Turkey is a bit of a scam really. On the one hand it claims to be in Europe, keen to get its hand in the pot of wealth that is the European Union yet on the other it bangs you for a tenner for a visa. Now, visas are a con worldwide. Pure and simple, but the Turkish visa extends beyond a con, it is like burgling someones home, nicking the TV then when it breaks down taking it back to them under warranty. In fact, the Turkish visa is that much of a jizz they don’t even accept their own currency for it. Nope, turn up thinking you’re slick with a wad of Lira and it’s straight to the currency exchange for you. Crisp £10 notes work well and are preferred, turn up with a £20 and despite the billion people before you all having paid with tenners there will be no change. But it’s the audacity of the scam thats annoying, even in Cambodia where no one in the history of ever has been refused a visa, shit, you can turn up on a tourist visa, sleep with a local, bang a few kids out and buy a house on a 30 day visa. But even the Cambodians at least look at the photo page and pretend like they’re considering your status. The Turkish guy just stuck a sticker on the first page he came to, didn’t check the details – Nothing. Out and out scam.
The bus pulled into Istanbul Otogar at 21.30 and we headed straight for the metro. We had no accommodation booked in the city but by about 22.30 we were trawling the streets looking for a chicken kebab, a bottle of ice cold coke and a place to stay. A good piece of advice when staying in a city as big as Istanbul is knowing the locality of the budget accommodation, if that is what you require. Generally, and the majority of the time the main railway station is a good bet. If you don’t know where to start, then if you start there you’ll usually be in the right place, or near to it. Istanbul is no different and the main Railway station on the European side is Sirkeci and it is indeed home to some of the cheapest accommodation in the city. Exaggerating slightly, but just about every building is either a hotel/hostel/takeaway/restaurant.
There is about 30 Lira to every £10 and so in a major city in Europe anything less than £30 for a double is a bargain. Our max price was therefore 90 Lira, we went into a few places and all were skirting around the 120 mark, at midday this might not be a bad price for Istanbul, but an hour away from midnight and it is. The first hotel wouldn’t budge on the price, the second asked how much I wanted to pay. I offered him 60 Lira and he said he’d take 70, thats £24 and an absolute bargain. The room was snide, but we were exhausted and had been travelling almost 24 hours and so anything would have done.
The day started in Starbucks and Charlie set me a brain teaser. He placed three green coffee beans behind each other all facing a coin, then opposite he placed three black coffee beans. The beans had to swap sides, they could jump forward over one space, or slide forward one space is the space was vacant. They could not go backwards. He told me the world record was 15 moves, I had it nailed in 11. After I had blown his mind with my brain teaser skills we discussed the day. I explained it was a simple day and the motto for the day was ‘no rush’ we had nothing at all planned, nothing pressing, just a day of doing nothing but strolling round and relaxing.
I won’t go into detail about Istanbul since I did that last year, but we visited all the main sites such as the Hagia Sofia, Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar etc etc. The last place we visited late in the day was the Blue Mosque, probably one of the most beautiful buildings in Islam. In Istanbul there are dudes wearing blue T Shirts that say ‘ask me for info’ Abi asked when it was built and so I sent her to go find out. After about ten minutes of getting her hair touched by the girls she had asked, her face squeezed and being adored she came running back and said “It was built in 1609 by a Sultan” I haven’t verified that info but she was so enthusiastic it was great to see. And this is something which actually I am really proud of, some people might think taking kids to a huge mosque would be boring for them. It’s not, not for mine anyway they are amazed, intrigued and so keen to find out everything and anything they can. I have said before that we never hire a guide, I love to find out, imagine and in some cases assume.
The mosque itself is gorgeous, really it is. I know that when it comes to amazing architecture Islam doesn’t offer up the same amazing sites as say Buddhism or Hinduism. Usually it’s just a minaret on an unattractive building. But, when effort is put in, Islam offers up stunning architecture on a level that rivals any other religion. The Blue Mosque and actually the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul are two prime examples of just how downright beautiful Islam can be.
Actually, when we were in the Blue Mosque we simply lay back on the carpet and relaxed, the sound of prayer rang out around us as we chilled out enjoying the company of each other and recognising how fortunate we really are. I am not going to lie, the mosque stinks of sweaty feet, you have to go in bare footed naturally, but it certainly needs a bit of shake-n-vac and a once over with the Dyson.
That was pretty much our day in Istanbul, we set out to have a relaxing day, it was a mild (and welcome) 30 degrees, we ate Chicken Kebabs, Turkish Pizza, were in a beautiful Islamic city, had easily figured out how to scam the metro, had a roof top hammock, fuzzball, BBQ and amazing view over the city, it was just what we had hoped for.