So a person would think by now seeing a woman in full burka wouldn't be a big deal. I thought so too, until today, while I'm waiting to use the washroom on the plane. The door unlatches and opens, and out walks a woman in full jet black burka, and for some reason in my horribly twisted mind a tiny voice cries out "holy fuck, there's a Jawa on the airplane!"
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
I've seen a ton of fully berka'd women during my time in Turkey, usually the ones that still have the face exposed, but quite a few who's only exposed body part is their eyes. And that's a shame considering that upon seeing their eyes, one can tell how obviously beautiful many of them are.
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
I'm back in Istanbul, the first step of my three stage journey back home. Tomorrow I head to London to spend the night there before I catch my flight to Calgary, then head back to Edmonton to my girlfriend, family, and (goddammit) job.
My last day in Istanbul was swelteringly hot. I think I've picked the perfect time to visit this country; it was hot on the coast, and getting to the same point by the time I reached the east. I think July and August would be too hot to comfortably walk to all the sights that I did during my time here, evidence being how much I sweat today. I walked up to Galata Tower and had some great views of Istanbul, then took a walk through the Spice Market and Grand Bazaar. That really reinforced that Istanbul is not the place to buy souvenirs; a couple shop owners were very hostile to bargaining, and I didn't even try to lowball them for half price. To escape the midday heat I went underground to the Basilica Cistern, which is a large underground reservoir built by one of the Holy Roman Emperors. Then I went back to the hostel and chilled out with a new book and a couple beers.
Turkey has been a great place. I had a little bit of a rough patch in the middle but overall the country was amazing. The amount of ruins were mindblowing. It seemed that everywhere a person looked there was some kind of ancient or historical ruin to view. What I liked the most were the ruins in their ancient, unmolested form: the snaked infested walk through the hillside ruins in Bergama, the castle in Kizkalesi, and the seaside Roman city of Knidos.
My favorite destinations in Turkey were Bergama (its non-touristy feel and great ruins), Antalya (a beautiful city and amazing place to relax), and Cappadoccia (I love hiking). The one thing I have not a single complaint about is the food. I will dearly miss Turkish cuisine, especially Baklava, I love that dessert. The people here are great. Some are a little shy towards foreigners, but I found people were very receptive in non tourist areas where a foreign face isn't a regularity. I never felt threatened or ever had to worry about my valuables being stolen, which I think says a lot about the people here. The transport network was great; buses are comfortable and well connected. The train network could be better, but hopefully the future will change that. Oh yeah, and Efes beer is damn good.
What I didn't like about Turkey was the overrun of package tourism, which actually isn't in the force it should be due to the ongoing unrest that started when I arrived. Marmaris and Fethyie were utterly fake and numb, much like Cancun, Mexico. Prices were cheaper than home, but not quite as cheap as Asia. The backpacker scene is, unfortunately, not very well established in Turkey. Hostels were ad hoc, at best. I had a hard time meeting fellow backpackers in many places, and found that there was quite a different breed of them compared to what I was used to meeting on the other side of Asia. I suppose you could label these ones 'flashpackers'.
Would I come back? Not in the near future. If Turkey happened to be on the way to another future destination I wouldn't hesitate to stop by for a little more time, but for now I'll continue to explore new countries and new experiences.
Sunday, June 23, 2013
I have some catching up to do. My last day in Cappadoccia was really the last relax day I was going to have for the rest of my trip. The other days were going to involve sight seeing or transport. Being that my hostel had an outdoor swimming pool and the weather was hot, I decided to do absolutely nothing all day.
