Istanbul, Turkey — January, 2015
After three weeks in the US for a funeral, Christmas, and New Years, I was excited to be on the road again. I had a job lined up near Antalya the next week so I had a bit of time to explore Istanbul and Antalya beforehand. I was initially a bit worried about the cost of the week in transit, as much of Turkey is significantly more expensive than the other locales I had been exploring. Then I found a travel hack. I made my layover city Kiev, as the cost of flights into and out of Ukraine had decreased dramatically after the Maylasian Air flight was shot down over Crimea. My budget was once again in order.
I arrived in Istanbul in the middle of the night. Pretty zonked out from the time zone changes and weening myself off of my epilepsy medication to make my prescription last twice as long, I slept through most of the next afternoon. I woke up a couple of hours before nightfall and jumped in the shower. I made sure not to let my watch in the water stream, but the water got inside anyhow and the watch was ruined. I had worn it for somewhere south of 24 hours. But that watch is another story and shall be told another time.
After the shower I went to see Istiklal Caddessi, one of the more famous streets in Turkey. It houses many of the more famous monuments on the European side of Istanbul and has an estimated 3,000,000 daily visitors in the summer. A small monument was built to celebrate 50 years of independence, stemming from winning the Turkish War of Independence caused by foreign powers occupying the former Ottoman Empire after World War I. Turkish nationalists took on, simultaneously, the British, French, Greek, Armenian, and Italian militaries and won, or at least convinced them that further occupation wasn’t worth the struggle. It was more the latter than the former, but don’t tell that to any Turks. Turkey then formed an assembly and declared itself independent on October 29th, 1923. Near the monument was Taksim Square and the Republic Monument, also built to commemorate independence.
Next I went to cross the Bosphoros Straight to see the Asian side of the city. I was slowed down by a protest forming nearby, the medieval Galata Tower, a fountain that probably represents a historical event or figure, and wanting to take panoramas (lost when my phone crashed) of the city across the Bosphoros.
By the time I got to the bridge it was already dark and I decided to save the Asian side for the next day. The bridge was crowded with fisherman often standing shoulder-to-shoulder, catching fresh fish for the nearby restaurants. If you can ignore the horrific polution and water condition, the restaurants were really good. I headed back to the main street and stopped often to take pictures of street art. Istanbul has, easily, the best street art I’ve ever seen. Also, not a single dog.
The next morning I woke up and headed across the Galata Bridge again. I wandered for a bit but was quickly pulled in by the minarets of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (better known as the Blue Mosque). When entering the courtyard a twenty-something pulled me aside and offered to be my guide. I declined and started walking again. He walked at my side, telling me that he knew the history of the mosque and would be a great escort. I declined again. He continued and told me that he could take great pictures, either with my phone or with his. I declined a third time. He followed me inside the courtyard anyways, offering to take my shoes. I carried them myself. I finally gave in a couple of minutes later and let him take pictures of me. As we left the mosque, he asked that I go to his father’s shop and buy a rug. I tried to be polite, telling him that rugs aren’t really a practical thing for me right now as they’re too big to fit in my backpack and too heavy to ship cheaply. He started to get aggressive, asking me how I dared to let him be my guide for so long without buying anything from him. I told him that I asked him not to follow me in the first place, then offered him five dollars for taking the pictures. I didn’t want him there in the first place and five dollars is more than I would have paid someone to take pictures with my own phone, but having him out of my face for the rest of the day was worth it. He told me that this was an insult and that a tourguide would have charged me $50. I walked away. When he threw the money back at me and started yelling, I joined in and we made quite the scene. I left a couple of minutes later with all of my money and no sense of shame.
I then went to the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia houses the most beautiful architecture I have ever seen. Despite roughly every man, woman, and child from Europe and the Middle East being there, it still had a sense of calm. One thing I love about the Islamic holy sites that I have been to is how welcoming the staff is and how they are all free. The directions are clear and people are always there to answer questions, but are never pushy. The hospitality is a great touch and I always feel welcome, despite never having opened a Quran. I deeply regret not taking more pictures of this or sharing them, as I lost all unshared photos when my phone crashed.