Update 6 - The Istanbul Experience
We love Istanbul! Personally I don't go in for cities
much - I'm a country boy (Andy) - but Istanbul is the
best city ever. Just as well, because we ended up staying
there for over 2 weeks!
Our love affair with Istanbul didn't start to well
though. The ride in was not exactly a pleasant pootle
in the park. The roads in Istanbul are ruled by thousands
of yellow taxis - and anyone who gets in their way is
fair game - especially if they are on a bike. They don't
use indicators here, and we later learned that they
use their horns instead - one beep for left, two for
right and multiple beeps for "please move out the
way swiftly, my dear chap", possibly.
We stayed at the Yucelt Hostel right beside the Aya
Sofya in the centre of the tourist area, Sultanahmet.
This place was to become our home for a quarter of the
trip so far, and realising this, Matt and I decided
to rough it on the terrace under the stars, whilst Adrian
moved into a cheap hotel in Aksaray, the place to stay
in Istanbul (where he was served çay by a little
guy who looked like NikNak from James Bond's "The
Man With The Golden Gun"). A visa for Iran was
the priority during our stay in Istanbul and after a
nervous (but thoroughly enjoyable!) 11-day wait we were
So why exactly is Istanbul so good? That's a hard one
to answer, actually. Istanbul has an atmosphere like
nowhere else we have ever been. All the guidebooks describe
it as an "East meets West" place. This, together
with the Turkish hospitality, friendliness and liveliness
sometimes makes the place feel a little crazy.
Aya Sofya - an ancient basilica (built during the
Byzantine Empire around 532AD) and later converted
to a mosque by the Ottomans. Now it's a museum.
The Blue Mosque - an extravagant and beautiful
mosque, both outside and inside.
Süleymaniye Mosque - a larger, simpler and
less popular mosque, but no less beautiful. The
courtyard in front of the mosque was so cool and
peaceful - perfect for people watching.
The Bosphorus - the narrow strait that separates
Europe and Asia, and connects the Med and Black
Seas - a busy and bustling place.
Istanbul is a great place for hungry cyclists. Okke
and Suzan, our Dutch friends who arrived in Istanbul
one week before, introduced us to perhaps the best place
to eat in the whole of Istanbul. They were staying in
Aksaray, a few tram stops from Sultanahmet, and had
discovered a restaurant which was always crammed with
locals, day and night. They named it "The Grey
Wolf" after the boss - a friendly old Turkish guy
with grey slicked back hair. It was one of those Turkish
food bar places, where you just point to what you fancy
and one minute later it is served in front of you with
bread that is so fresh it is too hot to eat and a bowl
of tasty Ayran - a sort of yoghurty buttermilk drink.
Nobody spoke a word of English but they were so friendly
it quickly became a favourite of ours. Adrian ended
up eating breakfast and dinner there - it's so cheap!
£1 typically for as much as you can eat. Elsewhere,
there were kebab places everywhere. In contrast to the
UK, kebaps in Turkey are not a post-drinking snack that's
always regretted later - here the kebab is a super tasty
snack for all meals (bar breakfast perhaps).
We can suggest: Paçaci Hasan, Sok No. 8, 1 Aksaray.
(The Grey Wolf).
If you want anything (except decent cycle touring
tyres and a cheap good SW radio), you can buy it somewhere
in Istanbul, probably. There are two huge bazaars -
the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar - but they are
a bit disappointing - loads of tourists, tacky T-shirts,
overpriced carpets and hassling shopkeepers. Between
and around the bazaars were many more shops selling
everything - pots and pans, backgammon sets, Turkish
Delight, jewellery, clothes and more clothes. All cheap
too. In fact there was hardly any point in haggling
- just learn your 1 to 10 in Turkish and listen to what
the stallkeepers are shouting at any potential Turkish
Aksaray was also the place to get a super dooper haircut
and cut-throat shave for silly money. Our friendly barbers,
Fevzi and Erhan, even made my attempt at a beard look
respectable. And the conversations as they cut your
hair were far better than those back home in the UK,
so long as the topic was Galatasaray football club!
Çok Guzel! Also every time we would walk past
they would wave and offer us çay and fruit!
But it's not the sights and shops that make a city.
It's the people - the people you meet and the people
you observe everyday and everywhere. Even tourists are
interesting people-watching material in Istanbul. We
must now say a big thank you to everybody we met for
making our stay in Istanbul so great (please note that
some of these are not their real names!):
Mehmet - the most laid back carpet seller in the
whole of Turkey, who supplied us with çay
and raki, and whose friends - the waiter and the
security guard - entertained us with their belly
Wobbly Kebab Man - nice kebabs. Yum yum.
The Grey Wolf - real name Hosik Memet - and all
his friendly staff. Tasty food, all the time.
Happy Fatty Pastry Man - nice fatty pastry things
and always happy.
Funny Rip Off Çay Man - how do 3 çays
cost 2 million when 1 çay costs ½
The Happy Barbers - real names Fevzi Turkgeldi
and Erhan Cetin - Go Galatasaray!!! And please don't
give Katharina the the cutthroat razor again, dodgy!
- Cetin and Alp up at the Gypsy Bar - fantastic hospitality
and a great view of the Blue Mosque (even from the
And of course, how can we forget all our overlanding
The Swiss - Loic the Magnificent and Bertrand the
Brave. We're catching up, guys.
The recumbent Dutch - Okke and Suzan - hope your
bikes are still in one piece.
The solo Belgian - Dan.
The (5-1, 5-1, 5-1, sorry guys) Germans - Kevin
The Solo German - Katharina - who walked to Vienna,
biked to Istanbul and is now bussing it to Kathmandu.
You can stop following us now! Only joking!
Back on the bikes..... We did eventually make it back
onto the bikes, though that was a struggle. We have
to admit we cheated - taking the ferry from Istanbul
to Bandirma, 2 hours south west across the Sea of Marmara.
But we believe it's thoroughly justified - missing out
the crazy Istanbul traffic and it's rather gutting cycling
in completely the wrong direction for a couple of days.
We arrived in Bandirma in mid-afternoon and headed
west for Çannakale, free camping behind a petrol
station and truckers cafe that night. The following
day was a long hot one through some very hilly terrain,
only stopping to chat with some friendly policemen and
a very generous fruit seller. Nice figs!
We arrived in Çannakale and settled down in
Anzac House by the ferry port. The following day we
cycled over to the Gallipoli Peninsula to explore the
World War 1 battlegrounds and memorials. The peninsula
is now a beautiful, pine-covered forest and it was sometimes
hard to imagine that it was once the scene of some of
the fiercest and bravest fighting in WWI. Back in Çannakale
we met up with Aussie Tom, who is to join us for the
next leg of the trip. Good on ya, mate.