him for the 70 TL and he had to find another tourist. He did – he found a couple. Because of him there was no need to queue and that was a nice side effect, of course. The tour was really good, even he hurried us a little. Afterwards he offered an additional tour for another amount, but I was satisfied with that I have had seen and learned. I walked around on the yard of the church instead and took some more photographs.
By the way, did you know that Hagia Sophia has been a church, later on a mosque and now is a church again?
Finally I continued to the Blue Mosque. I hoped it will be possible to see the inside at that time. When I came into the yard I have seen signs, that women only are allowed to enter with a scarf – covering the hair. I bought one just outside the yard and I was surprised that it was so cheap, because it was so close to the mosque, I only paid 5 TL (less than 2 EUR) for it. I took a turquoise one. I thought, it matches my clothes. I really do not know, why I did not choose another colour.
It was a very interesting walk throughout the mosque. Even it was a long queue we were quickly led through the sanctuary. It was for free, no fee applied. In the entrance of the mosque we had to take off our shoes, put them in a plastic bag and carry them with us, because we had to leave the building on the other side. Inside the mosque there were a wonderful soft carpet, though it was really wonderful to go there without shoes. In addition to that, the walls and the ceiling was decorated very beautiful. I took some pictures even they tried us to get us out quickly, because it was already again time for their prayers. I could already see a few Moslems kneeling in the direction of Mecca, they had their back to us.
In front of the mosque I found a tourist, who took a picture of me with my camera, though I can show you, that I have been there ;-). Walking throughout the yard, taking some more photographs of this amazing building, a Turkish man in the age of around 50 talked to me and told me, that he can show me a place, where I can get a very good photograph of the mosque. I followed him with mixed feelings, but he was very nice – a little too nice, by the way. The first he did, was really to show me that place where I could take a great picture.
I will tell you the whole truth here, even I behaved myself like a teenager, because I would like you to be aware of this kind of marketing. He talked more to me with words like enjoy life, nobody can decide, where he/she will be born and he believe in friendship. Soon he also took my hand, telling me that he will show me his shop. At that point at the latest, I should have been running away! It was very close to the backside of the mosque and in an area, I never would have been without this Turkish man, but anyway. He entered a carpet store with me, took me a floor up, pleased me to take a seat on a bench with carpets and offered me a tea. By the way in the entrance of the shop was a woman sitting weaving a carpet.
His nephew was coming with the tea and his cousin was coming and showed me some woolen carpets. They asked me, what price I would pay for such a carpet and they were very disappointed, when I did not even buy a small one. There are more possibilities to make money for them, though he offered and sold me a “Bosphorus Night Tour”. There were two different to choose: One for 60 EUR and one for 80 EUR – I first did not have my attention on, that he told about EUR and not TL. When I told him, that I will buy one of them, he definitely told about EUR. I should have declined, but unfortunately I did not, but it comes worse, because I did buy the more expensive one. The different was, that in the cheaper one, you had to pay for your drinks with alcohol, wine and beer separate. In the expensive one the alcoholic beverages were included. This seller also told me, that it was as much as you can eat – a buffet with other words, but it was not, it was a menu, which one could not choose either. Also in the leaflet they wrote, that I should have been able to choose between fruit as a dessert or Turkish “halva”. It was the longing for the halva, which made me to buy the more expensive one, but there were no “halva” at all. I could have eaten lots of “halva” in Istanbul for 20 EUR!
He was continuing trying to sell Turkish handmade items to me. Though he showed me a shop with silky and other scarfs – really expensive ones. I did not buy any here either and the highlight was the leather clothes, of course. He respectively a relative or employee to him got me to try two different clothes a coat and a jacket, but I told them, that I do not dress in leather. The Turkish man did not give up! He continued with me back to the Sultanahmet Square and asked me “what about us”. We should enjoy live and similar. He also told me, that I am his best friend and hold my hand again. I was not sure, what he was thinking about, though I told him, that I am not in need for a man. Finally he walked away!
Happy to be by my own again I checked the touristic map and found, that only one tram stop away there is a famous column, one has to see. The Turkish name is “Çemberlitaş Sütunu“, the English “Column of Constantin” or the “Burnt Stone”, because it looks like burnt. I took a photograph of it, even I did not think it was very special, but the age of it. You can read about it on Wikipedia.
One more tram stop away I found the “Grand Bazaar”, a market hall. It was old and really big. The best was the architecture and the paintings, also the fountain I enjoyed. Unfortunately there were so many people, that I could not get a good photograph of the fountain. There were like lanes with similar goods. In one of them one could buy jewelery, in another one sweets etc. I came along a shop for watches and the owner asked me: “Rolex, do you want a Rolex?” I could not hold me, I had to smile, because I know about all that fake-Rolex, bought in Turkey. Even here a carpet seller tried to sell one of his items to me, but I did not follow him to his shop. I was thinking: Do I look rich? Do I look so stupid? Finally I bought some Turkish Delights (sweets). Anyway I had to find a shop, where they sold only around 100 g to me and not 1/2 or 1 kg only at the same time. Even the boxes with sweets you had to buy more than one at a time – too much for a single person, especially when the person is on the move like me!