I caught my bus at 7:30, witnessing a little drama at the bus station beforehand. Turkey controls the stray cat and dog population, but they allow a few to roam around. I think it's smart, they seem to love tourists, which are an important source of food for them. During my days in Goreme, a friendly, possibly dim-witted mutt would come around the hostel looking for attention, and I would periodically find and pet him around town. He happened to show up at the bus terminal as I was getting there, and became the target of a pit bull that was loosely tied up to a post. The pit bull got loose and latched onto nice dog's neck, and in pit bull style, would not let go. At this point all the tourists are watching, some yelling to make it stop, but taking no action. The dim witted looking owner is pulling on the leash of his aggressive dog, but generally doing nothing. I walk up to tell him to help, telling him to pull on its ears or give it a quick poke in the eye, and the fucker physically shoves me off. About ten seconds later the pit bull lets go and nice dog runs away with a sore neck. There are no bad dogs, only bad owners.
After a bit of a run around I got to the train station in Kayersi and booked a ticket. Not many tourists take the trains here, so I was an instant novelty. Shortly after sitting down at an outside table I had a young guy sit down and try to practice his English, then a philosophy professor, and another really cool old man. This made the wait go by much quicker. Of course I have to post a photo of a guy sleeping in the station in the most uncomfortable position I could ever imagine, his smelly feet right near my thigh.
Trains are hands down the best way to travel overland. They usually deviat from the highway and follow a more scenic path alongside a river or through an amazing valley. Such was the case with my trip. I boarded at 1am, crashed in my bunk until 8am, and woke up to the spectacular scenery I just described. After a quick breakfast in the dining car, I preoccupied myself with book, music and Curb Your Enthusiasm.
Unfortunately for me, because of track work, I couldn't take the train all the way to Kars, instead I had to get off in Erzurum and catch a bus. And of course that authoritarian ass of a Turkish prime minister, the one who's basically been the cause of all the riots during my time here, had to be holding one of his public manipulation rallies. This caused the main roads to be closed, and I had to walk to the bus station. At this point I had been on a train for 15 hours, and was looking at another three hours on a bus. Que annoyance. I managed to get to Kars at 9pm, quickly finding a hotel, eating, and secluding myself in my room.
The next day I caught a hotel run minibus to Ani, an ancient city smack dab against the border of Armenia. It turns out I was lucky, there was six more tourists that had signed up for it, which saved me quite a bit of money. The city was huge, perched above a canyon who's river served as the border between Turkey and Armenia. The city had some very impressive ancient churches, and took about 2 1/2 hours to walk through the entire site.
I'm starting to feel a little ruin'd out at this point, after a month of seeing them nearly every place I visited, and I'm glad that Ani is the last one. The amazing and different landscape of the east made for a great last place to visit before I start my slow progression home through Istanbul tomorrow. I have one more day there, a day in London, and I'll be back home!
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Every now and then you meet a certain type of traveller, one that revels in the fact that their traveling, completely soaked in the notion that they're a type of rare, hardcore traveller. Usually these types can be easily spotted by their immodesty.
I had met one of these clones in Istanbul weeks prior, and had kindly evaded a suggestion of traveling with him. I again ran into him in Antalya, staying at the same hostel as I was. He was a really nice guy, but so absorbed in himself and his travels that I really didn't think much of him. I'll explain this point by point, trying to shed light on the traveling culture at the same time.
The first thing I didn't like about him was his notion that he was a travel writer, when in fact he has a travel blog, which are dime a dozen. I have one, and no illusions that I'm a professional or even close to that level. He even had a business card describing himself as a travel writer, which was probably the worst one I've ever seen in my life. The words were smudged. The worst part of it all was how he used this self imposed title as a way to extort free accommodation out of hotels and guest houses on his route, feeding them the notion that he would profile them on his blog, which he claimed had over 15,000 views in three months. Not even Lonely Planet writers will do this. How do I know? I just met one. This guy had no intention of becoming a travel writer or dabbling in the business, his chief motive was to exploit local businesses for his monetary benefit. And his blog is called Life Waits for No One. I almost barfed in my mouth.
