How do you follow a blog on a place as unique and exciting as Cappadocia? Well, in short, with great difficulty. Well, if your next stop is Istanbul anyway. We rounded off our tour of Turkey with a visit to the vast metroplis, official population 15,190,000, though unofficially some say up to 24,000,000. We took a night bus from Cappadocia with Metro Bus, and with stops it was a 12-hour trip, arriving at 7.30am. As bus trips go it was ok and we managed to get some sleep and there were a few comfort breaks on the way. It cost 100 Turkish lira or £10.
The weather was normal for November, but with every passing day and with every mile we moved northwards, the climate grew colder, and wetter. In 4 of the 5 days we were there, it rained pretty much non-stop. This did, as you can imagine put some limitations on what we could do, however we were lucky in the first couple of days to have some sunshine and to see a few of the must-see tourist highlights, each of them sadly a little disappointing in their own way.
The “Where are you from?” game (aka Lovely jubbly)
When we first visted Turkey, it was a day trip to Marmaris whilst we were holidaying in Rhodes, it was an hour’s ferry boat trip away. It was an eventful and funny day, but the overwhelming memory was of the hustlers trying to get you to go into their shop or restaurant. “Come in here, we’ll give you free apple tea” “No! Come into my shop we’ll give you two free apple teas”.
Every single shop. Every single restaurant. Every single time.
It quickly becomes very wearing, you start off being very polite, but when some of them don’t take no for an answer, the temperature can quickly rise until eventually the air turns blue.
Our trip to Turkey this time was so different. I even imagined their government had passed a law banning extreme hassling, because it just didn’t happen any more. More than that, shop owners were at pains to express that there’s no pressure here, every refusal was instantly taken note of and we were wished well as we went on our way.
Until we got to Istanbul.
It was like Marmaris of 2006 revisited, only more so.
Every single shop. Every single restaurant. Every single time.
They would try to befriend you, and their first question was always “Where are you from?”
To begin with, we told the truth, “England” Their reply was always “Lovely jubbly”. Always!
Until one day I noticed a local buying an ice cream, and he was charged 10tl (£1). As we approached the stall out came the call “Where are you from?” I replied “England” “Lovely jubbly” came the predictable reply. I guess it was lovely jubbly for them, because being English meant they could try to charge more for their goods. We were charged 25tl (£2.50)
Many goods on sale in Turkey have no price marked on them, this is because they find out where you are from before making up the price accordingly.
Next time I was asked, I tried making out I was Australian. It was a bad choice. Australian are classed the same as English people financially so again they tried to rip us off.
The time after that I said “I am from Ukraine” in an accent even worse than my attempts at copying Borat. The first time I tried this I was unlucky, the guy spoke back to me in Ukrainian. I laughed and walked on. They did not follow. They left us alone. Future attempts at making out I was from Ukraine were more successful. They would say “Oh!” In a very disappointed tone, and let us walk on. No hassle. I guess they don’t think Ukrainians have much money to be ripped off! To be fair we did stay in Sultanahmet and this is a very touristy area but this is just a warning to anyone who may wish to stay there also.
Places We Visited
Hagia Sophia is a late antique place of worship and one of the most well known visitor attractions as it has served for centuries as a landmark for both orthodox christians and muslims. Once we got past the people outside offering guided tours around it Carol had to buy a head covering for 5 lira. The man at the counter tried to insist that she bought an all over coveral however with a quick change of tops we were able to make her suitable for entrance. There was no fee for entrance here . Sophia looks beautiful from the outside, on a sunny day. Inside, however it was clear that some restoration work was required. We admired the architecture as shown in the pictures below.
Sultanahmet Camii – Blue Mosque
This is probably the most famous building in Istabul and it sits directly opposite Sophia. We struggled to figure out why it was called the Blue Mosque as it did not look particularly blue; however we learnt it was because of the blue tiles which adorn the inside of the building. Here you can borrow a head scarf at no extra cost and when you enter you are required to place your shoes in a plastic bag and carry them in with you. Entry was free, and rightly so given the fact you could not see anything at all apart from the main prayer room due to buiding restorations being undertaken. The whole ceiling is covered with scaffolding and therefore we can’t really comment on how it would look without it all there. Due to this it was disappointing however it is yet another impressive building from the outside, albeit difficult to photograph due to a hugh tree line to the front.
