With much excitement and a touch of trepidation, I boarded my first solo, international flight, bound for Istanbul!
My first flight was to Guangzhou, where I had a 7 hour stopover, which turned into an 8.5 hour stopover as my flight to Beijing was delayed. Unfortunately I only had a 2 hour stopover in Beijing so I missed my connecting flight! Thankfully, China Southern, the airline I was travelling with didn’t miss a beat and promptly transferred my flight to the following day and put me in a hotel overnight.
Overnight in China. This was definitely not something I was prepared for! 33 hours of travel and I was still in the same time zone as Perth! But I can now tick “eat dumplings in China” off the bucket list.
My final stopover was in Urmiqui, where I got chatting to a Serian medical student who was studying in China. I was really glad to have him with me because he spoke Mandarin and was really helpful! When we finally landed in Istambul, he very kindly waited with me til we both had our bags.
I had a private transfer to our hotel and I’d highly recommend the transfer company. Six, leather covered seats to myself and I felt like a Kardashian! I arrived at the Green Anka Hotel at 2am and felt terrible, because I had to wake my roommate! Thankfully, Ramadan is in full swing in Turkey and the call to prayer is played on drums at 2:30am and my lovely roommate, Megan, said she’d wake to the drums anyway!
Breakfast was an interesting mix of 4 different flavours of feta, olives, cured meats, coco pops and cornflakes. The coffee machine was also a blessed surprise! Our morning commenced with a walking tour and history lesson of Istanbul. Turkey is the only country in the world which is situated on two continents, so it is quite literally where East meets West! First stop was the spice markets, which were incredible! It was also my first experience of Turkish attempts to lure tourists into their stalls!
My favourite lines was “I give you blonde price!” My hair seems to be just as much a novelty here as in Beijing! We then made our way to the famous Blue Mosque, named so after the beautiful blue tiles with which it is decorated. I’ve always admired places of worship as they are often so intricate and awe inspiring! All mosques must face Mecca (modern day Saudi Arabia) and the wall facing Mecca is always the most elaborately decorated. In Muslim culture, women must cover their legs, shoulders and tops of their heads when entering a mosque and men must cover their legs.
After we had paid our respects at the Blue Mosque, we had a few hours free time. We fractured off into groups to get lunch and explore Istanbul. My group headed to the Grand Bazaar for kababs and the most refreshing fresh lemonade!
Shopping here is both exhausting and amusing, as you are forever fighting off vendors with ever-more clever pick up lines. “Baby Spice, you want XYZ?” is another favourite of mine! As is the case with many markets, it seems that stalls in the Grand Bazaar do repeat themselves a fair bit, but it is still beautiful to wander through, if you can deal with the vendors.
I tried my first real Baklava which was delicious! Although incredibly sweet, the pastry was so light and crumbly! Five minutes after I finished my first piece I was seriously considering having another!
About half of our tour then went on an optional tour of the famous Bosphorus river, where we played house spotting, ever debating in which river-front mansion we’d prefer to live. Turkey is the only country in the world which is situated on two continents, and there are only two bridges which span the width of the Bosphorus.
These little red houses also caught my attention. They are all owned by members of the same family and they are very heavily into the art scene in Istanbul. They hosted a group of artists during the Istanbul Biennale, and apparently their walls are hung with artists such as Picasso!
We got back to our hotel in time for a quick shower before heading out to a traditional Turkish show. The four-course meal was certainly secondary to the numerous Belly Dancers and traditional Turkish dancers, who were all greatly entertaining. The way those girls move their hips puts Shakira to shame!
The final performer guessed which country each audience member hailed from and sang them something. When he broke into “Waltzing Matilda” we Aussies very enthusiastically joined in!
He finished by selecting a few audience members to join him on stage. He picked three girls from our contiki group, including me! How do I always end up on stage at these things?? He dubbed us Charlie’s Angels and we danced as he sang. All the Australians were called to the dance floor and we had our own little dance party! Apparently there are some photos and videos floating around so I’ll try and track them down! Sadly there is very little night life in Istanbul during Ramadan, so we were dropped off at our hotel and got a relatively early night.