His plan for his trip was using the round the world ticket to visit a ton of destinations on nearly every continent, usually spending short amounts of time in each country before returning home to a planned job. In my experience, lesser time is the enemy of experience. This is exactly why I try to spend as long as I can in each country I visit. It's all about odds; the more time you are present, the more opportunity and better odds you'll experience the local culture. I believe this is where many people miss out; they fail to recognize the difference between sightseeing and traveling. A person can visit a country and see every famous attraction, but if they fail to take the time to interact and immerse themselves in the culture, they lose a huge connection to that place that can intensely amplify the quality of experiences.
Basically my opinion is that this man gives a bad name to true travelers. The exploitation of travel writing, which in itself is a niche of hard and creative people deserving of credit for their work, annoyed me. On his part he has essentially failed to grasp the concept of freeing your mind. The planned route and date for returning home are exclusive doctrines for the spiritual journey. Removing yourself from the world of planning, of set dates, worries about time time efficiencies is the way to amazing freedom and expansion of the mind. To be a traveller truly free of all the stresses of the modern world, to wander the earth at will with little inhibitions is the greatest thing a person can do.
So don't travel like this man. Be modest. Learn. Feel. Experience.
Everyone in Cappadoccia does a hot air balloon ride when they come here. It's the most popular attraction, and at a price around 100 Euros, it's a small fortune. Myself and another guy, Mike, were rebels and decided instead we're going to compromise, save money and climb a nearby mountain called Bozdag to get some decent views of the valley. The climb up was pretty steep and quick, it only took about 20 minutes, and when at the top we could hike the long plateau at will. The views were incredible, like the one below. The best part of it all: we found out from some people that did the balloon rides that the balloon doesn't go higher than the mountain peak. So essentially we saved ourselves $180, got the same views, didn't have to get up at 4am, stayed up on the mountain for more than the half hour balloon ride, and now have the satisfaction of working for it. Like a boss.
After that we descended through Rose Road, which is a pretty cool limestone valley that takes you through a bunch of tunnels. After that we hit up a rock castle in Cavusin. Calling it a castle is a stretch, it's basically a large rock formation with tunnels burrowed into it; I'd call it an ancient apartment building, but nonetheless, it was totally awesome.
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
Yesterday's bus ride was a little disturbing. About an hour and a half outside of Cappadoccia we passed a traffic accident on the other side of the highway. There was a bunch of paramedics working on some people inside the car, which was pretty badly smashed up. About twenty feet in front of the car another paramedic was putting a sheet over what had to be a child. That messed me up; death is a part of life but when you're witness to it, especially the death of someone so young and innocent, it hits home hard. I felt it was quite a sign to see that while I'm traveling, like it was an indication to keep living life to the fullest, because it doesn't last a long time for every person.
And now for the positive stuff. Cappadoccia is crazy, it looks like something out of a fantasy book, like Lord of the Rings. Thousands of homes have been cut into the limestone rock valleys in this area, some at really weird elevations in the rock, seemingly inaccessible. Valleys and canyons snake their way through the landscape, making surreal views like the one below.
Today I walked, and walked, and walked. I must have covered around twenty five kilometers through the valleys around Goreme, the place I'm staying. I'm going to attempt to climb a mountain outside of town tomorrow to get an incredible view of the landscape, but that's entirely dependent on how my legs feel tomorrow, because they're a little tired right now.
Sunday, June 16, 2013
For being less than a kilometer away, the Kizkalesi Castle was a lot more difficult to get to than I thought it would be. The first guys I talked to told me I would have to rent one of those stupid two seater paddle boats for an hour, 20 lira. Since there was no way in hell I was rowing around in a dolphin shaped paddle boat by myself, I looked for other options, and ended up finding a taxi boat at the other end of the beach. The castle was pretty cool, you could wander along the walls at will, but the Turks have erected big lamps along the inside and outside of the walls to light it up in different colours at night. Very corny.
The best ruins lay at the east end of the beach. An old castle that served as the fortress for a Roman city, it's hardly been restored and is quite overgrown, which made it really cool. I wandered along the old walls along the edge of an ocean fed moat, and through the ruins of the interior city. I can imagine the castle itself must have been massive during its time, probably housing over a thousand people. Sadly I didn't bring my iPod with me so I have no pictures to share right now.
