The final few days in Istanbul were somewhat of a Groundhog Day of repeating experiences, interspersed with a few unique ones. The first expedition to the Grand Bazaar was early in the morning. PATP arrived just as many of the stalls were opening, and were surprised by how well organised everything appeared. Stall holders displayed their wares on tables and scarves and clothing were folded – compared to the souks in Morocco which PATP had seen and were expecting, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul was like a department store. After some preliminary research on just how much stuff they wanted to buy and how much they could carry home, PATP returned several more times, being fussy over exactly which colour combination they wanted in lamps (Pablo), which spice set they would try get past Australian customs (Pamplemousse), what size and pattern ceramic bowls, how many Turkish coffee pots they should buy, whether they should buy cups too , etc. For fairness, PATP also wandered through several other bazaars – the spice bazaar, the wedding dress and fabric bazaar, the electrical odds and sods bazaar, the tourist souvenir bazaar.
PATP also did quite a bit of urban hiking too. Walking along the waters edge from Sultanahmet to the bridge over the Golden Horne, they witnessed people swimming and fishing, and watched the ferries crossing the Bosphorus to the Asian side of the city, before getting to another large mosque near the bridge, the New Mosque – “new” being a relative term in a city with this much history having been completed in 1663. Walking across the bridge over the Golden Horn, PATP noticed all the people fishing off the bridge, trying to catch their dinner. Given the number of people fishing there it is unlikely that any fish remain, but it still seemed to be the thing to do.
PATP caught the funicular railway up to to Istiklal street in the new town of Istanbul. Istiklal is the main pedestrian mall in modern Istanbul, lined with fashionable shops, cafes, bars and restaurant along it and down every side street. Every few shops there was another candy store filled with sweet aromas, many flavours of Turkish delight and free samples. Trays and trays of colourful and tempting sweets. PATP tried Turkish delight in pistachio, rosewater, mint, pomegranate, strawberry and orange – just to name a few. And of course, they HAD to buy some Turkish delight and nougat varieties to take with them.
At the end of the street is Taksim square, a huge open area centred on a monument to Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey. While there were plenty of people around, just going about their daily business, there were also hundreds of riot police and their vehicles, just standing around waiting. Despite asking a few people why, PATP couldn’t get any sort of reason why there would be a few hundred police just hanging around. Not until several months later anyway, when huge protests kicked off in Turkey against development in and near the square, which quickly morphed into anti government riots after the police beat up some protestors. Ahh, so that’s why the police were there!
None of that was happening while PATP were there however, just shopping, dinner and heading to a couple of bars. Having enjoyed themselves doing this, PATP then decided they had to repeat the experience again a couple of times due to the vast number of delicious restaurants and fancy bars in the new town of Istanbul.
Amongst the one off experiences, PATP decided to venture to Asia. Given that Istanbul is the only city to sit on two continents this is a fairly easy ferry ride. Well it was easy once they had boarded the boat anyway. Getting onto the boat was not so simple as the makeshift bridge – which was simply a plank of wood between the pier and the boat – operated like a see-saw, such that when the man in front of PATP stepped onto the boat, the bridge flipped up, knocking the Pamplemousse onto the ground and bruising her knee. Once in Asia, PATP took a stroll through the Kadikoy market there, contemplated buying a sheep head or two, before instead having coffee and lunch and walking along the shore for the view back to Europe.
The final rainy morning of their 17 month adventure PATP went for one final walk through the streets of Sultanahmet, took a last few pics and got their shuttle to the airport for the flight back home.