postcard from Istanbul

Istanbul …Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Bazaars and bazaars again and again and mosques of course – so many architectural beauties that this city has to offer, that I was just turning my head from one side to another, not knowing where to look first. Simply amazing! Beautiful. I went to Istanbul with two touristic sites on my mind I had to visit- it was Blue mosque and Hagia Sophia. I plan to go back!
Therefore, this trip was just dedicated to simple pleasures, wandering through Istanbul, getting lost, talking to people, drinking čaj, eating burek, drinking čaj again, talking again to locals, just embracing the Istanbul spirit and lifestyle, and I have truly fallen in love with the soul of this city.
I was captivated by the beauties of Blue mosque and Hagia Sophia, but two things I will remember Istanbul by are walks along the sea of Marmara and čaj sipping in local čaj places.
In these occasions, walking by the seaside and čaj sipping, I met so many nice Turkish people who shared their stories with me.
As I was walking by the seaside, just 5 meters away from the sea of Marmara an older man approached me. He was selling čaj to the passers-bye. I had no intention of sitting down, I really enjoyed walking by the seaside, but something in the eyes of this nice, old man just stopped me from refusing a čaj offer from him.
I took čaj (1 TL) and went to sit on the bench next to his, took out my ‘travel novel’. (on Istanbul journey I was reading Jorge Bucay’s ‘Dejame que te cuente’). The old man brought me hot čaj in a beautiful glass cup. One minute later he came again and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. I don’t smoke, occasionally only, very rarely..but it was a nice gesture and puffing cigarette balloons into the air by the sea of Maramara was just a perfect moment. I was enjoying the cigarette, sipping čaj and reading the book. Ten minutes later an old man came again and he just looked at my cup, to check if the glass was empty. He just made a short wave with his hand and he smiled away, partly at me and partly at glass of čaj.
I knew he would come again to check…and 5 minutes later he was by my bench again. By that time my glass was empty and I showed him with my fingers that I would like one more čaj. He slightly bent down in his body and pressed his arm to his heart.
Čaj was ready in less than a minute.
Yet again he was stopping by my bench to check if I had finished another cup. When I sipped the whole of the 2nd čaj, he brought me another one and said simply ‘no money,no money’. He brought his arm to his heart again, showing that this čaj is on him and that he is honored to treat me with this cup.
I sat there for two hours or so, reading the book, enjoying the sight, looking at people, staring at the sea, enjoying the warm breeze. Two hours went by quickly and it was time to stand up and head towards the Kadikoy ferry stop. Still had to cross the Bosphorus and meet my friend on the other side of Istanbul.
I am still fascinated by this European and Asian parts of Istanbul.
So many stories from Istanbul…I could just walk through its streets and observe, and just go on like this for the first couple of months and only after getting a better image of the city I would go to visit its museums.
Just sitting in Istanbul, taking one spot and not moving for couple of hours can’t bore you. I am usually always in the movement, I love to walk and I can’t sit for too much and stay still but in Istanbul sitting meant travelling, just standing still for half an hour or hour or more, meant participating in a live theatre. In Istanbul even if you spend hours alone, you are never alone…well, at least I didn’t feel like this. There is always somebody who will approach you in this moving live theatre. Somebody will sit on the bench next to you and smile at you, say something in Turkish and although you make a gesture that you do not understand what they are saying they will just keep on talking on and on, just raising their voice and waving with both of their hands, to make themselves more understandable. It is a pity to interrupt such a conversation, it is just such a perfect image of Istanbul and hospitality of its people.
I had to go to Taksim. Had no idea where that was. Still had two hours to meet my friend and I was considering walking there. I was somewhere near the Grand Bazaar and I asked two men in the street about Taksim. One of them repeated loudly and very precisely just to check ‘Taksi’ or ‘Taksim’. ‘Taksim’ I said louder now, adapting to their way of communication. One of them took me by the hand and showed me all the streets I had to take, and where I had to turn right and where I had to turn left..all just using his hand. And I found the tram station. Somehow!
Still was holding onto this idea of walking to Taksim. When I asked the next passer-by about the distance from where I was and Taksim and made a signal with two of my fingers that I would like to walk, he just looked at me and his face showed just how much my mission was ‘mission impossible’.
I climbed the tram and arrived to Taksim hour later. Had no problems arriving because there was another passer-bye who took me by the hand and walked with me.
In the beginning I was a bit terrified by the dimensions of this city and inability to speak Turkish, but just one day in Turkey proved me wrong..I didn’t speak Turkish and most Turkish didn’t speak English but I always managed to get the answers to my questions and find the directions and places I was asking for. Amazing, truly amazing city!