Tomorrow I leave here early for Cappadoccia, which I've heard is incredible. I'll stay there four days before catching a long train journey to the very east of the country, the last new destination on this trip!
Saturday, June 15, 2013
My last days in Antalya were just as awesome as the first. I managed to rack up some more hours at the beach, and find a sweet spot to drink beer with people from the hostel, on an old staircase at some bluffs over the sea.
I arrived in Kizkalesi after a very long (10 hour) bus ride. I actually arrived earlier than I thought I would. The lady I booked my ticket through didn't speak a lick of English; consequently I thought I would have to drive further to Mersin, change buses and backtrack an hour and a half. Thankfully the bus did end up going through Kizkalesi, and I saved myself a lot of time. The road there was pretty crazy, winding high along cliffs overlooking the ocean, the road barely wide enough at the turns to accommodate our bus and another car.
Kizkalesi itself is an odd city. It's a Turkish vacation spot, mostly free of Westerners, which makes it an odd amalgamation of relaxation and eastern tourism. On the street of my hotel are about ten tattoo shops, lined up one after the other. And right next to the beach are rows of those punching bag score machines that class the place right up. I don't really dig the fact that you essentially have to pay to use the beachfront, as all the space along the water is leased out to cabana chair companies who charge 10 lira to use one. The Turkish people should add that to the list of things to protest.
I headed out to the Caves of Heaven and Hell today, just outside of the city. The Heaven cave (I think this one should have been the hell) was a steep descent down and ancient set of stone steps, past an old temple, that became more and more slippery the further you descended into the cave. I have Vibram soles on my shoes and I still had a hard time, I can't imagine how the regularly Turkish tourists in their sneakers managed. The cave is about fifteen degrees cooler than outside, and is very damp. The best and most eerie part of the cave was when you went right to the back of it and could hear the muffled sound of rushing water from a river running beneath the cave, a slow rumble that gave the impression you were descending into a dreadful place. And they named this one Heaven! I didn't try to go any further back into the cavs, due to the fact that I was alone and had 20% left on my IPod battery. The Hell cave was viewed from a platform above, and looks like a giant hole, although apparently there is another shaft that goes even deeper, but cannot be viewed from above.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
The first two weeks of this trip I hadn't had the chance to get my shirt off and work on my tan, so prior to coming to Antalya I had tanned nothing but my head and arms. Now that I've had a chance to hit the beach, I've been able to start evening out my horrible complexion. I've been having mixed results, a little bit of tan, a little bit of burn. It's so goddam hot here, the past two days have been in the mid thirties. Yesterday I went to a local beach right next to the old Roman harbour. You have to pay to get in but well worth it for the time it saves to get to the main beach, and they give you a cabana, and they serve beer. Win win.
I've booked a bus ticket out for Friday, heading for Kizkalesi. It could be a bit of a journey; the bus ride is long and I'll have to backtrack, but I'll persevere!
Monday, June 10, 2013
Antalya has been a reconciliation between Turkey and I. On the way here I happened to be on the same bus as an Australian guy, Wayne, that I hung out with a bit in Selcuk. He even happened to be heading for the same guest house as me. The staff put us in a three bed room since the six bed dorm was full, and he left this morning so I have a room to myself, while still paying hostel rates!
Antalya seems like a really cool city. The old historic section of the city is where most of the pensions and boutique hotels are located, and the area is mostly closed off to vehicles so it's really quiet. I hit up the old Roman Harbour and a beach in the city, both of which are very beautiful. The beach was pebbles instead of sand, but was still cool. I ended up with a good sunburn so tomorrow ill have to figure out something minimal sun-related, maybe the museum.
