It was a quite day at the small Cork airport. Friendly were staff all around and there was no sign of hurry or panic to be seen. The gentleman who checked me in at the Aer Lingus counter was also handling the boarding of the aircraft. He recognised me during boarding and said ‘Istanbul’ to me with a smile. I wasn’t looking forward to transiting at Heathrow which I expected to be the exact opposite of the atmosphere at Cork.
I had a quick nap and was woken up by the sun sweeping across my face as we were in a holding pattern approaching Heathrow. The aircraft made 3 circles before finally landing in Heathrow. After landing, a shuttle bus took me to Terminal 5 for my onward flight to Istanbul. I didn’t have to pass through immigration, just had to show my passport for security checks. It was interesting that there were security information announcements in Hindi, which was clearly spoken by a Punjabi person. The boarding was quite smooth and so was the flight itself. I landed in Istanbul at 22:20 local time. I had a quick look to buy some a SIM card. While there were many shops in the airport, strangely all of them were out of stock for new SIM cards. I got myself a few Turkish Liras and an Istanbulkart. And crossed over to Asia!
It was almost midnight by the time I reached Söğütlüçeşme. I was struggling to find Yankı’s (my couchsurfing’s host) home. I was quite sure I was knocking on the right door, but there was no answer! And for some reason, I was not able to make calls from my phones. So, I texted him and he walked down and led me to the next street and to his (correct) house. I met two more fellow couchsurfers at his place, a Russian-Ukrainian couple who have been travelling for the past six months or so! It was fascinating and also a bit sad to hear that they were from Crimea and when they left their home, it was quite peaceful, and a lot had happened since they started to travel and they weren’t sure how to get back! This was my first backpacking trip and within a day, I was having so much ‘exposure’ to fellow citizens of the world, I got the feeling, this trip is going to be quite an experience for me!
The first thing next morning, I made my way to Sultanahmat and bought the train ticket from Van to Iran for the next day. The weather was very pleasant – blue skies with mild temperature. I sat myself down by the fountains near the Blue mosque and enjoyed some corn. I walked around until the evening, visited the Topkapı palace, bought some postcards, queued up at the local post office to buy stamps and had street-side roasted chestnuts. Around sunset, I took the tram and went to Karadaş. From there, looking back at the two mosques in the city centre with the sun setting behind them was a wonderful sight. From Karadaş, I travelled to Taksim by the funicular. The funicular was a little disorientating. The train itself and the station are on a slope. The interior cabin of the train is flat, but stepped. I guess it’s similar to an escalator, but it’s a little hard getting your head around the fact that the moving steps are actually the train itself. Taksim was like the shopping district of Istanbul.
Throughout the day, whenever I spotted a currency exchange office, I tried to buy some Iranian rials, but absolutely no one had any to sell. I slowly walked my way back to the city centre along the shopping street. Finally, it was time for dinner! I was looking around for a dish called Çiğ Köfte. It is originally a raw-meat dish, but due to health regulations, the restaurants are obliged to replace raw meat with bulgur. I had some really delicious Çiğ köfte along with some turnip juice. I have to admit, the turnip juice was brilliant! It had the exact kind of sour-tangy-spicy flavour that I love! The radio was playing this song during my dinner, and I found it fascinating that a song from Tamil Nadu has reached this far! After dinner, I strolled around the city centre to get some night shots of the mosques and spent some time buying some souvenirs at the grand bazaar.
After taking in what I could of Istanbul, I made my way back to Yankı’s home. I was thrilled to find him playing the Turkish setar. His flatmate Delon had made some absolutely delicious köfte out of lentils. Even though I was quite full, they were so good that I had to eat some! Yankı shared his experiences at the Sufi music festival in Konya. It was such an enjoyable evening with music, food and great stories, something that is impossible to find in secluded hotel rooms!
Continued here …. Kurdistan!