Fortunately, we had been lucky and our travel had landed on days with no strikes. We flew to Istanbul and had an amazing meal on the plane despite popular belief that plane food is awful. For once we had a pick up arranged at the airport by a couple of young Turkish guys who spoke very little English and shuttled into our new hostel. The owner himself showed us to our room and took us straight to the bar on the roof for a couple of free welcome cocktails each. We ventured out to find dinner, and it wasn’t long before a guy called out to us and innocently said “you dropped something”. It took a minute of this before he said “it was my heart…”. Turns out, Istanbul is pretty similar to Athens, though the locals wouldn’t want to hear it. Our hostel was in the old Sultanahmet part of town, with the Hagia Sophia mosque turned museum just out window. Istanbul feels like the East’s answer to Prague. Or maybe it’s the other way round. The spires here could possibly be equal those in number from the Republic. Though here, lit up at night, to the two of us, the minarets could easily be mistaken for Rapunzel’s tower. Despite the loud music from the pub on the floor above us, we decided we liked the city already.
At night we had almost wished we had booked a longer stay in Istanbul. By morning, we were glad it was only a few days. The call to prayer at 6am was most unwelcome. Even though we knew to expect this five times a day, generally they join the standard noises of the city and you barely notice them as anything more than a reminder of the culture you’re in. At 6am however, for twenty minutes by a particularly nasal caller, with a night of poor sleep and roommates getting in at 4am, it was not so appreciated. Not to be disrupted from our touristing, we spent the day at the Grand Bazaar, a place containing a huge amount of shops with a majority of carpets, scarves, jewellery, clothes and souvenirs. Mostly, we just got asked where we were from but heard from great pickup lines too. Up until then, we had been counting how many times we were asked if we were sisters, and our tally was sitting roughly on twenty for the whole trip. We must have been asked twenty times that day, so we gave up. All they’re trying to do is get you talking, and it got highly repetitive towards the end of the day so we headed home to admire our purchases and get some sleep.
The next day was game day. A local pub was playing the New Zealand vs Argentina match and we aimed to be there at 10am. Naturally, we walked in as they were kicking off at 10.30. We also happened to be soaking wet. Apparently, Turkey isn’t all sunshine and Turkish delight, but torrential rain and dodgy souvlakis. We enjoyed the game and got frustrated with the Argentinean boys for picking fights and annoyed the other punters by laughing at them. We had planned to take a boat up the river and back again but decided not to as everything was soaking. After the game, we only went out for food. At lunch on the main street one of the waiters took a particular liking to Ella – making her a poem from her name and buying her a bracelet from the souvenir stall next door. Apart from that awkward experience, it was a quiet afternoon spent reading at our hostel waiting out the rain.
Once again we awoke to the sound of rain. With only a few days left in Istanbul we decided to head out anyway. Somehow we managed not to get lost on the way to the spice market, where we splashed around a bit, bought a few things and loved the piles of spices and Turkish delight at every stall, as well as the incredible and slightly overpowering fusion of scents. We crossed the river by a bridge dotted with committed fishermen and walked uphill until we found the Galata tower, snapping one of Hayley’s trusty shoes on the way. Not to be put off, we made it and were happy to take the elevator to the top. We made one brisk turn of the viewing platform and decided that Istanbul would be quite pretty on a half decent day. That’s when we gave up and went back to hostel in afternoon to dry off hoping it would stop raining later on. It didn’t. We read some more, watched a movie, and went out for food. It was our last night in hostel, which we shared with a room full of boys who didn’t laugh nearly as much as they could have when Hayley screamed and stood up on the bunk because of a spider.
That night the pub above our room played loud heavy metal until 2.30am. Shortly after, one of our roommates came into the room and was asleep and snoring like a chainsaw within minutes. We hadn’t woken up to the call to prayer in days but this was worse, and felt infinite. In the morning we did our usual routine of getting very lost before finding our new accommodation. At least this time, we were staying in a four star hotel as part of a tour we were starting. We dropped our bags there and headed to the Bosphorus River for a three hour cruise. We decided we’d paid enough for the tickets so flagged the guide and made up the historical stories instead. When we got as far as the Black Sea, we were asked to leave the boat. For two hours. This would not only make us late for our meeting with our new tour group, but left us cold and hungry in a tiny place where if we stood in the middle of the main square we got yelled at by no less than three restaurant workers to have lunch at their restaurants. Went to get out money, and was even followed by one of them before we bluntly told him to leave. We found a food place where the owner didn’t attack us on a back road, but in return the meal we received was highly questionable. Back at the hotel and only half and hour late, there was no sign of our tour group. We went to our room to wait, and had dinner. There was still no sign of the tour group. We went to bed with a note from reception saying to meet at breakfast the next morning. It had been a major fail of a day. On the bright side though, we had a two week tour with someone organising everything for us to look forward to. And hotel slippers.