24th June 14
Over breakfast we got a free map and information book from reception. Most of the attractions to see were very close so we decided to do a walking tour of Istanbul. Our first stop was Beyoglu, which was where our hostel was located. On top of the Beyogu hill stood the famous Galata Tower. The views gave us a panoramic view of all of Istanbul.
As we crossed the bridge, local men fished off the sides, Have no idea if it was for pleasure or profit, but it was very popular. We decided to head to the Topkapi Palace, but it was closed so headed up the hill to Sultanahmet Square to the Aya Sofia the most famous site in Istabul. This mosque is a sixth century master piece. It was converted from a christain church and now a museum, grand art work and architecture filled the walls.
Opposite was the Blue Mosque which I though was the belvedere of Istanbul. It is called the Blue mosque because the inside is blue. Because it is a working mosque and we were not dressed appropriately so just walked around the grounds.
We looked around the main bazaar. This was a labryth of market stalls and shops. This kept Stevie entertained for hours she wanted to by a peice of everything, mainly tiles!!! We managed to get lost a few times before getting to the suleymaniye mosque. Adjacent to the mosque is the main market. This was even more busier than the main bazaar. Soaps, spices and fruits lined the way we managed to find out way out before heading back to Beyoglu.
It was a full on day, by the time we got back to the hostel we crashed out for 3 hours. There was a barber shop opposite so I thought I would be spontaneous and get my barnet cut. It was hard explaining what I wanted. Within minutes I was in the barbers chair and he whipped out the trimmer and started taking loads off. I just nodded and let him continue. I thought it was abit weird that he started trimming my nose and eyebrows. Then out comes this lighter and he starts burning the hairs off my ears and cheeks, The smell of fried hair filled the room, Then out came the face mask while simultaniously cutting my hair. Next minute I am bent over a sink having my face rinsed which felt like I was being water boarded while these two boys are punching me in the back, all in the name of a massage. I felt like I had stumbled into an terrorist cell.
Although the end result was great after I washed out the Russian army style. Apparently this is one of europe's most liveliest areas at night. Hundreds of restaurants lined and spilled into the narrow streets. Offers to come inside came from every one. Inbetween the restraunts were sovinere stalls and fish mongers. We finished the night heading out into the buzzing streets, with a few beers and a cheeky shot.
25th June 14
As we headed our the streets smelled of fish from the stalls the night before. Yesterday we ventured down into the heart of Istanbul, today we decided to go up to the Dolmabahce Palace. It was a last minute decision and it didn't disappoint. This Palace was newer than the famous one in the centre of Istanbul. It hosted the Ambassadors of the world. This place must be worth billions. Inside were several bear rugs presented by the Russian leader, a piano gifted from Napoleon and tons of crystal ornaments and chandeliers. Not to mention the 2 tons of gold that was melted down to decorate the ceilings and walls. The ceilings were painted by famous French painters to create 3D effects. The largest Chandelier was gifted by Queen Victoria. …Definitely worth a visit.
After the palace tour we grabbed a ferry over to Uskudar the Asia side of Turkey. It was pretty cool getting a boat from the European continent to the Asia continent and it only cost ₺4 which is like 30p. We then strolled along the water front, taking in the city scape from the other side of the river.
Locals were sitting on the rocks and bathing in the river. I would have been tempted but was put off the amount of river traffic. Cargo ships, ferries and fishing boats all used this river.
We stopped off in a local restaurant along the water front for some lunch. All the menus were in Turkish and the waiter didn't speak English. We accidentally ordered way too much. 6 plates and a bowl later we managed to stuff it in not wanting to offend. Stuffed we relaxed with a traditional tea. It appears that at the end of any meal you get a free Turkish tea which is served in a small glass with sugar and no milk.
Further along the water front we grabbed the car ferry back (Asia to Europe) It reminds me of when Ewan and Charlie did this on the long way round.
Perfectly the ferry docks up just below the Topkapi Palace. Our next destination which was closed yesterday. We head up the hill and pay the entrance fee. Most attractions are ₺20 - ₺30 to get in.
This older palace is nowhere near as grand as the Dolmabahce Palace. Although it does have impressive gardens and views over Istanbul. Wings of the Palace which is now a museum host so of the important historical Jewellery of the Ottoman Empire and various thrones. I never really knew about the Ottoman Empire, Its crazy how far it spread and its influences in the region and that it only collapsed in the early 1920s.
We finished the sightseeing at the Ballista Cistern. A vast chamber underground built by the Romans. It was cold, dark and damp. However the rows of columns eliminated by ground lights created a romantic feel.
In one corner were two heads of Medusa creating footing blocks of two columns. No one know why they were put there or more bizarrely why one was placed on its side and the other upside down. There were a little eerie.
The other corner was more light hearted. We had the opportunity to dress up as Sultans and get our photos down for only ₺5. 20 shots later and some awkward posing we purchased one.
Tired we made the long trek back to your hostel. By the time we got back it was 7.30pm, still full from lunch we decided to grab a few beers and chill at the hostel. Our Aussie roommates still asleep in their beds…
26th June 14
We discovered last night that the airport we were flying out from was on the Asia side of Istanbul. Over breakfast we figured out that the best way to get to the airport is via an Airport shuttle which was 20 minute trek with our 25kg bags on our back and then a further 90 minute route to the airport.
Stevie was panicking that we wouldn't make it in time, so we packed up our bags and headed off after breakfast. We managed to get to the airport with plenty of time to spare.
Although the immigration side was chaos… In the end I just squeezed through to another section, which others followed resulting in a foreign language argument. I couldn't understand so I was quite happy.
The flight was over in no time and we were landing in Tarana, Albania. We managed to get the bus fairly easy. Although it was packed so we had to stand for most of the way. When we got dropped off in the city centre, We didn't have a clue where to go. We had a map in our lonely planet, picked a hostel in there and decided to make a walk for it. It was hectic. So much traffic. The weather was hot and the capital looked abit groggy. Although as a bonus we did see most of the sites while looking. There wasn't much to see really. We were walking past a park on the way to the hostel when a little homeless kid tried to pinch my book and started swinging on my bag. I raised a hand and told him to F-off.
That was it, dodgy neighbourhood. time to get a taxi. Good job we did too as we were heading in the opposite direction. The map was out of date, luckily the taxi driver called them and found the exact location. Tired from the flight we chilled in the room for a bit before attempting another wander. We gave up and headed out for dinner instead. Not really favouring the city we made plans to head to Berat in the moring....