Saturday, 24 May 2014

Istanbul, TURKEY

It is said that Turkey is where "East meets West".. And so far, that quote has proven true. Istanbul is the only city in the world which is on two continents,..Europe AND Asia. We have seen a little bit of the Asian side, and a little bit of the European side, (culturally, and physically)..hence the quote "East meets West".. But overall, this country is so unique and we are having a hard time finding the perfect words to describe this place.

We have only been in Turkey for six days, of which 3 were spent in Istanbul and 3 spent in Cappadocia. So I think it's fair to say we have barely scratched the surface.

This country is huge!, and Istanbul even huger.. Or so it felt..

Istanbul is the fifth largest city in the world!,! (Based on population)..there are over 14 million citizens living in the city.!! Add in the hoards of tourists, and you have a very densely populated city!

As our guide book says "this marvellous metropolis is an exercise in sensory seduction like no other".. Which is entirely true. We were in awe while we explored this magnificent city.

From seeing the worlds most famous mosques, to walking along chic boutiques, to shopping in the Grand Bazzar, to ferrying between Asia and Europe,.. This city is alive and exciting!!

For being such a large city, we were impressed with how clean and quiet it was. The metro system was very easy to use and the people were fairly good at English. Unfortunately we did see poverty, with children running around begging for food and money, and we did get overwhelmed with the enormity of the city, but overall, it's a city I would recommend others to see. It really is bustling!

We often found ourselves sitting on a bench with coffee or beer in hand, simply people watching, enjoying the view of the sights, and listening to the call to prayer.

 We stayed in a tiny hotel in the centre of "old city" (Sultanahmet) which is a world heritage site packed with so many wonderful sights.

                                                   (Our view from our hotel room)
Blue Mosque- This 17th century Ottoman mosque is beautiful. And remains a place of prayer up to this day. We entered in appropriate attire, bare feet, shoulders and. Head covered.

 Aya Sofya- one of the worlds most glorious buildings.

Grand Bazaar- a colourful, chaotic, enclosed market. Shops lined up selling gold, silver, carpets, clothing, lamps and souvenirs. It was really neat to walk through and do a bit of shopping, however very easy to get lost in the maze of streets and shops.

 Spice Bazaar- another incredible roofed market selling spices, olive products, turkish treats and other cooking products. I think this market was a little bit busier as we were weaving in and out of people, majority were local Shoppers.

 Basilica Cistern- an amazing underground vault consisting of 300+ columns and over 100,000 gallons of water. The water was distributed among the ancient city.

 Ferry ride- a 90 minute ferry through the Bosphorus river from Europe to Asia. A really nice escape from the city, and a neat way to see the unique skyline.

 We left the tourist area and walked across the Golden Horn Bridge to the Galata area. The bridge was lined with fisherman, and men selling orange juice,pastries, ice cream, water, nuts..

 we we're amazed to find a modern street lined with brand name shops, malls, cinemas, cafés, etc. along with street performers and business looking people.

 Galata tower was a great way to see a 360* of the city. Just like everything else in Turkey, this tower was full of history... During one period of history, prisoners of war were housed and worked as slaves in the tower.

 When travelling in Turkey one must try hookah. In the Middle East people smoke waterpipe as part of their culture and tradition. Shisha cafés are very popular in Istanbul. So we tried strawberry banana hookah and it was a sweet treat. I would like to believe that majority of the hookah is now nicotine and caffeine free with all of the anti-smoking laws in place. Regardless, it was fun to experience a Shisha cafe.

 Another interesting cultural tradition is the turkish bath. Aka "hamams". A turkish bath is supposed to be very relaxing and cleansing. The long and short of it is that you have a turkish woman or man, scrub you down and rinse you off. I just had to see what all the hype is about, so I decided to experience my very first,and probably last turkish bath. Despite my begging, Ashton very firmly stated that he did not want to have another man scrub him down Ha ha...

Here's how it went for me..
I paid up front for a traditional turkish bath and a massage. (The name of the place was Cemberlitas hamami , which is a a beautiful building with lots of history, dating back to 1584 and elegant rooms-
 one of the major reasons I selected this location. Also, it was a top tourist place so I figured best to get my first turkish bath with other tourists, rather than find myself in the midst of a whole bunch of turkish ladies..ha ha
I was pointed to a female change room and given a towel, disposable bottoms, and rubber sandals. From there an older turkish lady waved her arms and pushed me along to the steam room. I sat down on the marble and admired the room. My turkish lady spoke broken English "where from?" After I replied, she squeezed my cheeks, said "so nice", then smacked my bottom and said "baby baby from Canada"....????? LOL... She abruptly left and I relaxed in the steam room with a couple other female tourists. After about 15 minutes she was back and began scrubbing my body with a hand scrubber. I was quite disgusted to see the black rolls of gunk all over my body. ...( She scrubbed off five months of sunscreen, sand, sweat, grease, and god knows what else?.. Lol...after 15 minutes of scrubbing , she soaped me up, and I was covered in foam. Then she literally pulled me over to the water jug and began dumping pails of warm water over my head!.. I wasn't expecting that and sputtered, while
trying to breathe through the water..
Then I was allowed to soak in the jacuzzi for a while before my massage.

In all, I felt squeaky clean when I left and actually did feel relaxed! An interesting experience!

(These men and children are cleaning their hands, face and feet before they enter the mosque to pray)

"Turkey is 99% Muslim, practising a more relaxed version of Islam than many other Middle Eastern. Countries."- Lonely Planet.

 After 3 days of wandering around Istanbul, we hopped on a 12 hour night bus to Cappadocia!! Since there is so much to tell you about Istanbul, we decided that it should be it's own blog! .. Stay tuned for our air ballooning and trekking adventures in Cappadocia!!


  1. HIIII, Ashton n Chelsey, I really thank you to post this....I have read all the post about turkey as im preparing for 9 days holiday with my family there....thanks a lot and keep posting your holiday....^^ have a great trip always yaaaa :)

  2. This is a great article! Here is another tip for all backpackers: use just before taking a taxi from airport, hotel or restaurant. It will help you to avoid potential taxi scams in Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya and other metropolitan areas in Turkey.