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Touring the Balkans

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This is a continuation of ‘why not travel when you have nothing smarter to do?’. Part 2:)

After a short planning and after a very long desire and itchy feet and day from day growing desire to go, move and do something, and avoid simply sitting, waiting and checking emails and job ads…I decided for yet another travel..this one being more spontaneous, adventurous and exciting than Albania travel. (of course earning some money is a must, so after month and half of substitute teaching I set on another trip.)

This time I went to Istanbul! This is a post to all future travellers who wish to explore Balkan better but don’t manage to find sufficient information on all those train and bus sites.

As I was travelling alone, the plan was to travel as much as possible during the day or if during the night, then take the bus. I took a night train from Zagreb to Belgrade (return ticket 35E). I had a great and unexpected farewell. I climbed into the train and tried to find a seat next to someone who was also heading towards Belgrade. I never heard that somebody got robbed or that any other mishap occurred on this train, but just for the safety and also sleep issues I wanted to be on the safe side. I sat next to this older couple that were heading towards Croatian Serbian border. By the time they left the train it was already dawning and so my anxiety and fears of travelling alone by train have dispersed.

Belgrade was my first stop and first change in plans occurred there. Initially, I was planning to continue with Balkan plex train (goes directly to Istanbul and you can hop on/off five times which would allow me to visit Sofia and continue from there to Istanbul). The lady at the counter informed me though that the train has not been running for the last three months! I was confused and shocked and a big question mark appeared above my head asking ‘ what should I do know?’ and ‘How will I get to Sofia?’. The next train was about to leave only in the late evening hours and that meant spending the whole day in Belgrade. I knew that I had to be prepared for these slight changes in plan..it just always happens, but still ..it would be nice if everything would run smoothly?!!:)

I went to the bus stop and checked for the buses, had one leaving to Sofia at 12h and passing through Niš where we had to change to another bus. Return ticket Belgrade-(Niš)-Sofia was 4600 dinari (40E).

‘Everything solves in the end’, I thought to myself and I decided not to upset from now on this journey and just to embrace shifts that occur in planned route as they come, and to deal with them when they appear. It turned out to be a good philosophy as it really turned out to work for me. Somehow the whole trip went smoothly, without any major shifts, without any unexpected and undesired situations.

I spent one night in Sofia. First encounter with Sofia bus terminal got me thinking ‘how will I ever manage to meet my friends here??’. Nice lady working at the Metro buses counter gave me her telephone to ring my friends. Very, very thoughtful of here since it was 22h already and Sofia bus terminal is not the prettiest place to be at night. I managed to meet with Ruslan and Vicky and we headed towards one pub to catch up on all the things that we had to tell each other.

Next morning around 9h I caught the bus for Istanbul. If you are planning on going to Istanbul by bus from Sofia, take Metro buses. It’s Turkish bus company. Return ticket costs 98lev (50E). Make sure to come to Sofia bus station early enough to find your way around cause it is a bit like a maze. Each bus company has its own stand, so you’ll spend some time walking around and looking for the one you need. Another problem you might encounter is of course language barrier and Cyrillic alphabet. I got by using Croatian. English wasn’t very much of the help in Sofia.

Exciting but also nerve wracking…especially after ten-hour drive in a bus and having to look for the bus company to make a reservation, and nobody has the slightest idea where that company might be…it took me one hour, just walking around, knocking on different doors (information office was of no help, the lady didn’t even speak basic English) to find the bus company on Sofia terminal that took me from Belgrade to Sofia, to make a reservation for return trip. (Reservations are must do, once you decide on your date of return).

Was very happy when I met with Ruslan and Vicky and when I could turn ‘switch off’ button and just let be led by them.

It took us 9 hours to reach Istanbul. The trip went without any troubles. The bus even had a hostess and the passengers were offered tea, coffee, muffins…definitely go for Metro buses. The bus arrived on time to Istanbul. We made a few short stops and had no problems when crossing the border. All in all it took us hour or so to cross Bulgarian and Turkish border and then we had 15 minutes to spend in duty-free.

I was happy to be in Istanbul! Already then a series of happy events started happening…(I was/am really thrilled with the kindness and hospitality of Turkish people).

I was waiting in the line for the toilet. It was one of those toilets where you need to have a coin to be able to enter it. I had no coins, had dinars, levs on me, Euros in notes, but had no coins of Euro. I kind man behind me, just pushed 1 Euro coin in my hand and said shortly’ take it’. It was such a simple gesture but the one that really knocked me off my feet and as it turned out later, I experienced many situations like this one in Istanbul. It was either an offer for a free čaj (tea), or a free coin to pass Bosporus, or an invitation to go on a free ride along Bosporus…Turkish people are truly great hosts.

I met with my Turkish friend at Byrampasha bus stop and this great Turkish adventure had begun. Of course it took us half an hour to find each other. We drove off from Byrampasha bus stop, European side, to Asian side. It is really exciting to pass from one continent to another.

More on my Turkish adventures later on…to be continued.