After two magical days in Cappadocia, I landed back in Istanbul early in the morning. The city was still in recovery from the unfortunate terrorist attacks which had taken place a few weeks ago. I was to stay in Istanbul for a night before heading off to Dubai the next day. When I had changed my itinerary for the Turkey trip, I had decided that I would visit Istanbul again someday but I wasn’t ready to skip Turkey completely yet since I really wanted to see the famous Hagia Sofia. I decided to spend the day visiting a few of the major attractions and come back later to explore the city fully once the country was relatively stable. Luckily on my trip to South Africa the last month, I had met three wonderful ladies in Cape Town, Astrid, Duygu, and Deniz who had hailed from Istanbul. Astrid was on holiday that week so I got in touch with Duygu and Deniz for some basic information regarding the city. Not only did the two of them help me with the planning, but we also decided to meet up in the evening and go out to see enjoy the nightlife of the city. Throughout the day, Duygu guided me to the best places to visit and helped me make the day as productive as possible. It’s friends like these who make you feel welcome even in the most unknown places and it made me feel extremely blessed.
There is hardly anything left to say about the city which has not been said already. The most amazing thing about the city of Istanbul is that you find yourself standing on the land belonging to two different continents at the same time. Istanbul connects Europe and Asia and creates a hybrid experience which is unique in its own way. The city is a perfect blend of the rich European lifestyle, the vintage architecture and the vibrant Asian culture. The fact that surprised me the most (maybe because of my lack of knowledge of history) was that I found many similarities between the Turkish and Indian cultures. For starters, family values hold equal importance for Turks as it does in Indian families. Their tea drinking habits are also very similar to Indians’ as tea is the most common hot beverage found throughout India. The biggest surprises for me were the handmade sweets of India (called ‘Mithai’) being one of the most famous Turkish sweets known as ‘Baklava’. It made me smile when my friends suggested that I should taste Baklava since they are one of the best things found in Istanbul. It was funny when I told them about the Mithai and I felt really proud of this connection. The obsession of Turks with spices (especially red pepper) brings them even closer to India since there is absolutely no doubt about Indians and their love for spices.
There are no reasons to not fall in love with the city. I spent most of my time walking down the busy streets and every street that I turned to had a character of its own. The chaos of the city along with the sound of the muezzins in the air and the enchanting aroma of the delicious street food found at every corner made the city unique in every possible way. The streets were full of small cafes, restaurants, bars and despite of having a large number of cafés and bars, it was not easy for us to find an empty space thanks to the horde of tourists flooding the city. Istanbul hosts a multicultural character within itself and it was clearly visible and even audible. As I walked past the streets, I overheard the locals talking in multiple languages including my own mother tongue, Hindi. The diversity of the city resides not only in the people but also in the food, drinks and even the cultural etiquettes. Multi-cuisine restaurants, lively pubs and bar make the city perfect to have a good time in. It is believed that Istanbul has the world’s best skyline to look at the sun set and from what I got to witness that evening; I can confirm that this is indeed true. I had never seen a sunset as beautiful as that one in my whole life.
As far as the transportation within the city goes, the public transport system is well connected and available to explore the city within a small budget. An important thing to keep in mind is that I didn’t find the public transport particularly tourist friendly as most of the instructions and station names were in Turkish and the people at the information centre in the metro stations were non-English speakers. The best and the cheapest way to travel in Istanbul is to buy a travel card called ‘Istanbulkart’. The Istanbulkart is a plastic RFID card which can be bought at any metro station from a vending machine (which doesn’t have instructions in English either). The best part of the Istanbulkart is that one card can be used to pay for multiple people, in other words, you don’t have to buy separate cards for everyone if you are travelling with family or friends. It can be used in every public transport system including the trains, trams, metro, city buses and ferries. Make sure that you bargain before getting on a yellow taxi and that they understand your destination since the language barrier can often become a huge problem.
The city is the absolute hub of backpackers and the centre of Istanbul is called ‘Taskim’. Taskim is the area where most of the hostels are situated and it’s also the most touristic place in the city. Being a touristic place was the main reason why this area had faced repetitive terrorist attacks within the last few weeks. I was advised to avoid the area while on this trip due to security issues. I spent most of my time visiting the famous attractions of the city and I will be talking about them in detail in my upcoming posts.
In the evening, Duygu and Deniz came to meet me along with some of their friends and we went to a night club where an event for local Couch surfers was being hosted. It was there that a huge coincidence took place. I bumped into Emma and a friend of hers. I had met Emma in a small pub back in Cappadocia a couple of days ago. We had the opportunity of dancing together at the Turkish night event and had bid each other a quick farewell as both of us had to leave for Istanbul the next day. We hadn’t stayed in contact and had no idea about our individual plans in Istanbul. Bumping into each other at a small nightclub in a city that huge was indeed the best coincidence and one of the most memorable things which happened to me in my Turkey trip. We had a great night dancing till late and meeting lots of new people. Overall, my day in the city had been extremely satisfying. I was looking forward to being in Dubai the next evening but after a day in the splendid city of Istanbul, I wished that I could have had more time in the city. I will definitely be returning to Istanbul in the near future because there are a lot of things which I didn’t get to see or experience in that one day. I also promised Dugyu and Deniz that I’d meet them again and a true wanderer never breaks his/her promise. 🙂