Part 1 – Istanbul, Turkey

Going to Turkey was done with considerable thought and discussion as I certainly did not want to put my family in “harm’s way”. Charlotte really wanted to go there as she had met several wonderful people from Turkey, whilst she was an exchange student, in Valencia Spain some years earlier. These friends were now living back in Turkey and she longed to catch up with them. Charlotte though was reluctant to go on her own and would only go if we were with her.

Di, on the other hand, had a great passion to go to Cappadocia in Turkey and ballooning was on her ‘must do list’. When the political issues began in Turkey, and then the subsequent attempted coup in July of 2016, Di had pretty much given up on going to Cappadocia, at this time, due to the risk and subsequent political bombings that have occurred in Turkey  –  her desire for Cappadocia was now reignited. Jesse was just happy to tag along. Thus after much discussion between us and communication with Charlotte’s Turkish friends we decided to go, but would only stay in the North of the country and visit Cappadocia by plane, avoiding the cities closer to the Syrian border and South of the country.

Thus we were off to Istanbul in Turkey.

We had to apply online for a Turkish visa and we obtained a 90 day multiple entry visa for US$60 each. Our intention was to only stay 14 days with the kids in Turkey.

We landed at Ataturk airport which is on the European side of the city. A 50 minutes taxi ride, costing 60TRY (Turkish Lira) (AUD$20) from the airport, took us to our AirBnB apartment in the  suburb of Beyoglu. You need to pardon my ignorance here, but I was unaware that Turkey, and Istanbul, is located in two continents and the Black Sea actually connects to the Aegean Sea through Istanbul.

I just like to add the taxi driver from the airport put the metre on without being asked, many taxi drivers in Turkey did not and we had many ‘debates’ as to how much the taxi fare was going to cost – bring your bargaining voice of authority with you, or triple pricing plus will occur!!!

The AirBnB apartment itself was nice but was in a rather rundown suburban area. It was also several kilometres from the start of the tourist attractions and this meant we walked through many seedy looking areas – BUT we didn’t have any problems. We stayed four nights and paid AUD$80 per night for a large two bedroom apartment.

Near our apartment

What was funny though, is that the apartment was surrounded by many Kebab shops and, after arriving late in the evening, we decided kebabs were the way to go for dinner. Charlotte is vegetarianish and prefers non meat options but can eat meat when necessary, she asked for a falafel. In Australia, the non-meat falafel alternative is common in Turkish restaurants and Take Away shops. Jesse and I tried to buy her a falafel kabab but they simply did not have falafel and did not know what I wanted – she ultimately had to settle for chicken. We would later find out that falafel can be purchased in Vegan shops in Turkey and the idea of vegetarian kebabs just does not happen in Turkey and is more a Middle Eastern dish – Charlotte’s Turkish dream was getting battered; No FALAFEL!!!

Charlotte spent most of her time in Istanbul with her friends and, for a few days, Jesse and Charlotte flew with some of her friends to Izmir over the New Year.

From our apartment it was an awkward walk through several slum like areas to one of the main tourist places Taksim Square. Taksim Square used to be, pre-coup days, where the people of Istanbul went to walk around, drink coffee, sitting in bars and restaurants; a kind of meeting place. Taksim Square was the main area of trouble during the coup attempt and, as such, is now deserted with a large military and police force stationed there. The occasional tourist can be found wandering around but generally there is an empty eerie feeling to the place.

Taksim Square

From Taksim Square it is a short walk to one of the best shopping streets in Istanbul; Istikial Street. Istikial Street is a pedestrian street from the Ottoman era of the 19th century – the architecture along the street is wonderful.  It runs for 1.5 kilometres and is lined with shops, bars, cinemas, cafes, restaurants, nightclubs and patisseries galore!!!  Istikial Street runs downhill from Taksim Square and if the thought of walking up hill to Taksim Square from the bottom bothers you, you can always catch the historical tram that runs from the bottom of the street to the top and back down again.

Istikial Street

You will also find the second oldest underground railway in the world (behind London) on Istikial Street. This underground is still operational and was built in 1875 and is called ‘The Tunel’. Sadly, it was on our to do list, but on the two occasions we walked Istikial Street we saw the Tunel entrance but became distracted and wandered off – our short-term memory sometimes!!!!!!!!

Once Istikial street ends, several small delightful cobblestone streets spread out. These streets lead to Galata Kulesi.  Galata Kulesi is a tower, but it is a tower with the most amazing history. The tower is a medieval stone cone capped cylinder tower.

Galata Tower

The tower was built in 1348 and is the tallest building in Istanbul. The towers original purpose was to spot fires in the city. It was also used in 1630 to launch ‘aviators’ with artificial wings to glide from!!! The tower was also used as an astrological observatory, military observation post, a prison and now where tourists get the best views of the city.

