Arriving in Istanbul, Turkey, already made Europe feel like home. Our airport was on the Asian side of Istanbul but we immediately took a taxi across the Turkish Straits to our accommodation on the European side. Kaija had found us accommodation with a local Turkish man, Sinan, through Couchsurfing. Another Mexican couple stayed at his place and we were having a lot of fun and socializing already that night. Sinan was definitely the best host we have had throughout the trip. It is hard to imagine a more hospitable person. He had a large apartment and got a separate room for us. His hobby is cooking and he served us local dishes for breakfast and dinner. In doing so, he refused any assistance (financial or physical, that is, we would have been assisting with dishwashing, etc.). We spent three days as a five-star hotel and wondered if it was worth flying to Antalya at all: D
One day, Sinan took us to explore the city and showed us some of the most important sights. First, we took the ferry to downtown. In the Straits of Turkey, various ferry lines run throughout the day, transporting locals and tourists from different areas of the city to another. The ferry is comfortable and fast, and the ride is very enjoyable due to the great views. We even saw dolphins. In addition, the ferry ticket is very cheap – 2.5 Turkish lira which is around 40-euro cents.
Jaanus liked the ferry ride so much that the next day when we went to discover the city, we preferred the ferry to the subway.
While in Istanbul, we discovered that Turkey also has very cheap clothes and other necessary shopping. We had recently sent a package of clothes to Estonia from Bangkok, but in Turkey, we discovered that the clothes are even cheaper. So, we also bought some nice things from Turkey. From the sights, we visited the Blue Mosque, the Topkapı Castle, the underwater aqueducts, the Grand and the Spice Bazaar (local markets), and discovered the Old Town.
The Blue Mosque or Sultanahmet Camii was built by Sultan Ahmet I between 1609 and 1616. Every day Muslims go and visit to pray there. The building with a blue roof and six minarets is very beautiful in the pictures, but we saw only a small part of it as the mosque was being restored. The frustratingly long queue in front of the mosque’s entrance suggests that this is a place you should definitely visit.
Within walking distance of the famous mosque is the Topkapi Fort and the yard. There the Sultans lived with their companions. Topkapi Palace is today the largest museum in the city.
It was also fascinating to visit the Basilica Cistern, the aforementioned underground water reservoir that resembles a cave-like reservoir. The tank retains many architectural and antique statues but was also partially covered with construction film due to renovation work.
Walking the city, we had the opportunity to try local street food in addition to Sinan’s excellent food. Jaanus, for example, tried kokoreç, a sandwich stuffed with lamb intestines. Jaanus thought it was interesting, but would not buy a second time 😊 Kaija ordered mussels but only after they arrived she discovered, that the shells are actually also filled with the lamb intestines 😀
We also tasted local meatballs, which were very tasty.
We also ate a lot of cherries while because among other fruits they were extremely cheap.
Turkish ice cream vendors are also special and you have to be patient to get ice cream: =)
Our stay in Istanbul, however, was quite short for this huge city of 15 million people. Surely, we still have a lot to discover. But the first impression of Turkey was good and better than expected!