Tuesday, April 22, 2008


What a wonderful city! Between Europe and Asia, Istanbul is the city I went lately. A treasure for humanity, three cultures shaped it to make it unique. I still can't find the words to describe how beautiful the city is. To this, I should add all the wonderful people that inhabits it: just a mixture of cuteness, politeness and trickiness. The monuments it holds are just impressive and far unique for a city. Its traffic is also a mix of adventure, irritation and illegality. Of course, this trip couldn't have been the same without the companion of two of my colleagues at the university, Peter and Sebastiaan. To give some impressions, let me elaborate more in some experiences I had, in a somewhat chronological order.

* Sleepy taxi driver.
Just arrived, after some waiting, going to our hostel, our first adventure starts. I wanted to look at the city with more details, I decide to go to the front seat of the van that transported us. After some minutes in a traffic jam, the driver starts falling asleep, to what I reacted giving some conversation. After pointing out that he looked tired, he asked whether I had a driver license and after my positive answer, he offered me to drive the van to the hostel! I scarily denied, and after all, we safely arrived!

* Attracting/sticky sellers.
Every time we walked in front of a bar/restaurant/shop someone standing outside will persuade to sell something... the game was to convince the prospective customer with different techniques. One of them will explain us everything he had to offer in the restaurant in everyone's language: Dutch, Spanish (in our case) but also French, English, Italian... not only that, the spontaneousness to make a topic conversation.

* Tulips all the city around.
Do you think that Holland is the paradise of tulips? Well, yes, but the only one place! During our stay they were celebrating the tulip festival with different kind of tulips, figures made with them everywhere! Most of tulips were imported from Holland though :)

* Topkapı Palace.
Main residence of the sultans during the Ottoman regime, it holds many antiquities, and beautiful building as well.

* Basilica Cistern.
A cistern basilica-shaped, ordered by a Byzantine emperor. Very well restored and a nice atmosphere. Two Medusas were used as support of one of the pillars.

* Grand Bazaar.
It's a big market place, a mixture of a flea market and some tend shops. The structure of the building is unique, and sellers quite smart: bargaining is mandatory, and giving up early would follow by some subtle teasing... Even more surprising is that *all* sellers will address me in Spanish, without opening my mouth at all!

* Black sea.
Istanbul is just 30km away from the Black sea which at a first glance seems to be close and easily reachable. It is indeed a short distance, but took us 5 hours to get there. First, because noboby really knows how to get there, specially by public transport. After figuring out how to get closer and closer, we didn't count on the traffic jams: we were going for nearly 2 hours at walking speed. By chance in one of the intermediate stops, we saw a bus with a sign to go to Kylios. After some time, we finally arrived. It was a dreams made true for me, although the beach isn't the great thing. In any case, I could dip my toes into its sand...

* Cheating taxi drivers.
When you take a taxi, you would definitively be fooled. They will, for example, magically make the tachometer run up very fast and sudden. Also change the banknotes when you pay them. Fortunately, we were aware of this issue and we weren't teased. In a sense, we tried to avoid taxis to avoid stressing situations...

* Taksim square and Beyoğlu district.
This is the very city center in the European side. Woohh I can't explain how vivid is this part of the city: full of people at any time! Bars, discos, pubs, restaurants all over this portion of the city, the indisputable heart of it. BTW, going to discos is quite expensive: 5€ for a 330cl bottle of normal beer!

* Golden Horn and Bosporus strait.
We also took a boat trip to have a view of the city from the sea side. We crossed under the two bridges that communicate both continents. Under the bridges on the Golden Horn there are fishermen getting some fresh fish, I think as a hobby.

* Aya Sofya.
This is a Christian church converted into a mosque by the Ottoman occupation. Interestingly, from inside it looks like a church, but full of Islamic symbols. Aya Sofya means Holy Worship, not Saint Sofia as sometimes is translated into.

* Blue mosque.
Situated in front of the Aya Sofya. It has very beautiful internal decoration with blue tiles. Its yards are just huge and imposing.

* Time to pray.
One thing that really makes this city to belong to a Muslim religion are the praying songs played 5 times a day across the city from (I guess) each mosque. Here I recorded a video to make you feel what it is like. People, though, don't pay much attention to it, a few really go into the mosques to pray, getting cleaned at the faucets located outside some mosques before entering to pray.

* Turkish bath.
We couldn't have left Istanbul without taking a hamam. First 15 minutes in a hot room (86ºC, 30% humidity) and a shock slump into cool water. Later, lay on a marble bed, receiving splashes of cold and warm water and a scratchy massage. After we are covered by foam and a complete corporal massage follows. Finally, you are so relaxed that you must go to bed!

* Nargile (Shisha, hooka or water pipe)
Nothing compares to sit on a street of Beyoğlu district and enjoy a water pipe. This usually comes with some flavoured tobacco, like apple, banana, orange among others. It is a quite relaxing activity, accompanied playing black gammon. It would be strange that some strangers join you at the table to tell all their adventures in Istanbul.

* One city, two continents.
This is yet another magic thing about Istanbul: it is divided by the Bosporus strait which separates Europe and Asia. It is all an experience to cross a bridge and being in another continent.

Just to make a summary: the best city I have ever visited! It defeated clearly to Barcelona who was among my favourite cities.

BTW, and although it is not mentioned, this was a business trip, but we took some days off to do some sightseen. And this explain why I went to a workshop in another continent and came back to Europe in a few hours :)

I'd like to thank Peter and Sebastiaan for providing most of the pictures in this post and their very nice humor sense, kindness, support and companionship.


Gonzalo said...

¿o sea que... la cerveza es mas cara que el mate criollo? órale!

Está bueno eso de fumar en narghile, no marea tanto

Adrian said...

* Chan! yo pense que los taxistas de aca eran los peores!
* Que maestros los vendedores! Multilenguajes! (ingles y español por ahi son mas comunes, pero holandes!)
* Los edificios, muy copados!
* 5 horas por 30km! Es cosa de locos! (te ubieras llevado la bici!)
* 5€ una botellita de birra? Cha!
* Me acuerdo cuando gonzalo me conto que habia fumando en una de esas pipas en una fiesta del ¿IPS?
Repito: Te envidio :p!!!