The square around the Galata Kulesi is thought to be the original starting point of the Silk Road through to Korea. We queued for about 20 minutes to enter the tower and cost 10TRY to go to the top by elevator. There is a café and restaurant at the top, but the outdoor walkway is the tourist magnet. You can walk a full 360 degrees around the outside of the tower but be warned the walkway is narrow and gets very squashy with tourists, and remember to duck the selfie sticks!!! The view though is worth the effort, especially the harbour view to old town.

We walked down – bit cramped but better than elevator!!

From Galata Kulesi it is a short downhill walk to the harbour and the Galata Bridge. Now this place is a hive of activity and one unique experience. The bridge has two layers. The top part is where the vehicle traffic goes, a footpath lines each side of the bridge with hundreds (no exaggeration) of men fishing (we only saw men).  These fishermen are catching the smallest fish and the buckets on the footpath are filled with hundreds of the tiny fish they caught. It is mesmerising watching all this fishing activity and it took us about 45 minutes to cross the bridge on foot even though it should only take 5 minutes, we were so fascinated by all the fishing and activity!!

There is also a walkway that runs alongside and under the bridge and this consists of hundreds of little restaurants all with outside seating. As you walk underneath you have the restaurant owners urging you to eat from their ‘best’ restaurant in Istanbul. When you look away from the bridge you have the numerous fishing lines hanging down with the occasional flapping small fish miraculously floating skyward next to you. It is just so different!!  You must walk over this bridge twice, once below and once above to appreciate all it has to offer!!!

The upper and lower decks of the bridge

On the other side of the bridge you are now in Old Town, known as the Sultanahmet area, and this is where the tourist action really starts. Once you come off the bridge to the right is the ferry terminal and several floating kebab shops that do an absolute roaring trade. This area again is just full of people – like a large ants nest!!

Floating kebab shop

Galata Tower in the distance after having crossed Galata Bridge

There is an underground walkway that takes you from the ferry terminal below the very busy roads and out into the Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar. It was at this point we went back across the river and finished exploring the other side of the river and explored the Old Town on another day.

Once back over Galata Bridge we turned right and followed the road around to Dolmabahce Palace.

The walk takes you past many Mosques and the harbour.

Dolmabahce Palace on the waters edge

What we did notice, but was more prevalent in this area, was that many young males, aged 11 – 21 yearsish were carrying around plastic bags with a cloth inside, they would continually sniff from this bag. The cloth in the plastic bag had been dipped in paint thinner, acetone, or something similar – apparently this form of ‘drug’ abuse amongst young males is a common problem in Istanbul. These drug sniffers never caused us problems but they were around.

Dolmabahce Palace is near to the football stadium of the Turkish Premier League team Besiktas, so if you are a football fan, it is not a bad stadium to see and it does have a museum and large shop.

Besiktas Football Stadium

The Dolmabahce Palace was built by the Sultan Abdulmecid in 1843 mainly because the Sultan’s palace at Topkapi Palace was lacking in contemporary luxury and comfort compared to other European Palaces – a case of keeping up with Jones!!

The Sultans then subsequently lived there until 1924 when the Ottoman Empire collapsed and the Turkish Republic was born. It is now an exquisite museum on the waterfront – sadly we arrived at 4.30pm just as it was closing so could not venture in.

It was whilst walking around the outside of the Dolmabahce Palace that we fell victim to a minor scam. A shoe shine vendor was seated on the footpath and as we walked past he rose and started walking in the opposite direction. The shoe shine guy dropped one of his brushes and I stopped to pick it up and gave it to him. He thanked me and walked on. However!!! A few seconds later he ran after me thanking me profusely and saying what a kind gentleman I was and he is now obliged….. no obligated…… to return a favour to me, so he will give my Keens hiking boots a free cleaning, ‘no cost’ he guaranteed. I said ‘no’ many, many times to him and tried to keep walking, but he followed and insisted it is his honour to now repay the good deed I did him – so eventually I wilted and, against my better judgement, allowed him to clean my boots. He splashed a bit of water on my waterproof boots, gave them a quick scrub and then a wipe and then said “I have a wife and child you must give me a donation’!!!!! ahhhhhhh!!!! I said ‘no’ and walked off, he looked hurt and repeated ‘just a small donation for my wife and child to eat’, call me heartless, but I just walked off and never gave him money. You try to be nice to people and it is just a scam!!!!

We enjoyed exploring the Karakoy to Taksim Square side of Istanbul. Taksim Square ,as I said, has lost most of its charm and it is basically more interesting looking at all the firepower the police have with their armoured trucks and what have you. Istikial Street, Dolmabahce Palace, Galata Kulesi and the Galata Bridge are all well worth the visit. There are also many museums to see on this side of the river; Museum of Modern Art, The Museum of Innocence, Pera Art Museum, to name a few. I was a little disappointed to have missed The Tunel as that would have been fascinating.

When our kids arrived back from their New Year visit to Izmir, we went to Cappadocia and on our return to Istanbul we stayed in Old Town. Old Town is where the real tourist stuff is and the history just bubbles away there!!!

The Istanbul adventure in Old Town will continue next!!!!!!!!

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