In the last article I had explained how Ollo, Mia, Etti, Jani, Boris and I traveled to snow-ridden Istanbul to celebrate Ollo’s and Mia’s world cycling tour.Jani and Boris had finally managed to get to Istanbul and the plan for this Friday afternoon was to visit the sights of the city together. We went to Galata Bridge again – this time on a significantly shorter route, although still not optimal – and crossed the Golden Horn to discover the touristic area to the south of the bay.
The townscape was dotted with mosques but at the same time had many western influences. For example, very few women wore headscarfs here. Stray cats were everywhere and thanks to the abundance of markets, retstaurants as well as the benevolence of Istanbul’s citizens who loved cats, they don’t have to worry about an empty stomach. The snow had stopped but the weather was still wet. Uncomfortably wet. Ollo and I enjoyed the boon of waterproof hiking boots but the others had to deal with wet an cold feet. Etti was the only one who had put plastic bags around his socks which was a good way to keep the water from your feet and conserve the smell at the same time. Boldly withstanding the bad weather conditions we first strolled through the Grand Bazaar – a huge commercial area in Eminönü and a maze of small hallways with shops and markets. Most of it is covered by a roof and there are even myths about people who never managed to find their way out of the labyrinth again. We relished in freshly squeezed orange and pomegrenade juice and eventually entered a cafe to warm our chilled bones.Next we wanted to visit Topkapı-Palace. The palace had been the residence of the sultans for many centuries. Nowadays it is a museum that can be visited together with the former harem. Unfortunately it was a few minutes before 4 p.m. already – closing time, as we were to discover. As a consequence, we only saw the snow and mud covered outer gardens and strolled onwards to Hagia Sophia: originally a byzantine church, then a mosque and now a museum. It is situated directly opposite the Blue Mosque which people have been visiting to say their prayers until this day. We walked through the vaults of the Hagia Sophia deeply impressed. It resembled a mix of church and mosque as there were many christian as well as muslim elements present. Likeable: some cats seem to live inside and the personnel even feeds them.
Afterwards we walked over to the Blue Mosque. A fun fact is that originally the mosque was to have golden minarets, which is “altın minare” in Turkish. Due to a misunderstanding, it was built with six minarets – “altı minare”. Oops. At the visitor’s entrance they handed out plastic bags for the shoes which naturally had to be taken off before entering the mosque. Women also had to cover their hair. The Blue Mosque was far more reminiscent of a mosque than the Hagia Sophia: carpeted floors, huge, low-hanging chandeliers and praying people. As most people were walking around with wet socks one of the lasting impressions was the smell of feet. The Blue Mosque already marked the end of our touristic tour of Istanbul so we walked back to the hostel. For sure, we had to celebrate our first evening together with Boris and Jani. Also, it was still Ollo’s birthday so we decided to have a few drinks. Again. As we had already exterminated all our Duty Free Vodka we went to our trusted alcohol shop around the corner and bought a fresh bottle of vodka and a few bottles of Bomonti unfiltered beer. It was to be another long and entertaining evening at the hostel and we met many new people like Ali, the crazy Iranian, two rather boring Germans, a nice Canadian girl and a Finn who unsuccessfully tried to flirt with Jani. Given what had happened the night before, it was a rather uneventful evening. The craziest thing was Mia sitting in the common room in her undertrousers because Etti wanted to put on her chill out trousers.
Sahlep and other treats
On Saturday morning, the last whole day we would spend together, we decided to take the ferry across the Bosporus to the Asian part of Istanbul. At the reception desk we were told about a ferry that departed from Galata Bridge and went to Kadıköy, a district on the Asian side. We set off and found out that, by turning right instead of left at the hostel door, we would end up in a wide street that was nothing but a huge shopping mall running across Beyoğlu from Taksim square directly to Galata Bridge. Thus, we easily found the bridge this time, instead of getting lost in the small, twisting alleys.
