The journey to Istanbul was definitely a saga and my first overnight bus trip. When waiting for a bus to arrive in an Eastern European country you always have a bit of an inner dialogue going on. Most of this is concerning what the actual bus would be like and after previous trips they can be anywhere from terrible to better than a plane. The questions that go through your head are always the following; will there be free seats, will the seats be broken, will it smell etc. Luckily when it did arrive the only thing that was broken was the in seat tv (also a surprise) which was no real problem because I’d be trying to get some sleep.
The border crossing into turkey was a bit strange. After collecting our passports and making us leave the bus at 2am we then had to collect all our bag off the bus and open them. Bleary eyed and standing out in the frigid cold the border guard did the most cursory half arsed check of our bags and then ordered us back on the bus. It was the most useless exercise and seemed to be more of a formality than anything else. Eventually I’d come to realise that this introduction to Turkey was just a small blip in what would turn into a great leg of the travels so far.
Istanbul itself to put it quite simply, is mind-boggling. The scale of everything is like nothing I’ve seen so far; the amount of people, the suburban sprawl, and the transport hubs. Travelling from the outskirts to the middle of the city took over 2 hours by highway and the apartment buildings and office towers reach to every horizon. Then there is the architecture. It was the first city I’ve visited that felt I was somewhere completely different from home with the combination of old ottoman buildings, roman ruins, modern building and the bazaars cramming so much activity into so little space. The skyline of the city is also peppered with mosques which Aaron described as looking like alien spaceships about to launch. Standing by the waterfront at dusk as the call to prayer is sung is one of the best experiences, it’s fairly surreal. From every direction, from every mosque, the singing starts at the same time and adds a bit of a mystical feeling to what are already pretty impressive sunsets.
All in all we spent around 10 days in Istanbul and even then we only just managed to see everything comfortably. With all of the ancient sites, shopping areas and different quarters of the city of explore it’s a hard place to be bored in. The quality of the hostels is also great. In the two places that we stayed both had rooftop bars and great views of the centre. My favourite was definitely Bauhaus which was down near the Bosphorous and had incredible unbroken views of the Asian half and the bay. Apart from the hecklers in shops it was really the last annoying, most relaxing big city I’ve been in as well. Which is in itself incredible as there are around 23 million people in the metro area. The nightlife is also surprising and on par with the other capitals, they sure know how to put on a party.
In our hostel we also met a local travel agent who helped us with our confusion on which sites to visit while we were there. So after a couple of days recuperating after the first night bus we were on another night bus to Cappadocia.