I always like to check out the local football stadiums around the world. In Istanbul I was disappointed that the most accessible one from our location was Beşiktaş, probably currently the 4th best team in Turkey. I never got to see the more famous Galatasaray or Fenerbahce as there appeared to be no direct transport links from where we were. I did make the most of this though as you can see from my pictures.
Also known as The Bosphorus Bridge. It joins the European side of Istanbul with the Asian side. I believe 97% of Turkey is in Asia, with the other 3% being in Europe. Wikipedia lists Turkey as a country in the middle east, which is something I hadn’t previously considered it to be, though clearly, it is!.
There are no pedestrians allowed on the bridge, no matter how far they had walked to get there. Perhaps we should have researched more before walking 32k steps to find this out! Still it was a pleasant walk with a few stops on the way.
With my fondess of ensuring I take Carol up the highest tower I can find; It was disappointing to discover the huge building we could see on the Asian side of the water was still under contruction. To give you an idea of the size of this building it required foundations 21 metres deep to be constructed. Further research determined that this will be a telecommunications tower with observation decks with outstanding views across Istanbul and a shopping centre. Construction started on the building in 2016 and it started to open in September 2020 but areas such as the observation decks are not yet open to the public.
Galata Tower, also known as The Tower of Christ, is a 67 metre high medieval stone tower, funnily enough just across from Galata Bridge. Entry fee was 15tl each. It is seven storeys high, and Carol was relieved to find that the first five at least, were navigated via a lift.
We booked into the Antis Hotel in Sultanahmet for 4 nights which is a 4* hotel and was offering £20 a night B&B rooms. It was comfortable, had good wifi and the staff were really helpful. They even let us check in at 10am after we arrived very early which really helped. No complaints about the hotel whatsoever, the staff were outstanding, and we got lucky with the pricing as we were told this time last year the prices were double what we were paying now. COVID concerns have clearly reduced numbers of visitors, so prices were reduced to get anyone in the hotel. We did not see many other guests and there was not enough trade to open the rooftop terrace.
In summary, it simply cannot be possible to love every place I visit. My first impressions were that Istanbul is a little underwhelming. Although the population is large, it’s because it is spread out over such an incredibly large area. In my mind, I will remember it in the same disappointing bracket as Belgrade, Serbia, rather than ever talking about it with the excitement that was generated in me by the likes of New York, Rome, Hong Kong, Reykjavik, and Skopje. If there is a wow factor, it was well hidden by ongoing restoration work, neglect, COVID considerations and the weather, and unfortunately, I missed it! Have you been to Istanbul? Did you have a different view? Feel free to let me know what I missed in the comments.
Our overall thoughts on Turkey
Overall though Turkey was a pleasant surprise and we loved our time there.
The people were lovely, even if they do have a tendency to tell you what they think of you, whether you want to hear it or not. On one occasion our host told me my head was like a tomato, a very ripe tomato, that had been out in the sun too long. I do have a skin condition which means my forehead colour varies between bright pink and red regardless of sun exposure, but it would be nice if people realised that nobody is more aware of it than I am, and didn’t seek to remind me of the fact. In another conversation with a young Kazakhstani woman over breakfast one morning, after hearing tales of our previous travels and future plans, she exclaimed “How lovely! You two are wonderful and I want to be like you when I’m old. Further conversation revealed that I was the same age as her dad, and Carol the same age as her mum. I guess everyone thinks their parents are old so I found it easy to forgive her, and called her ‘my daughter’ from then on.
Our tour guide Yonuz told me I had a warm heart, and as he stroked my head he told Carol she must do the same, with love in her heart. Yonuz was a very friendly man, but I wasn’t comfortable with just how friendly he was especially with his tendency to keep resting his head on my chest and kissing my head lol Be warned, Turkish people can be very friendly!
The Cats and the Rat
We continued to encounter loads of cute cats throughout our time in Turkey and ended up feeding a few. In Instabul there was a young family living in the rocks that we visited and fed. One very brave kitten chased off a rat and was very proud of himself!
For us Turkey was full of surprises and amazing places we didn’t even know existed; Cappadocia was by far our favourite place but Pammukale was lovely and each of the places we visited had their own uniqueness about them. From beaches to mountains to just mindblowing scenery. It really did prove that first impressions do not always count for everything and we could see why so many people like it here. We covered a lot in our month or so and would definitely return especially to Cappadocia for some shopping and to enjoy more of the fantastic scenery. Istanbul not so much; however it did have at least one outstanding feature. A brand new, huge and expensive airport which serves as a gateway to the rest of the world. We were now heading to Barbados!