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Istanbul

Warning: You must be crazy to drive in Istanbul!

So, of course we did drive!  We discover that in a city of 13 Million, it’s always peak hour!  The Turks are crazy drivers, crossing 6 lane highways without hesitation, there are clearly unwritten rules that the guide books don’t explain.  We watch cars and more nervously trucks, weave in and out of traffic without hesitation.  The last 20km takes nearly 2 hours, the last 5km, an hour of that.  We thread through narrow streets in the old quarters of Istanbul to find the ANZAC hotel located in Sultanahmet.  The roads narrow to one car width and impatient drivers even force us to reverse back up the street on occasion, being the tourists we are not going to argue with them!

You could spend weeks in Istanbul and not even scratch the surface of this city, so we really did not do it justice. Our accommodation influenced our decision to cut our four days into three.  We did however cram a lot into those 4 days, visiting many of the highlights:

The Blue Mosque rates along with the Vatican when it comes to religious buildings.  The blue Iznik tile work that decorates the interior is beautiful. Built in the early 1600’s, it’s a masterpiece.  Interestingly, the 6 minarets which rise above were considered to be a sacrilegious attempt to rival Mecca.  The minarets provide a focal point and these days vantage points for the loud speakers which make the call to prayer.

Topkapi Palace with its Harem, held over 1000 women, all vying for the attention of the Sultan in hope of bearing him a son and raise themselves above the mere existence of a slave.  The palace dates back to 1459 and comprises a number of pavilions and courtyards.  The collection of treasures amassed by the Ottoman Sultans is impressive; bejewelled helmets and swords, all glittering in precious stones.  One unexpected antiquity is the staff of Moses. Katrina and I being the good catholics that we are, are intrigued to find this artifact sitting a Turkish palace among Muslim artifacts.

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The Grand Bazaar is all hustle and bustle and most entertaining.   The shopkeepers are relentless in their quest for a sale and the opening lines they come up with are impressive.  They never take “no” for an answer and have a reply to every polite rejection you make.  In the end, Don is the only one who falls prey (the salesman in him can’t resist). He bargains for two polo shirts paying AUS$32. We are sure they still made money out of us, but we think $16 per shirt is a good deal.

The most talented people we see are the people delivering tea, negotiating their way through the crowded alleys, precariously balancing a tray with steaming sweet tea. Next is the spice markets, here the shopkeepers tempt you with sweet turkish treasures; baklava, turkish delight, nuts and traditional sweets.  The colourful and aromatic array of spices available is a sensory overload. After purchasing some treats for afternoon tea we head for fresh air!

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We wander down to the ferry terminal to check out the Bospherous boat tours. We come across a boat drumming up business for its next departure. We couldn’t refuse the $5 fare and jump on.  A great way to take in Istanbul and the landmarks is along the river. The food in Turkey is fresh and relatively simple.  We dine on traditional kebabs, koftas, meatballs and fresh seafood.  Generally a meal is served with a simple salad of tomatoes and cucumber and baked chips. Oh, and bread; how could I forget the bread!  Every meal comes with freshly baked bread, its hard to say no!

The CPI in Istanbul is expensive unless you are prepared to drink turkish coffee, or instant!   It’s a mission to find a ‘real’ coffee, but we do manage to find a regular place for a morning kick start.  A cappuccino is TL8 ($4).  The WCC (wine consumption cost) is also suffering from quality and exorbitant prices. I guess we should have expected that in a Muslim country.   Turkey does produce wine, just not very good wine.

The ANZAC Hotel is an old Ottoman styled wooden house, common in the older areas.  None of us are particularly precious travellers; we know you get what you pay for and ANZAC house is no exception. At €45 per night, divided by three, its cheap.  The room is a reasonable size, the bathroom clean, even if a little quirky, with the shower encompassing the entire bathroom.  However, the third bed is a rollout and does not end up being very comfortable and the biggest issue we had with the place is that in the top floor dining/common area the staff are smoking, heavily!  After an early dinner on our first night we head upstairs to relax and catch up on emails only to be overwhelmed with smoke.  Hence, we ended our stay a night early.

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