Caught the night bus from Fethiye to Istanbul, a mere 13 hours away. Long distance buses are the norm in Turkey so your wide, fairly plush seat also comes with a trolley service (midnight cake and brew anyone?) and individual entertainment screens. That these exclusively show Turkish soaps is by the by, especially when you have Othello to master.
It’s not flatbed, but it’s enough for you to make yourself comfortable-ish for some light slumbering as you pelt through the night. That is if you don’t have a chubster in the seat behind. Although she was jolly – as demanded by the fat code – the sheer bulk of the morbidly obese lump prevented much recline. You will all know how I feel about fatties at the best of times. Looked wistfully at the girl sleeping comfortably next to me as I quietly seethed. Still, I was up front which afforded me a cracking view of the daredevil Turkish driving. Very much the inshallah style found elsewhere in the Middle East.
Arrived at the bus station to be shunted onto a dolmus (minibus) into the city and deposited at a tram station in town. Three giggling old ladies started chatting at me in Turkish asking- I think – whether I’d slept in my bag. A mark of how fresh I looked. Added sunnies to theTinTin look. They took pity on me thrusting some dried fruit in my hand and bustling off.
Found a hostel in the Sultanhamet (Blue Mosque) area of the city on account of wanting to rack up a few of the sights that I didn’t see last visit. Beyoglu, on the Golden Horn side of the water, is actually where you’ll find the hipper and cheaper hostels. That’s also the side where you’ll find the livelier nightlife, but that swings into action at the weekend so the week seemed better spent in tourist-ville.
And tourist-ville it is. Have been very scathing of the crowds of guided tours tramping around in my way. Don’t know what’s going on in France, but at least half the population is here.
I’m back to the dorm way of life (for as long as that lasts) and have been fortunate so far to have shared with some lovely folks. Romain, a French bloke and commercial ethicist (my description, not his), sailed over to Turkey from Spain and is spending a few days exploring Istanbul with his pelo Guillaume. Giacomo the Italian is here for a short stay ahead of a trip on to Bulgaria. Have also hung out with some nice Kurds, Turks, Aussies, Germans and Kiwis.
There was only availability for one night in the first hostel so we moved en masse, the Frenchies and I, to another hostel, the only other one in the area that had space. ANZAC day has brought the Aussies and Kiwis in droves, packing out the hostels. It was a total dive. We were shown a number of options, including a 20-odd bed dorm that smelt of feet, a 25+ bed ‘dorm’ in an awning on the roof – the owner went for the big sell on this one: failed – and a three bed dorm with no windows. I sincerely hope that the owner didn’t speak French, for my little chums were likening it to a Red Cross camp at Fukishima.
Settled into the 3-bed cell and went for a big old walk and a go on the ferries. Asked a load of people down at Eminonu quayside where the public ferry went from. Each and every one of them handed me a leaflet on an overpriced Bosphorus cruise and directed me to the dumb tourist terminal. Refusing to believe that Istanbul’s commuters are prepared to tour the highlights of their city each day on the way to work, I ignored the lot of them and bought a token (1.75TL) for the next boat going. Wound up in Kadakoy, a modest, working district on the Asia side with a lively waterfront promenade. Walked along the coast line through quiet, suburban neighbourhoods, past the university and skirting important but lesser-known mosques up to the next main ferry port, Uskadar, a busier port with a market and larger number of high street shops. Despite the flip flops (which have seemed to attract a lot of attention – do painted toenails mean you’re a whore or are they just unused to seeing sandals in the springtime?), one of the shoeshine boys insisted on cleaning the edge of them with a toothbrush. Traded this service for a half-eaten packet of biscuits in lieu of the 2 quid he was asking and pushed on to the Golden Horn and Taksim.
It is only upon exploring Istanbul again that I realise just how much we managed to fit in around the hard partying of the last trip. Jo, Bryan – collective pats on the back.
Beyoglu seems to be undergoing something of a renaissance, tarting itself right up with new cobbled streets, artists’ studios, fashion boutiques and smug coffee shops. That is excepting the Erasmus ‘hostel’ that I dropped in to on the way back to the feribots (as they charmingly call the ferries). 5 euros a night will get you a bunk…in one of the worst squats in the city. Refreshing to know I wasn’t in the worst. The generous have posted reviews saying that it’s colourful and the place to meet liberally-minded kindred spirits. The honest agree that it’s a shithole. How it hasn’t been shut down by the law, I don’t know, though it seems from their suspicious entry policy that they might be trying.
I decided to try and improve the TinTin capsule wardrobe by adding some more stylish, perhaps feminine touches that would make me look less like a bequiffed teenage sleuth. Istanbul is overflowing with leather products – bags, jackets, dress shoes, gourds – you name it. Can you find ladies’ boots anywhere? Can you feck. I was directed towards Lalelo by 3 separate people so took myself off on a shopping hike. Russian proz isn’t the look that I was hoping to mix in. This is where all the Soviet holidaymakers hang out. Apart from the questionable fashion in every window, all the shopkeepers greet you with ‘preevyet’.
In the whole town, bearing in mind that 20 million people live here, I found two pairs of boots that were even worth considering. However one set were channelling a bit too much of the Ernest Hemingway, and the other would have made me look like an extra from Lord of the Rings. I remember now why I hate shopping.
Gave up and took in the sights of Sarachane and Suleymaine mosques, the shabbier back districts behind the blue mosque, a small Aya Sophia and the Basilica Cistern, which comes suffused with piped lift music gone bad. The Cistern isn’t as mundane as it sounds, for those of you who haven’t been to Istanbul, but a large subterranean reservoir built by the Romans to keep Istanbul’s thirst (and ultimately palatial gardens) quenched. All very beautiful.
Got bored of walking around after 3 solid days so started to take it easier. Only the Iranian visa has kept me lingering for so long. Finally got the crucial approval number through (via telegram?? from Tehran) and processed the rest of the paperwork (including hijab’d photo). Visa now in my grubby little hand. Hurrah!
Made friends with some bar owners in the backpacker ghetto and passed many a pleasant beer chatting, learning Turkish swear words and watching the Royal Wedding. Oh yes. I tuned in. I know you all did too.
I remain a freak magnet. Idly minding my own business on day 2 in the city, a Kurdish man with a prominent chin and ridiculous orange sunglasses approached. Try as I might, I couldn’t dissuade him from telling me his greatest adventures. In one saga, he had been dead on the table for 22 minutes and in the cold box for 17 minutes when his father, a Sheriff, pulled a gun on the doc and insisted that he be allowed to see his son’s body. Et voila. Up from the grave he arose.
Day four, I was breakfasting in scummy hostel no. 3 and an old British dude approached and asked if he could join me for a cup of tea. Not a problem. By old, we’re talking 80, snow white hair and a pressing need for some dentures. He told me how he’d lived in Istanbul for 14 years researching and teaching his metaphysics. Prior to that, he had had a colorful life as a tennis player, jazz pianist about a long-distance liner and military man, with an abundance of love affairs and a marriage thrown in for good measure. So far, so interesting.
But it was when he started telling me that homosexuality is evil, that he is in regular correspondence with the Obama office and that he left the UK because of ‘disagreements with psychiatry’ that I smelt a rat. All those who believe that’s code for ‘they wanted to section me’ say aye.
Striking number of similarities between these odd bods and the loons that used to entertain me with their stories at the homeless shelter each Christmas. One dude there was insistent that the Americans hadn’t buried the war dead properly after the Vietnam War so he was personally going to go and put it right.
Next – Eastwards to Capadoccia. The land of the Fairy Chimneys.