As I lay in bed listening to the early morning call to prayer, I say it out loud, the words I’ve been thinking all night. ‘I’m not going home today’.
I’ve decided I just can’t leave this city after one day. It wouldn’t be fair to miss out and I’m here now right? I’ve never changed a travel itinerary like this before, making a snap minute decision like this is just not something I do. But, as I’ve begun to see in many ways throughout this trip, I’m growing as a traveller. I think I’m getting better at this.
So I do. Easy as that, I rebook my flights, extend my accommodation and now don’t leave til the end of the week, though I’m still not sure that would be enough time to see this city properly.
The Ottoman Empire was one of the largest and longest lasting empires in history. At its peak, it covered the Balkans, Hungary and the gates of Vienna until it was effectively finished off by World War I and the Balkan Wars. Originally founded by Greek settlers over 2,000 years ago, it originally went by the name of Byzantium, then Constantinople when the Romans made it the capital of their eastern empire. Today, it has a population of over 12 million people.
Istanbul is the only city in the world to straddle two continents – Europe and Asia. It’s a vast metropolis home to a beguiling mix of cultures and traditions. A magical mix of east and west. And I don’t quite know where to start exploring it, so I jump on a tourist bus so I can get a good overview of the city first up.
I felt like my mouth was hanging open for most of the trip, looking this way and that, not sure what to take in first. The best way for me to explain it is to just show you…
It’s incredible that the place is so crowded but doesn’t feel over-crowded. And the other thing that stands out is the number of Turkish flags flying everywhere – seems to be a very patriotic city! From the massive cruise liners docked by the shoreline to the old Fez factory, from grand mosques to the Dombalace Palace on the Asian side, from streets stalls to fishermen and local tradesmen plying their trades on the street – it would take more than a few days to see it all. But I have to say that a bus tour is a great way to start.
Leaving the bus once it reaches the same spot it departed from, I decide to try and locate the Grand Bazaar. Luckily it is fairly well signposted and I have no problems. The most I know about the Grand Bazaar is The Tea Party recorded their film clip for the video The Bazaar here (clip inserted for those interested – be kind, this was 2006), and in surrounding Istanbul. It’s one of the world’s largest and oldest covered markets and attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists a day, though it seems much quieter than I was expecting today – perhaps the heat is keeping people away.
Inside, the stall owners try to allure you with flattery, which seems to be the way in Istanbul. Their wares are beautiful glass lanterns, tea sets, turkish delights and tea sets, each work a definite look at, but the catcalls put me off. If only I could find my way out again, oh, hang on – daylight.
For the rest of the afternoon, I decide to try out the second of the sightseeing bus routes, this time alighting to catch the cable car to the top of Pier Loti for a different view of the city. A lot of other people have the same idea but the queue eventually moves along and very quickly the journey to the top is over.
At the top is a few little cafes where you can stop and enjoy the view and the warm afternoon sun. Turkish apple tea is on the menu and it’s yummy.
Driving back along the waterfront, you can see the place come alive. Families are picnicingng on the lawns, there are balloon dart games and musicians playing on the rocks. Looks like everyone’s come down to enjoy the cooler weather that the evening brings. This will be a nice place to explore one night – I’m glad I decided to stay.