I've booked in here until Wednesday but the way this city feels so far I might end up staying until Friday. Things are groovy again, the universe is so cool! (Into the Wild reference)
Saturday, June 8, 2013
I seem to be having quite the streak of bad luck lately, and I'm starting to get quite annoyed with it. I wake up at 6am this morning to another one of those big spiders in my room. It's obvious that with two of them in two different bungalows in as many nights, it's a common thing here. And with my fear of spiders, staying here is out of the question. It's going to be in the back of my mind all the time, making me nervous and becoming an unnecessary stress. I'm going to head to Antalya and try to turn this trip around from the rut it's become mired in.
The second day of biking didn't quite go as planned. About ten minutes outside of Datca I had a bug fly inside my helmet, and I pulled over so I could remove it. As I was slowing down, nearly to a stop, I began to hit gravel. In a classic stupid motorcycle move, I broke the two finger rule (apply no more pressure on the front brake than your two fingers can manage) and the front brake locked up and skidded sideways in the gravel, taking the scooter down and me with it. It was really minor, I wasn't going fast so all I ended up with is a bruise on my shoulder and a small scrape on my hand. The scooter took the brunt of it, the left mirror broke off and the fender was pretty scratched. Better it than me.
So that ended my scooter trip. My shoulder was sore so I didn't really want to ride too much anymore. I finished the ride back to Marmaris and handed the scooter back, having to fork out a little extra money for the damage. Insurance is such a waste of time in the developing world. I caught a bus right away to Fethyie and arrived at a guest house that didn't live up to my expectations. There was only one other guy in the dorm with me, and I only briefly talked to him in the morning. The lack of fellow backpackers since Istanbul has come as a surprise to me, the last week hasn't been overly social.
I got up today and quickly headed out for the Lycian tombs that are carved into the cliff face, trying to make it there before the heat of the day set in. It beat me by a mile; by 10:30 it was scorching hot. After a week or so of going hard, moving around often and doing lots of site seeing, I was getting the feeling I needed some relax time at the beach to recharge the batteries. And as is always my philosophy while traveling, I followed my gut instinct and deviated from the plan, heading for Kabak.
I caught the minibus there and arrived at 2. Kabak is basically a deep valley surrounded by high mountains, with cabin guesthouses set up along the sides, with a path leading to a secluded beach below. I chose the first guest house I came to, the highest one up the valley, because I'd rather do the climb five times without a backpack than once with it, dying in the intense heat.
I chose the cool, shaded bungalow that was encloased under a large tree, not stopping to think of the reprocussions of that decision. They quickly made themselves known when I organizing some things and noticed a movement to my right. A spider nearly the size of my hand ran across the wall, and I got the fuck out. The guest house owner came to kill it, and attempted with his hand and a leaf (making me look like a pussy) but ended up driving it up into the rafters. Needless to say I changed to the most exposed, hottest, non-basement-like bungalow.
As was usually the case with my spider encounters on my last trip, I'm going to regard this one as a rare event and count on it not happening again. Fingers crossed. I'll concentrate on the positive vibes, for this place seems pretty cool so far. The beach is chill and not touristy at all, everything has good energy to it.
Thursday, June 6, 2013
The ride from Marmaris was beautiful! The road winds high through the mountains, offering spectacular views of the coastline below. It took me about an hour and a half to get to Datca, arriving there about 1. I was thinking I would have to pay more for a room in Datca, due to it being more isolated, but I managed to get a whole apartment for the same price as my room in Marmaris! It goes to show how this is the real Turkey, not some tourist facade. My waiter tonight at a beach front restaurant didn't even speak English. The real Turkey.
The ride to Knidos was even better. The rode again is high up in the mountains, but hardly has any traffic on it. There was about two people at Knidos. The ancient city ruins there have quite an authentic feel; there's been little or no restoration done, and it's not overrun with tourists. The busiest aspect of the area is the bay full of sailboats, sailed by rich people throughout the Mediterranean, stopping in beautiful blue coves for a break. What a life. It just reaffirmed that giving sailing a try is one of my life goals.
