Wednesday, 28 August 2013


Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, constituting the country's economic, cultural, and historical heart, though not its capital (which is Ankara). With a population of 13.9 million, Istanbul is the second-largest city in the world by population within city limits. The remarkable growth was, and still is, largely fueled by migrants from eastern Turkey seeking employment and improved living conditions.

Istanbul is a transcontinental city, straddling the Bosphorus—one of the world's busiest waterways—in northwestern Turkey, between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. Its commercial and historical center lies in Europe, while a third of its population lives in Asia.

Istanbul's strategic position along the historic Silk Road, rail networks to Europe and the Middle East, and the only sea route between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean have helped foster an eclectic populace. Approximately 11.6 million foreign visitors arrived in Istanbul in 2012, two years after it was named a European Capital of Culture, making the city the world's fifth-most-popular tourist destination.

We were still cautious about staying in Istanbul, as we weren't sure whether more protests may continue to kick-up. In case Taksim became  a miniature war zone again, we decided to stay a couple suburbs over in Beşiktas. We'd found a cool little hostel that had just opened up called Tasmania hostel, named after the owners favourite Looney Tunes character. The guy who ran the place, Onur, was incredibly funny. The hostel wasn't very well advertised, only a small A4 poster of the Looney Tunes character on the front window signified the hostels location. He'd constantly pretend that his establishment was a barber and not a hostel, when exhausted travellers would try to check in, directing them back onto the desolate street for a half a minute before walking out, smiling and carrying their bags back inside. As we were only his tenth customers he asked us to tell him if there was anything the place needed. We told him some better bath mats for the bathroom and some fans for the dorms. I then jokingly added that he needed a 50 inch plasma and PS3 entertainment set up for guests. "That's already out on the patio" he was awesome to see this man had his priorities in order.

The ceiling of the Blue Mosque
We only wanted to spend a couple days here as we were planning to return after going to the Black Sea and up into Bulgaria. So we decided to just get to know the lay out of the city. Martino was flying out of Istanbul and was back there for another 3 days, so we caught up with him again to explore. We visited the Blue Mosque, Ayasophia, the Grand Bazaar and around Galata tower and bridge.

The Blue Mosque
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque is a historic mosque in Istanbul. The mosque is popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. It was built from 1609 to 1616, during the rule of Ahmed I.

Our friend Burak would finish work in the afternoon, then take us around less-touristy areas for dinner in the evenings. Two of the nights we caught the ferry over to the Asian side, which had a much less hustle 'n bustle environment. No tourists go there, so you stand out pretty easily. We had dinner with some of his friends at a restaurant on the Bosphorous one evening, and then went to his home the other night to meet his family. His Mum cooked a delicious dinner with traditional Turkish recipes. She even made homemade cherry juice which was too refreshing! Afterwards, we went to a nearby marina park and hung out with the locals, watching the children light fire lanterns and send them off to fly over the marmara sea.

On the weekend Burak took us to the Princes Islands. It's a gorgeous 1.5 hour boat ride that stops at all four of the tiny islands. We got off on the last island to explore around. There are no cars on the island, just horse-drawn carts and bicycles. We walked to the far side of the island, up a massive hill where an old Orthodox Church is located. We checked out the interesting silver plated ornaments inside the church, then sat down at a restaurant that gives you a 360 degree view of the marmara sea. It was ridiculously hot on the island and we'd walked 2 hours up the hill and then back again. Burak wasn't able to eat or even drink water as it was Ramadan, so we decided to join him in not eating, and tried to refrain from refreshing ourselves with water.

We stayed on the island until the sun set. We sat at a restaurant and ordered a mass amount of food to be brought to the table once the sun had passed below the horizon. At 8.28pm the mosque signified end if the Ramadan daylight, the waitress brought out our food and we all began on the feast in front of us. Afterwards, we sat down by the jetty and ordered triple-decker traditional Turkish waffle ice-creams and tea. Burak taught us how to play backgamon so we played at the cafe until the last ferry left for the mainland at 11pm.

Martino left the next day, so we spent the day around the city with him. He still had a bucket load of liras left over so he shouted us all lunch and dessert at a super cool restaurant just down from Taksim. After lunch we hung out in the park watching the young kids annoying the old men trying to play backgamon, having çay delivered to us on our park bench by the tea man. We walked him to his airport shuttle then went back to the park to chill for the rest of the day.

Test run of our tent in the hostel. The only part we couldn't
try out was putting the pegs in the ground.
We hung out at the hostel the next day to plan our trek into the Yenice national park. We unpacked the crappy tent we bought in Fethiye to test its durability and ease of setup. It seemed legitimately able to house the both of us, so after a quick nap in the hostel courtyard we rolled it back up. That evening we hung out with the crew at our hostel chatting about our trips round Turkey.

We booked the night bus to the UNESCO heritage town of Safranbolu, so headed to the otogar the next evening.

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