In the street we witnessed a demonstration of young male and female Turks who, in a very loud and committed way, protested against violence against women; something that is still rather ubiquitous all over the world. The march was triggered by the recent brutal rape and murder of young student Özgecan Aslan. Islamic-conservative circles often bring up the argument that provocative clothing of women is responsible for such cruelties and even judges seem to agree with this interpretation. As a response to this mentally retarded way of thinking many young men and women went on the streets, some even in miniskirts. President Erdoğan commented on the incident: “God has entrusted women to men.” – as if women were a thing that men had to take care of. As feminists criticised his remarks, he replied: “You share no part in our civilization, our belief, our religion.” Rather shocking. A country full of contradictions. But such stout demonstrations of young people bring some hope of a better and more open-minded future.After the demonstration we followed through the shopping mile and reached Galata Bridge in no time. We easily found the ferry. The passage only took about a quarter of an hour but it was rather spectacular. The city stretches along both sides of the Bosporus. A gigantic monument of concrete that houses as many people as Berlin, Paris and London taken togehter. A fresh breeze blew through our hair from the railing and a flock of sea gulls followed the ship, hoping to catch a few of the breadcrumbs the passengers threw at them. Etti, the king of bad jokes, mocked the birds by pretending to throw bread at them and laughed heartily as the gulls plunged towards the water to catch their invisible lunch. Mean Etti… When we arrived in Kadıköy we first ran around a bit cluelessly. There was another big shopping mile but we were not in the mood for shopping. In the street we saw quite a lot of police cars and armoured transporters armed with water guns. The street was wet although there was no cloud to be seen. Obviously the demonstrations in this part of Istanbul had not proceeded as calmly as in Beyoğlu.
We were hungry and wanted to try Dürüm, Lahmacun, Döner or something in that vein at least once while in Turkey. We ended up in some fast food Döner shop that looked a lot like McDonald’s but was selling Turkish food. Jani, Etti, Boris und I decided to have a beef Dürüm while Ollo and Mia didn’t want to eat here. This turned out to be the right decision as Jani and Etti got sick from the Dürüm they had served us. Mia tried a bite and had to fight with stomach in order to keep the food in. Indeed, it wasn’t the culinary orgasm we had expected but Boris and I didn’t find it too bad.
After that we took the Metro to Üsküdar. There is a beautiful promenade along the banks of the Bosporus that was bustling with locals and tourists. People sat at the shore, salesmen scurried between the crowd selling Simit (a bagel-shaped bread roll covered with sesame seeds) or çay (Turkish tea). The view of the European side of the city was breathtaking. We walked to the Maiden’s Tower, also known as Leander’s Tower, a lighthouse from the 18th century that sits on a small islet in the Bosporus close to the Asian shoreline. Cushions covered the cascaded concrete steps along the banks and we sat down to marvel at the sunset, the lighthouse, and the opposite shore. We also bought some Sahlep, a traditional warm beverage that looks a bit like hot spunk with cinnamon but tastes like milk rice. It might not seem it but it was indeed very tasty.
Eventually the time to return to Beyoğlu and our hostel had arrived. Passing some procreating cats we entered the ferry station in Üsküdar in order to go back to the European side. This time we didn’t end up at Galata Bridge but a bit farther to the north, close to Taksim square. As we were hungry again, Ollo found us a somewhat run-down but cozy Döner shop and we had Adana Kebab with lamb meat and a chicken skewer (Tavuk Şiş) for dinner. This time the food was really tasty. In the end, the small fucked up shops prepared far better dishes than the big and famous food chains. It goes without saying that we had to drink copious amounts of alcoholic beverages on our last evening in Istanbul. As our metabolism was in dire need of hop we paid a visit to our favourite liquor shop to buy some isotonic barley brew and another bottle of the tasty Istanblue vodka. It was going to be a long, long night in the hostel. Again we met many interesting and weird new people and partied till the small hours began to be not so small anymore. I went to bed at half past four and was only the second to go to sleep after Boris. Etti stayed up until half past six. Something that he somewhat regretted on Sunday morning. To summarise, I guess the hostel was glad to see us come because we knew how to throw a party, but they were also happy when we finally left again and business went back to a calm and normal pace. On this Sunday, Etti and I as well as Boris and Jani left Istanbul and returned to Germany. At noon we bid farewell to Ollo und Mia and wished them a wonderful trip around the world. They would stay in the hostel for a few days longer to assemble their bikes and pack their belongings and to prepare for the forthcoming journey. On Thursday, the 26. of February 2015, they set out towards Turkey and Iran. I am looking forward to many exciting articles where Ollo will report on the trip.
All the best for the two of you!