I wondered up and down the Istiklal Cadessi (Independence Avenue) which throbs with drumming and throngs with crowds day and night – 3 million people visit it every 24 hours, on average, according to wikipedia. There are bars, music clubs, eateries and market stalls. There are book shops and clothes shops and old fashioned trams going up and down. It ends in Taksim Square which is like Trafalgar Square, only with a statue of Ataturk in the centre of the vast pedestrianized area. I bicycled and walked it many times in my task of getting an Indian Tourist visa.
The Indian Embassy were curious as to why I didn’t apply for the visa from home, didn’t think much of my bank balance and didn’t like my photograph (they couldn’t see my ears or forehead). I had to get Miranda in Mumbai to agree to be completely responsible for me and send a picture of HER ID (within 30mins of the request) and write a letter with my itinerary – vague – and have a ticket to travel out of India too. After jumping through all these hoops – and visiting three times I finally emerged with the double entry three month tourist visa for the grand sum of $164. Phew.
I did a cookery course with the Istanbul cookery school that involved a tour of the market place and streets around the hostel and then back to the school to make hummus, spring rolls, smoky aubergine mash, and stuffed vegetables. Congenial company from all round the world and a couple of glasses of wine made for great fun and was well worth doing.
I also found a bicycle shop where the owner was happy to dismantle Rowenna and put her in a box ready for the flight – I’d drop her off on Saturday and stuff the box with the rest of my luggage, hoping it would weigh less than 30kg.
I did so much wondering around this area that it got to the point where, even if I were lost in the narrow back streets with towering buildings reaching into the sky on both sides, I would eventually stumble upon places I recognised and could find my way back to the hostel. Like getting to know bits of a jigsaw puzzle.
I finished off my stay there by writing 72 post cards to all my friends – apart from those whose address I don’t have (sorry!). They were appalled in the post office as it seemed like a huge extravagance to them. They double checked I really wanted to send them: I’d spent all that time writing them, so I most certainly did.
I moved out on Saturday and went to find Suzanne – my crazy friend from Chudleigh who’d nipped over for the weekend and booked a 4 star wooden hotel in the Old City not far from Sultanahmet. Staying there for the night will mean I’ve visited all three main areas of Istanbul – and they all have entirely different characters. Sultanahmet is where all the main tourist attractions seem to be- like Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar. The Old Town has many carpet shops, has space, air, and is more gentrified than all the other areas in Istanbul – and is correspondingly more expensive too.
I reached the hotel a good half an hour or so before Suzanne and sat doing my knitting quite happily. The receptionist was confused because my name wasn’t Suzanne and she’d booked a single room for the two nights. (She’d emailed them after the online booking but they hadn’t opened it). It was all sorted once we’d arrived and she also negotiated a better room (the first one was dark and practically in the basement – all the pictures of rooms online had shown a sea view!). After we’d settled in, Suzanne strolled down to the bicycle shop with me and we dropped Rowenna off. We took the tram back and strolled around a local bazaar window shopping. Then later we went for a very vigorous hamam scrub and massage getting back to the hotel at about 1am.
The next day I awoke with a ghastly, horrible headache – one of those where someone is trying to push your eyes out from some dark room at the back of your head - and I threw up for the first time on this trip. I couldn’t move despite taking paracetamol and slept until gone 2pm. Suzanne went on a shopping spree and didn’t get back until around 4pmish – this left us just time to go have some supper together before I had to catch the shuttle bus to the airport at 7.30pm. We hadn’t spent much time together but it was AMAZING to see Suzanne in Istanbul.
I’ve had a wonderful time mooching in the city that straddles continents and am sad to say goodbye to the end of chapter one of the grand adventure.
3357 miles, 5403 km approx..