July 8, 2010 by jessperriam
I’m going to show you two pictures:
Nope… both of those pictures are of Istanbul – the city that’s like a love child of Sydney’s spectacular landscape and Melbourne’s awesome laneways, festivals and ability to surprise.
It’s hard to speak highly enough of this city.
There’s history: I spent two days wandering around the Sultanahmet district, marvelling at the intricacy of Topkapi Palace.
There’s history and religion and cheesy tourism. The Aya Sophia mosque started life as a cathedral, then it was converted into a mosque, then it was turned into a tourist attraction.
And then there’s the underground history of the Basilica Cisterns. When the Romans had their go at Istanbul, they built crazy underground water thingies… I actually don’t know much else about them, but they look good, right?
And then there’s the history… ha ha. No. No more history for now. Then there’s the gauntlet that is the Grand Bazar. You need your bargaining brain, a healthy bank balance and an empty bladder to make it out of there with:
b) a relatively healthy bank balance and,
c) a good appetite for all the apple tea they give you.
You will walk out of there with a carpet, whether you want one or not. Speaking of carpets, who wants one? Free to a good home…
And last but not least, my favourite part of the Sultanahmet district (mostly because it has nothing to do with having to fend off Turkish men) – the hammam.
I’m going to gloss over this because it involves partial nudity and let’s face it, now that I’ve mentioned partial nudity you’ve imagined me partially naked. Lucky for you, your imagination is probably painting a far better image than the stark reality. Pat your brain on the back for that.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaanyway. *Awkward moment*.
A hammam is another throwback to the Roman times. You sit in a marble sauna and a Turkish woman scrubs you all over, within an inch of your skin’s life. You look at the scunge that has just been scrubbed off and you feel filthy. A bucket of water thrown at you and then you get washed with delightfully glossy olive oil soap. Bliss. And finally you get your hair washed and you feel like a four year old again, sitting in a bathtub with your mum washing and rinsing your hair and that’s kind of comforting, everything’s safe and secure in the world. Never mind the fact you’re half naked with a Turkish woman who is humming her own little song. When in Istanbul, hey?
Halfway through my Istanbul week, I moved from Sultanahmet (dodgy man central) to Beyoglu – the cool action packed part of the city.
The main drag is the Istiklal and it’s where you shop, eat, drink and sleep if you want to. You can be who you want to be there.
Last night I was wandering down the Istiklal after dinner and I heard some live music. Istanbul has a great public transport system and there’s an old Melbourne style tram that goes from one end of the Istiklal to the other.
That evening the tram was pulling another open carriage with live music. Great live music. I spent a good hour or so following the tram up and down the Istiklal, dancing along to the songs. Even better, you can use your Akbil (the Istanbullu version of SmartRider or Oyster card) to hop on the tram that’s pulling along the band. And that’s exactly what I did.
Istanbul – it’s underrated. In the past 24 hours, I have walked down the Istiklal thinking (and sometimes even saying), “I love this city!”. If you’re going to go to any great city in the world, put this one on the top of your list.