Saturday, September 6, 2014

My first 24 hours in Istanbul, Turkey

It was a sleepless flight. The man behind me had a baby that wouldn't stay still, and the girls in front wouldn't stop gossiping and moving around, ending up in me being in a bad mood to start the day. And it didn't improve. At 6 am, having landed and in the airport, having my passport and Visa to enter the country checked, I discovered there was no internet. No matter, I'd get connected once I was at the place I was staying at. I took a bus to downtown that cost 14 Turkish Lira (about $7) and that took around 45 min to get there. Once in Taksim Square, at around 7am, I started asking people for directions to the address I had. Oh surprise, people would freak out at me speaking to them in English and would just leave, and the ones that did stick around long enough had no idea where it was. Until I bumped into this nice lady that took me to a man that spoke English very well and had an iPhone to look up the address. He showed me the map and pointed me in a direction. I did not reach my destination, I felt I was walking to nowhere. By 9am I was tired of carrying my bag in the hot muggy weather and collapsed onto a bench in a park close to Taksim Square again. I took out my tablet and analyzed the address and the offline Google map I had, I kind of figured out at least what the correct direction was and started walking again. I took a picture of the monument in the middle of the square to orient Alejandro when he arrived later in the afternoon, so he didn't have to go through what I did.

 On the way I asked a taxi driver if I was going in the right direction and he said I was and that I had to turn on the corner of a certain hotel. I walked about 15 minutes and turned at the hotel that said the exact street I was looking for and after 5 minutes more searching, I found the place. I rang and knocked and no one opened. Great! Stranded in this muggy weather with a sore back and sleep deprived. Now what? Luckily, after about 5 minutes this girl walked out of the building. I asked her if she knew Ati, the person in charge of the building. She said he was out but would be back soon and suggested that I give him a call. I didn't have a phone, so I told her I would opt to wait for him. Very kindly, as German people usually are, she lent me her phone to give him a call. He answered and said he'd be there in 30 minutes. Not wanting to stay on the street, I told the girl I would wait inside in the tiny hallway till he arrived. She locked the door and left so I tossed my stuff on the floor and fell on top for a small nap.
 When Ati arrived, he informed me that there were no more rooms available in this building (where we had originally booked on Airbnb), so I was like 'umm.... now what?'. 'But!' he said, 'you'll be staying in the building next door all to yourselves', so that made up for my shock. The rooms in the new building weren't ready so Ati took me to another of the places they owned and gave me a room to sleep in while they got our place ready and while Alejo got there.
So around 6:30pm after I had rested up a bit we went to the new building and Alejandro showed up around 8 pm. I finally had a decent night of sleep, so the next day we were ready to start exploring Istanbul.

We started our day walking towards a large building which ended up being the entrance to the Grand Bazaar, which was closed since it was Sunday. We got a map at the book section right outside of the Bazaar as it started to pour buckets! We waited until it was only a drizzle to continue. Everything being wet, we just started to walk in no direction in particular, and disappointed that we had kind of walked in vain, we went into this place to sit down and rest. We hit the Jackpot! This would become the place we'd visit 4 times in the week we spent in Istanbul. It was a wonderful space to chill, have uncountable amounts of ├žay (Turkish tea, pronounced chai) and smoke mint/rose and other flavored Nargiles. No alcohol was sold which just made it a much more mystic and  entrancing environment to relax. You could stay there for hours (and we did) and not notice how time went by.

After our very long break, we walked and looked around the Mollafenari Mahallesi which is a cemetery, and then headed for the magnificent Blue Mosque which I won't even bother to describe. You can just look at the pictures by clicking the link at the end of this post. Here is one to give you a taste: 

 After going  through the mosque we sat down to listen to the afternoon prayers that the Imans sing through huge speaker. Just listen to it for yourself

After this break we decided to do one more mosque to the very south of Fatih called the Little Ayasofya Mosque. It was little indeed compared to the Blue Mosque we had just seen but it was just as beautiful and enchanting for its intimacy and ducks running around. It had a gorgeous little graveyard and little restaurants in the courtyard.
After this we were basically pooped, so we headed back to our place in Taksim for a good 
night sleep after a lot of walking to get ready for a new exciting adventure: The Asian side of Istanbul.

From the first picture (SAM_0346) up to picture SAM_0516  make reference to this post

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