I arrived in Istanbul by bus from Varna. As such, my trip terminated at Istanbul’s Otogar, the most enormous bus station I have ever seen. Approaching the giant sarcophagus, I could not imagine that it was all a bus station, but it was. Large tour coaches pulled in and wound their way up ramps, just like cars in a conventional parking garage. After driving up what seemed like 10 levels, we emerged onto a plateau, and navigated among a sea of people and busses into our assigned parking spot. I hopped off the bus, grabbed my bag and tried to located the allegedly free shuttle that would take me into the city. No luck, so I used the excellent metro system instead. After a few wrong turns, I tracked down the Nobel Hostel, right in the heart of Sultanahmet, Istanbul’s old town.
Apart from my experience lying in bed feeling like I’d been consigned to the hell fires (I was on the top bunk of a top floor room), the hostel was good. Complementary breakfast was served every morning on the spectacular roof-top terrace, which overlooked the Blue Mosque. My only real complaint about the place was that it was more like a hotel than any of the hostels I’ve used previously: it had no shared kitchen and the shared computers were located in the tiny lobby, which didn’t really encourage congretation/communication among travellers.
I fell in love with Istanbul the moment I arrived. It has all the best attributes of big cities, without a bit more of the chaos that makes places like NYC or London so great. Besides being located in the heart of old-town, the hostel was really close to a sea wall that winds along the Aegean coast, just east of the Bosphorus. It was there that I was able to cajole a woman I met at the hostel into accompanying me for an evening swim. She’s a math geek from Las Vegas (who lives in Las Vegas?!), so I obviously thought she was great. We had a nice dip in the water and then shared a drink before calling it a night.
Making new friends was fun, of course, but meeting up with old friends, is also really good. Merve, a woman I met at a hostel in Stockholm, is from Istanbul, so when I arrived I dropped her a note in hopes we could meet. We did, and had a really great evening. She had her car, and in addition to sharing a good meal on a roof-top, she provided a sometimes-harrowing tour of the city. Through occasionally clenched eyes, I saw a lot of things that I’d have been unlikely to see were it not for her. I hope she’ll come to visit Canada, so I can repay the favour. She’s an avid skier, so we’ll see what next winter has in store.
Although I spent some time at Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, I think the Spice Bazaar was actually more interesting from a visual perspective. It is, of course, much smaller, but it also assails you with more interesting smells, vivid colours and delicious tastes.
On my last evening, as I was wandering around some rather decrepit neighbourhoods, I actually happened upon two young boys who were sloshing water all over one another using discarded 2 litre water bottles. They wrongly decided that I would like to be included. I might not have minded if I were not carrying an iPod and camera, and if the water in the jugs didn’t closely resemble the effluent from a tailings pond, but I was not in the mood. They could not be deterred, however, so I had to use a bit of guile, faux rage and some fleet feet to escape from them. As I scooted away, I turned around and stuck my tongue out at them. They laughed and I continued my escape before they could catch me with their filthy water. The next morning, I arose to catch my flight to Izmir and then on to Kusadasi for some more sun, sand and surf.