Buzzing Istanbul

It has been an exciting experience being in Istanbul, after having avoided cities for the last two months and also, because we didn’t have to leave after two days again (even though we still moved twice, but that’s a different story). Very relaxing despite all the new impressions and tons of things to see and do in this historic place, formerly called Constantinople.

Istanbul has more than 15 million inhabitants and sprawls over an enormous area on both banks of the Bosphorus Strait. We managed to see the most important sites in Istanbul’s old town such as the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, Small Hagia Sofia, Old Bazaar, Spice Market and Topkapi Palace, crossed the Galata bridge to explore the New District but unfortunately did not make it to the Asian part.

We’ve had wonderful experiences with the locals in Istanbul, they are very hospitable and don’t hesitate to help out, be it the hotel manager or all the others we met. Our hotel manager we called in the end ‘Johan’s PA’ (personal assistant), because he gave us so much valuable advice on so many occasions and always tried to find the best solution for our problem of which we had a few. We enjoyed strolling around in our quarter and discovering all the specialist streets and shops. You won’t believe it, but there are streets only selling chains or buttons or tape or plastic bags or boxes or wedding cards (there are no other greeting cards, only for weddings!), and then there are various shops next to each other selling exactly the same things (seriously!). That’s fantastic to explore and we still wonder how you can make a living from such a specialized business.

And then you see all the salesmen with little two or four-wheel carts selling food: fish, bread, sweets, roasted chestnuts, freshly squeezed orange or pomegranate juices, peeled and spiraled apples – we’ve never seen this before, they have a little machine peeling and slicing the apples at the same time and the result is an apple in spirals – it was so much fun looking at it that we couldn’t resist buying a deliciously tasting apple.

The second morning in Istanbul we woke up and Johan told me that it has rained in his face last night. First I thought he is joking, but he was dead serious. We’ve had thunder storms that night and somehow there was a leakage. Johan told me he first dreamed about water dripping into his face, but then he woke up and realized there IS water dripping into his face. What was most hilarious about this was that he started cleaning up the mess and even moved the bed without me noticing a thing!

For coffee lovers, and especially for those who love Turkish coffee, here’s a little secret about it: if a man proposes, he has  to arrange a meeting between his and the woman’s/girl’s families at the girl’s house to come to an agreement. This is also the case for arranged marriages. The tradition asks that after the introductory talks the daughter has to prepare Turkish coffee. If she doesn’t want to marry, she will prepare the coffee for the boy’s family with salt and in most of the cases, the families will not agree! A nice way to say ‘No’!

As we had to pack our bikes for the flight, we also had to find good packaging material. Our first idea was to go to a bike shop and use real bike boxes, but we couldn’t find any of the shops and Johan decided to just ask in other shops if they had any boxes for us. The first huge and good quality box we got at a UPS store, a used box from one of their customers. A few hundred meters further Johan went into another shop and returns two minutes later with six men – I am not exaggerating. They all inspected our bikes and had funny ideas (such as packing both bikes together in just one box) and in the end decided to escort us to another shop selling packaging materials. We got a few more boxes, but still not enough and continued our search the next day. This time we found a carpet shop that just got a delivery of tapestry which were packed in huge boxes. Johan convinced the shop owner to give us three more boxes – at a length of 2 meters! We then headed off carrying these boxes through busy Istanbul and the most popular sites, drawing a lot of attention on us once again. And here goes another thank you to our wonderful hotel manager: he stored everything behind the door (it is a really tiny hotel and our room is so small, that nothing else would fit in there) and while I was typing this, the lobby was decorated with huge cardboard boxes, bubble wrap and other packaging material, Johan started packing on the terrace in the back of the hotel.

And I also shouldn’t forget to mention Johan’s great negotiation skills. Turkey is a country where you hardly anywhere pay the price they ask for (except maybe in supermarkets and museums). You always have to bargain: in bars to get the beer a few lira cheaper, in restaurants (we once got a 30% discount plus water, tea and dessert for free), in hotels and of course in shops! This is not really my cup of tea, but Johan really loves it!

Johan finally went to the hairdresser for the first time after almost four months to get rid of his hippie look and got a ‘super haircut’ (language of his hairdresser), he finally doesn’t need his headband anymore🙂. He also got his ear hair burned away, a face, arm and neck massage, all from the master hairdresser who’s been in the family business for more than 50 years. Great experience!

We also met the British cyclists again. If you’re interested in what they are up to, here is their blog: http://north2northcycletour.wordpress.com. It’s been nice to exchange experiences, tips and other secrets and to get to understand how others are traveling and what challenges they are facing.

There is so much more we experienced and I could continue writing for the next hours or so, but also don’t want to bore you too much with our affairs. We would also like to thank Can and Caroline for their super support with getting a FedEx package cleared and delivered on time! You both saved our India trip and we for sure owe you something!

For those who are more interested in cultural and historic information on the sites we’ve visited in Istanbul, watch out for our next post.

2 thoughts on “Buzzing Istanbul

  1. Hallo ihr 2,
    Es sind die kleinen Dinge, welche die Posts interessant machen…
    Das Istanbul schön ist, das weiß jeder, was aber interessant zu lesen ist, ist wie Johan das Loch in der Decke geflickt hat, oder wie die Jäger reagiert haben oder wie war das noch gleich mit dem Taxi?
    Das ist dann wie die Gala zu lesen mit den privaten Details der Prominenz!!
    Jetzt seid ihr für uns prominent und müsst uns mit privaten Details versorgen….
    That is not boring……

    Liebe Grüße
    Alex, mit Tina und Selma…. ( die übrigens jetzt schwimmen kann und beide vorderen Schneidezähne verloren hat….)

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