It turned out I had made a monumentally stupid error on my way to Knidos; I had left Datca with only a 1/3rd of a tank of gas. I don't know why I thought it was enough. I arrived at Knidos with just over a quarter of a tank. On the way back that quarter went fast. By fast I mean I was at the bottom of the empty line by nearly half way. Fast! The highway is basically straight up the first half and straight down the second half. If I made it halfway, I was golden. I was feathering the throttle that last bit of the hill, keeping it at 20km/h and praying that last drop of fuel brought me to the crest. It did. I crested the mountain and coasted nearly all the way, arriving in town on the last breaths of fuel. Lesson learned. Not that it would have been a dangerous scenario had I run out, just a massive pain in the ass.
Tomorrow I'll head back towards Marmaris, making a quick detour onto the Bozburun peninsula before trying to catch a bus to Fethyie. Of course, this time I'll have lots of gas...
Wednesday, June 5, 2013
Doing Ephesus as a quick trip was a really good idea. Selcuk seemed like a really nice town and it would be cool to explore the area, both attractions within the town were closed. Ephesus itself was impressive, but unfortunately the ugly modern footprint of mass tourism has scoured the ruins. The once hella impressive amphitheater is now lined with chain link fences to keep the dumbasses from falling off the edges, and hordes of tour groups in every language shuffle through the pathways.
My first day in Marmaris and I'm hoping this is not the example of how all Turkish beach towns are like. It's a really nice area, but the town is totally overpriced (food is almost twice the price of Istanbul) and its loaded with vacationers, not really the type of place for a grizzled (not really, i just shaved) veteran backpacker like me. I managed to get a pretty cheap room though. It's a little run down, but $16 for a private room isn't bad. To top off the bad, I had an attempted scam which I thwarted, and the castle is closed.
The positive of this post: I'm leaving this vacationer hole behind tomorrow and heading back into real Turkey. I rented a scooter (sorry, baby) and will be cruising the Datca and Bozburun peninsulas, checking out amazing hidden bays and spectacular countryside for two days. At the end of the Datca peninsula is Knidos, an ancient Roman port city, which is lower key and I'm hoping will have the same feel as Pergamum did. On the way out I'll be swinging by the bus station to plan a quick lightning fast exit out of Marnaris upon my return.
Monday, June 3, 2013
I don't know how that hostel clerk in Istanbul thought Bergama was no good; he should be shot for it. I love it here. The ruins are incredible! It's an amazing thing to look at something two thousand years old. Once you're out of sight of the vehicles, people, and modern noise, you step into the reality of a world as it was two millennia ago. The wind still blows, the sun still shines, and the birds still sing. Paradise.
The main upper part of the city, such as the temple of Trajan and the amphitheater were really cool and I spent a long time roaming around. I had taken the gondola on the way up so I decided that taking the path back to town via the lower section had to be done. I started walking along the narrow, grass lined path, minding my own business, when I heard a rustle in the grass next to me, and BAM, this giant brown snakes crashes out of the grass about two feet in front of me, darting across the path and down the hill into more grass. After that I took it a little slower. Thankfully I had packed my monopod with me, which I used to beat the grass ahead of me to make noise, as I had seen a guide in Thailand do. It worked, I scared two more out of the grass, then saw two more from a distance further down. In addition to the turtle I saw at the top, I saw a lot of wildlife today!
The if the Askepilos of Pergamum was amazing, the Acropolis has no words capable of describing how great it was. The ancient city is fortified on a hilltop above Bergama, specifically placed there to offer protection from the enemies of Greece. This didn't guarantee safety, however, as the city fell to many different conquerors, one of them being Alexander the Great. As I type this I may be sitting on ground where his phalanx formations once marched. Very cool.
It was definitely worth the snakes, however, as there was not a soul on the trail and not a bit of restoration had been done to the ruins in this section, which gave it an authentic feel. I'm torn on whether to leave for Ephesus tomorrow, or stay another day, because I really like this town, but have seen all of its important sights. With hourly buses going to Izmir every day I don't have to stress about it too much.
