Istanbul, Turkey October 2009

On a three day trip to Istanbul. What do I know about Istanbul?…well not much really. I bought tickets to this city in 2002 just when I developed a phobia about flying and never actually managed to get on the plane. I know, it all sounds weird for someone like me who has travelled all over the place but this phobia lasted for years and it wasn’t until I got in a long term relationship that I managed to become airborne again – flying with my boyfriend really helps.

So, first impressions of Istanbul, alot of unfriendly Russians in the queue at passport control inside Ataturk Airport. Getting a visa was simple – stand in line pay EUR 15 and get a sticker in your passport. Really simple. Ataturk Airport is not user friendly at all, i’d hate to be stuck there if my flight was delayed or on a long layover. Coming out of the airport terminal felt a bit like Barcelona – palm trees, taxi drivers lined up smoking cigarettes, blue skies… southern European and driving into the city just the same. The only difference I think is that churches are replaced by mosques.

I had a sandwich sitting on a bench in a small park in Sultanahmet district. The park was tiny crammed between the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, I fed some pigeons while listening to the call to prayer, the noise of a nearby fountain and the hum of traffic a surreal mix. One word of advice…avoid the tourist traps near the Hagia Sofia…I bought a coffee and a small rice cake and it cost EUR 29.

The blue mosque

My overall impression of Istanbul is that it seems huge. It’s quite shocking to see rolling hills going on for miles with the same modern slightly unattractive architecture repeated endlessly, satellite dishes, massive billboards, loud people in their flash cars, women in mini skirts and caked in makeup walking into mosques, curious groups of old Turkish men in sidewalk cafes who stare alot, delicious food, insane coffee, crowds, fake designer clothes all over the markets. I have to giggle as people think Turkey needs the EU but I see much more of an economic boom in Turkey.

I would like to go back to Istanbul. It seems too large to cover in three days. Apart from the moment in the park feeding the pigeons near the Blue Mosque I felt the city lacks poetry. I thought it would have been far more exotic. I realise most of the beautiful archictecture of Istanbul was demolished eons ago and has been replaced by the same prefab buildings I described earlier in this post. Sultanahmed district is beautiful though. I’ve been interested in the Hippie Trail when people travelled overland to India and Nepal, this all happened before I was born but somehow it captured my imagination. Endless adventure. The Hippies used to stop off in Istanbul and go to the Pudding Shop. It was a kind of meeting place where they would exchange stories and advice on the long trek to India. Don’t you just love this? Communication! Today we’d just Google the lot. I managed to go inside the Pudding Shop which was for me the highlight of my trip to Istanbul even though it is now a tourist trap. If only I had been born a few decades before!