Istanbul – Finding the Essence


My third and final day in Istanbul, and a much sunnier one. Finally, it was starting to look a little brighter on the outside, if not any more colourful.

Following a jolly five mile dawn run, and breakfast in the Crowne Plaza hotel lounge, I jumped on a tram to the city’s cultural centre and, on the look out for colour, headed for the famous Blue Mosque. Unfortunately, when they say blue, they mean grey with a very slightly blue tinge in the right light. It was free to enter so long as I wore wore trousers, removed my shoes and carried them around with me in a plastic bag. The shoes, not the trousers. Also I was not to be loud, so I stayed silent.

Fortunately for our feet, we kept our socks on and the floor was carpeted. Having said that, I once walked round the big temple in Delhi with bare feet on cool marble, which felt fantastic. But that was in Asia – I was still in Europe. Besides which, the Turks like their carpets.

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Speaking of Asia, I popped over there for an hour or so in the afternoon – once I finally found the right ferry – namely a cheap local commuter boat rather than an overblown cruiser.  It was a short sail across the Bosphorus. Now the sun was out, the sky was finally blue and Istanbul was starting to smile for the colour photographs.

We berthed in Üsküdar – which promised much in the write up, but delivered little in the touch down. All I found was a busy port – with lots of people and pigeons. I lingered a while and opted for the underwater train back to Europe.

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I spent the remainder of my time dragging my poor blistered feet around Topkapi Castle, another monument to Mehmed the Ottoman Conqueror with four large courtyards. Another “massive on the inside”. By now I was rather beyond caring. I was oblivious to Mehmed’s treasures and spoils, and decided not to pay extra to have a look around his harem, tempting as it sounded.

I had ticked off the final Trip Advisor Top Ten attractions. I was done and completely done in. I had clocked up 40,000 steps and that was with four tram rides, a train and a boat. But it was all worth it when FitBit went out of their way to email me to say “not only did you earn the Cleats badge for this massive step tally, you gained a serious amount of traction on the leaderboard”. I have no idea what any of that means, but I am very proud.

So ended my three days in Istanbul. All that remained was to get back to the hotel, repack my little rucksack, take the taxi to airport and try to run down my Turkish Lira.

Istanbul only takes cash. Nowhere accepts plastic. Fortunately there is a multitude of ATMs. I was surprised chip and pin had not made it to the shops. There is no shortage of other technology  with an integrated train, tram and boat transport card and the standard ratio of people with their smart phones. Maybe as a major trading capital of the world, cash just seems more honest and tangible. As for the phones – they seemed to be mainly used for actually speaking to people, which is a little old-fashioned.

And so, as we headed to the airport, I looked out of the window and observed a city in perpetual motion.

Istanbul is a noisy city – people talking, shouting and honking their horns, the whirring of trams and the 5-a-day very loud call to prayer by the muezzins from the mosques. It is a frenetic city – millions of people milling around, pulling overloaded carts, pushing overloaded trolleys and carrying ridiculously large packages on their backs. And the endless rows of small shops selling anything and everything, but mainly, it seems, dresses, Turkish delight and suitcases. There are body parts all over the pavements, displaying various items of clothing. Mannequin body parts that is, of course.

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The other ubiquitous retail offering is the daytime pavement cart outside a tourist attraction – each one selling roasted chestnuts, simit (bread)  and misir (roasted corn). Having said that, at night, I was hard pressed to buy any Turkish street food, walking for 30 minutes before I found a disappointingly chewy chicken kebab.

So all in all a bit like India, slightly less chaotic, with a little bit of European restraint. For example, the drivers seem to broadly follow the road signs and markings, although it seems motorbikes are allowed on the pavement, and white BMWs are allowed in the tram lanes. As we know, there are special dispensations for BMW drivers across Europe.

Despite all of the bustle and hustle, it all felt very safe and respectful. Amazingly, in my three days I was only once approached by someone attempting to sell me something. Whilst there seemed to be a disproportionate number of men in their twenties, in small groups, at no point did I feel threatened. There is a nod to security with scanners to walk through into many buildings, although I beeped a few times and was casually waved through.

People dress modestly, as required by the Quran. A few women wore a hijab, most wore headscarves. The men seemed to wear mainly black tops and blue jeans. Most had beards. Very few wore glasses. All in all, most people had dark or black clothing. I ran in black longs and a black top, not wishing to draw attention to myself (there are very few runners in Istanbul). So I was rather surprised to be encountered by two elderly, chubby men by the sea, jogging towards me topless. Not a pretty sight. European seaside rules I guess. Or maybe they were BMW drivers.

So that was Istanbul. The European Asian fusion, the imprint of history. Grey, scruffy and busy on the outside. Safe and secure. And massive and mainly fascinating on the inside.

Day One – Istanbul in the Shadows

Day Two – Istanbul – Massive on the Inside

More on Turkey:-

Turkish Delights – Day One: Queues and Car-sharing

Turkish Delights – Day Three: Crime and Nourishment

Turkish Delights – Day Seven : Wire-walking around the Pool

Turkish Delights – Day Eight : The Road to Ephesus

 

 

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