Sunday, June 2, 2013
Today was a great day to be on the bus. I awoke to a slow rain and grey skies that persisted all the way out if Istanbul, which is a huge city that seems to go on forever. The bus I took was pretty nice! It had air conditioning, TVs in every seat back, and comfortable seats. For some reason they have a channel that plays a feed from a camera on the front of the bus. I have no idea who would watch that, I forsee it making me sick very quickly.
Saturday, June 1, 2013
Hostels can be great resources for information about what to do, where to go, and how to get there. But like everything, they're not perfect. Sometimes you need to take the initiative and figure things out for yourself. Such was the case for me today. I had planned on taking a bus to Bergama to see the ancient city of Pergamum as my next destination after Istanbul. The hostel clerk first told me there were no direct buses there, and then that there were no hotels. Wikitravel and my guidebook both said otherwise, so I decided to try for myself. After inquiring at travel agencies the past couple days, I caught the tram to the main bus terminal and ended up booking a ticket, in rudimentary English, to Bergama for tomorrow morning. It remains to be seen if it will actually be worth it, but such is the risk with traveling. I'm still keeping strong the philosophy of not a step backward. Backtracking leads to wasted time, and wasted time is wasted experiences.
After my bus ticket errand I headed to the Grand Bazaar, after downing some delicious falafel. The bazaar was basically like any other large indoor market I've seen in China or Australia, but I did manage to pick up some stuff, including a pretty ballin watch. I'm not really sure if I got a good price; I talked him down to 200 lira from 490, and it was a hard bargain, but something feels like I still paid a little more than I should have. I'm not going to stress about it though, it is a pretty nice watch.
After that I went to the Blue Mosque, and felt a heavier spiritual influence than I did at Hagia Sofia. Something about seeing people involved in their religion firsthand always makes it more intense than the building itself. I also took a quick walk through the Mosaic Museum, admiring the amazing, and probably tedious work that the ancient artists put into arranging thousands and tiny pieces into a picture that covered an entire floor of a palace.
(note: this post was written yesterday)
Istanbul has made a great first impression of Turkey. I flew in yesterday on a quick journey from London. We had a great tail wind that helped us arrive a half hour early. The funniest part of the flight was at Gatwick Airport, where I had to buy a new hair trimmer to shave my head with, since the higher voltage in Europe caused mine to operate so fast it wouldn't cut my hair (don't ask me how that works). I bought a kit in the terminal, after I had passed through airport security. I opened it up later to find a pair of 3" hair scissors. I probably bought them at the airport as people were getting their nail clippers seized at security. Airport security is such a joke.
I departed the airport after a lightning quick walk through customs, grabbing my bag off the carousel in less than a minute. I jumped on the tram and headed into Istanbul. First impression was India lite; it had some smells, like car exhaust and cooking street food, and the sounds of car horns. Thankfully Turkey decided to skip the cow shit.
I arrived at my hostel at 7, tired and hungry. I decided to chill out, and opted for eating and drinking Turkish beer on the hostel rooftop.
The next day I headed into the Hagia Sofia, a giant mosque turned into museum; one of the prime highlights of Istanbul. The sheer size and magnitude of it was incredible! It dwarfs most other sights I've seen before, including the Taj Mahal. The artwork and detail inside is simply stunning.
Later that day I went on a boat tour of the Bosphorus strait with some people from the hostel. The views of the city were awesome. What wasn't awesome was when the wind blew the tear gas from a protest on the Asian side into the strait, unbeknownst to us until it started burning our eyes. (the protest is about plans to demolish a park in favour of building a shopping mall)
Afterwards we headed out for dinner, which was delicious. If this first day of Turkish food is any indication of the month to come, I'm going to be returning home a fat man! For dessert we went and smoked some flavored sheesha, and were all thoroughly stoned when we left the bar.