travel | istanbul, day one

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

we arrived in istanbul late on friday, after almost an hour in a cab, four hours in the sky, and twenty minutes being given the vip tour of world duty free inside gatwick's south terminal - a tour that resulted in a couple of strong belvedere martinis being consumed quickly in the departure lounge, and an early-onset hangover almost-instantly when we found our seats. which happened to be 12 rows apart, as we'd somehow managed to select two different seats when we were printing our boarding passes. thanks be to the lovely crew on board our particular turkish airlines flight, who were quick to not only move bex and i back together, but move us to our own row at the back of the plane - a major success if i've ever seen one!

arriving at the hostel was another story entirely. we'd booked four nights in a luxury hostel on the recommendation of the stylist. you know the free magazine you get on the tube on a wednesday? yeah, that. they'd clearly used some stock images from the hostel's opening, because walking in to the reception, we were sure we were in the wrong place. after multiple problems at reception we finally made our way to our room, only to find the key wouldn't work. twenty minutes later, a master key had been produced, and we were finally in to our room. well, a room, but certainly not the one we'd expected.

we had booked a private room with en suite. in a hostel, yes. it was supposed to be a luxury hostel, but it was far form luxury. it was certainly not the worst we'd ever stayed in but after that long a day, and entering in to a climate that felt equivalent to the sun's surface, we wanted a shower and a lay down. but the room we had - despite being a private, came with a shared bathroom. shared with up to six others. not ideal. never the less, we had a quick change, reapplied some make up, and headed out into the night with a group of young'uns we'd met in the reception; alanna, from australia (via london), reg from the netherlands (who spoke turkish, handily), a chap we referred to only as "snorer" from lybia, and a couple others travelling with them whose names i'll never recall. 

we went for a drink in a rooftop bar near the hostel, and sat chatting for houuuurs with them all. they were all a lot younger than us (obvs)(what grown ups go to a hostel, bahh!) but they were so chatty and easy to talk to, and it did remind me about all the great things about hostel life. it's a community spirit you get amongst travellers that you miss in hotels and airb&bs, so it was great to be able to sit around and get some recommendations from people who had been in the city before you, and could tell you what to avoid.

during our couple of hours chatting we sort of planned our stay, which was probably super annoying for bex as she had legitimately created a spreadsheet of activities for us to see while in the city, including their distance from our hostel, tips about the activity, and colour coded it for my attention. i totally disregarded it, obviously, as i am a busy human who has no time to read spreadsheets, rather i allow myself to be guided to places of interest. of her interest, as my interest lay solely in being away from work, out of london, and in the sun for my birthday. mission: accomplished.

on the first day we met up with alanna and reg over breakfast, before heading out to our first activity for the day: galata tower, on our side of the river. it was a twenty-minute stroll from the hostel - if that - and we managed to get there before the queues for the day, so if you head over yourself, definitely aim for early-to-mid morning, as that seemed to be the time i was at its quietest whenever we walked past it (tickets were about £8/£10 from my poor memory).

used for many things in its time, the tower dates back to 1348 where it was used as a tower of christ before being restored time and time again, lastly used as a watch tower for the istandbul fire brigade before... well, burning down. since then it was rebuilt and used for mainly tourism purposes, as it boasts stunning 360 degree views of the vast city. the steep, ornamental cone at the top of the tower is narrow and terrifying as hell, so we got our photos and then got the hell out of there because sheeesh, i was sure i was going to slip through the railings and bounce all the way into the sea. scary.





from the tower we made our way across the river and on foot to the topkapi palace museum, through it's incredible public gardens on the edge of the island. it was just gone midday, and it was already so, so hot. we were expecting highs of low thirties that day, and had "dressed appropriately" for it, which means maxi dresses and sandals, and definitely not appropriately at all. despite being 100% cotton i was sweating through my dress, and rebekah no better. bottles on the water on the street for mere pennies were consumed hourly, and all appetite was gone.

as we waited in line for tickets (about £20 with good conversion) to the museum at topkapi palace, we near on melted. there was no shade for the half hour we stood waiting to collect tickets, so within minutes of making our way into the grounds we collapsed in the shade of a massive tree, onto the cool grass below. it was bliss, let me tell you that. we were moved on pretty quickly from the guards, but after long enough to be able to cool ourselves down before heading into the museum for a wander.

thousands of year old artefacts, crockery and artwork from across the seas lined the halls of the one-royal palace, and of course, no photos allowed. the palace grounds were haaauuuuge; four main buildings and endless gardens were once home to a population of almost 10,000 people during the ottoman empire, including an entire wing dedicated to a harem of women. oi oi! these days though, the grounds are mainly used as a tourist attraction, as well as a safeguard for some of the world's most important muslim relics. special stuff! we wandered the grounds for about an hour or so before straying to the street for some food and refreshments - the heat was boiling our blood, and we were raging.





after a brief trip to the local kebabery, we headed back from whence we started, and into the ticket line for hagia sophia (another £20 on a good day) - an original greek orthodox and once-christian church, turned muslim mosque, and now forever-under-refurbishment museum. and as reg warned us out the front in his dutch-tainted, turkish-flavoured english: "very fucking huge". huge is an understatement, and as you can probably gather from my lack of very good photos, terribly hard to capture. 

ayasophya was built in 537. five hundred thirty seven a.d. that is the oldest thing i've ever seen, touched, or been in the company of. i've seen some old shit in my time, no doubt, but...this building is old. and worn out. but still one of the most...awe inspiring buildings i've ever stood in. having held so many faiths within its walls and halls and mosaics, it's hard to be inside the building and not feel overwhelmed with all the ~vibes radiating out of the massive walls, pillars, and friezes that adorned the halls.

as it was closing in on four, and we were hot and bothered, we made our way back to the hostel - slowly but surely, getting stuck in the late afternoon foot traffic. with 16million people in one city, it gets pretty busy. i never thought i'd see anywhere busier than london, but my good sweet lord above, istanbul is fucking busy. at points we were shuffling, being carried along with a crowd of other people. we lost all ability to stop moving, and were herded by the thousands of other people going in the same direction. and it's ~normal for them. pedestrians pay no mind to traffic when crossing the road, because what car, tram or taxi is going to take out a herd of people? none, is the answer. regardless, shuffling back to the hostel in the hottest day we'd had for a while just about burned us out, and when we finally made it back - an hour later, we were knackered.

but wouldn't you know it, our hostel had lost all power and water all day, so we couldn't even shower. luxury hostel, i think not! in lieu of being able to actually relieve oneself with a cool shower, we invested in a six pack of beer and sat in the cool and dark comfort of the reception area, dreaming of all the wifi we ~could have if  only we'd not been so tight with our pennies. oh well, live and learn!

first impressions of istanbul: this city is ~many.

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