I left the bazaar in time for the Bosphorus Trip. I had to be close to that carpet shop I bought the ticket, because I was not staying at a famous hotel. With a coach we have been driven around to pick up other tourists, who also had paid for this tour. Finally at the boat, I was very disappointed for the program. They announced a dervish and one guy in such clothes came, but not with all the skirts, like I have seen them in Dublin years ago. He also made a very short appearance. During the evening there were shown more dances, even belly dancing and all around the wedding theme, but it was not satisfying for me, especially because one could see, that there only were six dancers – a group of three women and three men. They had to change clothes all the time. It was really a bad show, the dishes were not OK either – the rice and the french fries were cold, in addition to that I only ordered still water, because I do not like to get drunk. Even the tour on the Bosphorus was quiet nice, but by the dark, I did not get the feeling to be on a stream or river. It was a real rip off of us tourists! I do not recommend it.
The guest list was very blended. They came from all over the world – from all the five continents. At our table was a Russian couple, a man from Canada and people from other countries. I first had a nice chat with the woman at my right side – she was from Saudi Arabia. I really was surprised, that she travelled by her own. Unfortunately she found other people at our table more interesting than me. The emcee did name all the countries by asking the people, where they come from. He was very proud of the internationality and told about friends and piece. If it would be so easy, it would not be any war on earth and we would all be very happy.
The same coach, with which one I came with, drove us home. This time I left at Taksim Square. I tried to explain to him, where my hostel is, but either he did not understand or he was not willing to understand. There were a heavy night life and it was not dangerous at all to walk my tiny road for coming to the room I rented. Unfortunately I could not fell asleep for heartburn.
I am sure that I would not have bought that tour and followed it, when one of the Turkish hosts had met up, who told me before, they will be glad to show me around. I denied one of them, telling me he will drive me in his car all over Istanbul, because he would only make it for profit. That the couchsurfing site is not meant to! Another one was just not in contact with me anymore and the third one told me, that his plans had changed.
This day I have been on the Asian side of Istanbul. I left the hostel after breakfast by walking down to the seaside and found the tramway. I did buy a ticket and entered the platform. There I asked a guy, how to come to the Marmaray for Üsküdar. He told me, I should take the ferry instead, because it would be much faster. Anyway I already bought the ticket for the trains. I explained that for him and he told me where I should transfer to the Marmaray. He was very kind, too and also told me, when we were at the right tram stop and where the station for the Marmaray is. By the way the Marmary is going under the Bosphorus, it really is a master piece of engineering – I have seen a TV-documentary about it. I had another transfer to an underground for continuing to Kadaröy, where a Turkish host, Yigit, would meet me.
About my visit of the Asian part of Istanbul you can read here.
I had to take my flight home because I had to work in the evening again. I was happy I had found an early flight, but I had to awake at 4am. I could not really sleep that night, because I was afraid to miss my flight. At 4:30am I left the hostel. I planned to take a shuttle bus from Taksim Square to the Atatürk Airport and I was very early, because I did not really know, where the bus stop is. When I was three third up the street in the direction of Taksim Square, a taxi driver did stop and asked me, if I will go with him. I asked him more than once for the price, because I would be sure, that it will not be too expensive. He told me, he will make it for 40 TL (around 13 EUR) and I accepted and entered his car. First I did not see the clock, but he has got a phone call and he switched it on. At the airport the clock was about 55 TL and he told me to pay that amount. I denied and told him, that he agreed to 40 TL and that I do not have more money with me. He did not like it, but did not complain.
I was very early at the airport, because I did come by the taxi. I was very tired and found a free seat. I also bought some biscuits, because I did only have some TL-coins left. At the end I only had one of each TL-coins left for saving as a memory of this trip.
I was waiting for the announcement of my flight, which was scheduled for 8:50am. There were some changes of the gates, though I waited for “Go to gate” to be sure, that I will be at the right place in time, because the Atatürk Airport is very big. When I saw that line, I was going through the toll lane, which took a while and continued directly to my gate. When I arrived there they had some issues with the computer – as I am used to from all airports, therefore I thought, it was the beginning of the check in, but then they switched off the Malta flight. I rushed to the counter asking for my flight and was lucky that I also could check in for it. It was very close, that I missed my flight, because they were not calling for the flight either, as often it is done. Anyway all went well.