Nearly six years ago a good friend and I travelled through the Middle East together, starting in Istanbul. When we arrived it was raining and the view of The Blue Mosque as we stepped off the metro in Sultanhamet, I will never forget. We were buzzing with the exhilaration of independence, with little money, but had a wonderful time exploring the streets and sights. Taksim square, Topkai Palace, Ayasofya, Isitklal and many glasses of hot apple tea.
I can hardly believe how young we look in this photo! Good grief. This week I found myself in Istanbul again, this time to meet up with good friends from South Africa at the end of their Turkish travels. Fran, Kirsty and Luke had spent two weeks along the coast, and Cappodoccia, and we rendez-vouzed at the airport then headed to #Bunk Beyoglu where we were staying.
What a great place! I couldn’t recommend it more highly, just a few minutes walk from Isitklal street – that leads up to Taksim square. It was a relaxing few days with lots of eating, regular visits to Kronotrop for iced, milky drip-brewed coffees, afternoon naps and a fair amount of bargaining and shopping.
I did all the main sights back in 2008 so left that to Fran and Kirst, but I did have a marvellous time pottering, drinking coffees, watching the world go buy and pounding the pavements. It was interesting to note how much more Western and commercial this city has become in a couple of years. When we came before the most we saw was a Gloria Jeans Cafe but now there are Burger Kings, Starbucks, Zara, Mango, Shake Shack and every other big-name outlet you can think of on the main drags. Not a bad thing I suppose, just interesting.
One of the last things I did was go for a haircut, which I sorely needed before my ends split themselves into whole new generations. I asked our hostel guy and he recommended somewhere, a short walk away. They spoke no English but through gesturing I managed to make my desires of a very small trim known. In a country where you get sharply frowned at for laughing in public (this happened on the train) and stared at for baring legs and arms, it was a poignant and stark experience having my hair gently washed, brushed, expertly cut and then blow dried by a Turkish man called Arief. I can’t think of another circumstance that would allow for this kind of proximity and contact, and it really stood out to me.
Istanbul is awesome. There are so many stray cats you basically step on one at every turn and even though the locals claim to see them as vermin, they all leave food out and tickle them when no one’s looking. Now, on to Bulgaria this afternoon, hopefully for some Balkan music, a swim in the black sea and more.