Joaquim Rocha
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A Couple of Weeks in Turkey, Part 1: Istanbul

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    Joaquim Rocha
  • Principal Software Engineering Manager at Microsoft

As it says in a previous post, back in June I got married. The original plan for the destination of the honeymoon was to go to Japan. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been attracted to Asian culture in general and to Japan in particular. Helena also loved the idea of going to a country with such a different culture so we thought the honeymoon was the perfect opportunity to go there. We were thinking of buying the plane tickets in the middle of May when a very big tragedy occurred and we changed our plans. I am obviously talking about the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and the following events related to the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Our thoughts go to the victims of this sad event and their families.

After that, we wanted a place that was exotic (as in, not very European/Western) but affordable (because we still wanna go to Japan, probably next year). After a little brainstorm with Helena I came up with a good one: Turkey! Yes, it might probably one of these days enter the E.U. but it is still “differently” attractive.

Off to Istanbul!

The two return trip plane tickets cost as much as one ticket to Japan, around 700 € (with insurance and taxes included). Also, we decided not to go with a travel agency (the Lonely Planet guide is our travel agency :)). We don’t really like those classic guided tours. Going with everything planned isn’t much of an adventure is it? We even only booked the hotel one week before we departed and for two days only, for the rest, we followed the true Portuguese spirit of: let’s see about it then… 😀

As for the bags, given that we would be also visiting outside of Istanbul, we decided to take our InterRail backpacks and just like this last year’s trip, I didn’t take my laptop! Instead I used my faithful N900 smartphone for everything: calls, booking hotels, research about places, twitting…

On June 15, we arrived at the Atatürk International Airport, went straight to the currency exchange and that was the first time we got ripped off… 11% of commission if I remember well. WTF! Here is a little advice, don’t run to the first currency exchange, instead wait and go to one that doesn’t take commission (what these ones do is that they exchange it at a fixed rate that benefits them but it’s not much and certainly not 11%).

The hotel, Naz Wooden House Inn, was cozy and the staff was even nicer (we found Turkish people nice in general). The room was tiny but from what I had read, that’s pretty normal in Istanbul. The hotel was right behind the Blue Mosque (or Sultan Ahmed Mosque) and so we visited the area in the first two days. We hate waiting in queues and there was a big line to enter the Blue Mosque so we were still deciding if we should wait when it started raining like hell. The people in the line dispersed, hurrying to escape the rain and it was a nice opportunity for us to get in a much smaller line. Anyway, it would have been totally worth the wait. The mosque is really big and beautiful:

Inside the Blue Mosque

Being a coffee lover I could finally taste a Turkish coffee after having seen what it was in the TV. If you don’t know what’s it like, the coffee is strong-ish (how strong a coffee is really depends on what you’re used to) and you choose the quantity of sugar in advanced. Despite the fact that I drink my espressos without sugar, I chose “orta şeker” (medium sugar) for the Turkish coffees because they tasted better this way. Another particularity of this coffee, probably the most known one, is that you’ll find that coffee grounds fill about a quarter of the cup. Tradition says that when you finish your coffee, you place the cup upside down on the saucer, let it cool down and when you lift the cup, your future can be read in the coffee grounds left in the cup.

Turkish kahve

Another curious thing that can be found in the streets of Istanbul is the way people treat animals. We saw people giving food and water to stray dogs, cats and even ducks (as the photo below shows) and I assume these weren’t simply leftovers as we saw a restaurant employee cutting meat from the kebab stick and giving it to some cats. I later read somewhere that this is a common thing in there. Really nice!

Looks tasty!

Let the bargaining begin!

We had decided to stay one more night in Istanbul so I asked for an extra night at the hotel but they were fully booked and said they had a room in their “sister hotel” nearby but it would cost me 65 € instead of the 49 € I was paying. I said no, I could only afford the same price and I would look for another hotel, thank you very much. The guy said: “Wait wait, let me explain it to my colleague and see what we can do…”. He called the other guy and then told me: “Okay, you can go to our sister hotel for the same price, 49 €.”! And this was the first time I bargained in Turkey; even without knowing I was bargaining!

The other hotel, Sultan’s Inn, was more luxurious and we got a very nice large room (with a double bed and 2 single ones). In this hotel we also used the functioning internet to book the flight to our next destination, Izmir (more on that in the next article).

Trip in the Bosphorus

The third day in Istanbul we traveled for the first time the Bosphorus‘s ferries and visited the Asian shore. It’s impressive if you think about it, one river cross for ~30 cents and you’re in a different continent. This part (we arrived at the Kadıköy station) was clearly not made for tourists, with less appealing buildings and lower prices. We just wondered around a bit, took some photos, drank yet another Turkish coffee and had the cheapest lunch in ages: 1 kebap + 1 ayran for 2 TRL, that’s right, 1 €. There was no way it could taste bad after such a good price.

After the cheapest lunch on earth we hurried again for the ferry and visited the island of Burgazada (about 1 hour from Kadıköy). I had heard about this island in an episode of the TV show “Españoles en el Mundo” (it is about Spanish people living abroad). It is a nice small island that has no cars (apart from firemen and police ones) and for this reason one can find roads that are occupied by trees like in the photo below. The island turned out to have less things to see and probably there were other more exciting islands to visit but it was okay.

A tree in the middle of a road

On our way back we had some interesting show in the ferry. People buy some kind of bread at the ferry and feed the seagulls with it by throwing it out while the seagulls flying by catch it in the air! It’s really something worth seeing.

[Feeding the Seagulls "On The Fly"][7]

That night, back in Istanbul, we went again to the Marmara Cafe to relax with some coffee and waterpipe for the next day we would fly to Izmir!

[to be continued…][8]

[7]: “Feeding the Seagulls “On The Fly” by Joaquim Rocha, on Flickr” [8]: “A Couple of Weeks in Turkey, Part 2: Selçuk/Ephesus”