Catha's Seat

Friday, 8 February 2013

Days 69 to 76: Stories from the edge of Asia - Istanbul

In the end we spent 9 days in Istanbul.

Eliza and Dad came to join us for the first weekend and we were reunited with people we had met along the trip.

I have chosen photos and stories that cover a selection of our unique highlights. Of course we did all the standard stuff; Ayasofia, Blue Mosque, Hammam, Grand Bazaar etc. but I'm sure there are plenty of places on the internet with much more informed viewpoints on these!

The Apartment and the View:

When in Rome (erm... Istanbul surely), we decided to splash out on the best Airbnb apartment. Located right next to the Galata Tower the views were spectacular, especially from the roof terrace. 

If you are ever planning a trip to Istanbul needing four rooms I would certainly recommend checking this place out - it's a real treat.

Our first night in Istanbul on the Roof. The lights of the Bosphorous Bridge on the left and a view over the Old City on the right. It's hard to describe how overwhelming it is standing on that roof - you are immersed in the sounds of constant bustle and the call to prayer, the ballet of perpetual interlocking shipping routes and at least 50 minarets! (Photos by EA Gow)

Breakfast on the roof terrace with Dad and Eliza after their overnight flight - a great way to relax and see the sights without too much walking! Alex tried his hand at making a traditional Turkish breakfast of Menemen, which turned out pretty darn good. (Photos by EA Gow)

Sunrise views from the Roof (Photos by EA Gow)

The success shot!! (although Scott weighs a ton, so it was quite a struggle!) (Photo by EA Gow) 

Big Night Out:

Our host at the Apartment, Alev, previously worked as a band manager. She kindly organised a cabaret style night out for us to see one of the folk groups she worked with. The venue (Perazin) was tucked away up 4 flights of stairs with a secluded entrance within a small Bazaar just of the main shopping street (Istiklal Cadesi). 

We enjoyed Mezes, got sloshed on copious amounts of the local spirit, Raki, and the band were fantastic. Just as we were thinking "what a great Turkish experience with the locals" Dad started making conversation with the next table. They turned out to be Greeks and explained to us that we had in fact stumbled upon a traditional Greek party for ex-pats! 

Our conversation with them broke down the myth that Turks and Greeks do not get on well - it was explained it was more of political tension than something within the people - although they did mention that the Turks do get a bit jealous sometimes because their neighbours know how to party! And they certainly did.... the lead on to the dance floor was made by a charismatic chap who weaved his arms around and slapped his hips. Initially the ladies flocked to him and by the end of the evening the barriers had been broken down and a full on barn dance had ensued.

Eliza (in white centre frame) get's stuck in to the dancing.

Our friends at the next table ended up inviting us to their cafe (Kalimera) for breakfast the next day. There we got talking further to one of the group called Tony, a front-line journalist that enjoys the thrill of being under siege! We ended up renting his flat for the rest of the week, which was exceedingly conveniently located for getting the bikes (in their boxes) to the airport shuttle bus in Taksim Square. 


Our first trip out to the Asian side took us to the house of Kerem. He's a host on Warm Showers, a Couchsurfing type organisation specifically for cyclists. This is where some of our friends from our Couchsurf in Thessaloniki, Devin & Tory, were shacking up.

We partook in another monster meal. Peter and Lindsay (also from the Thessaloniki Couchsurf) came along and we also got a chance to meet the others from their crew, Drew and Kallie. Then a line of bikers just kept arriving and the host was nowhere to be seen - another fantastic, relaxed guy that was happy to trust travellers to share his house. He kindly took us out on our way home to try one of the street food treats we had been worried about - street mussels filled with rice - sublime!

The team at Kerem's place minus one further biker that turned up later! (Photo by Peter Ehresman)
Another reunited moment happened in the Grand Bazaar where we randomly bumped into the French guys we breakfasted on the beach with - small world!

Istanbul Eats:

One of the other great bits about our Airbnb flat was the selection of guide books. It didn't take long to find our favourite though. "Istanbul Eats" focuses on the workers cafes, streetfood and locals favourites to explore the city's diverse culinary delights. We made it our mission to get through as much as possible!

Our bible

Alex in heaven in the Mecca of Baklava -  Karakoy Gulluoglu. We tried a lot of his favourite snack from Bosnia all the way through but this place was something special. Rather than the normal soggy parcels drenched in sugar syrup Gulluoglu's Baklava was flaky and light.

The Turkish Coffee master at Mandabatmaz. You can tell a good place for the local brew when they ask if you want sugar before making it. (Photo by EA Gow)

The two portions at the back are Tavuk Gogsu at Goreme Muhallebicisi. My first couchsurfing host, Massimiliano, back in Italy, raved about this stuff. It is a rich, sweet, rice pudding strengthened with chicken breast! (Photo by EA Gow)

Turkish Pizza type 1: "Pide" (Photo by EA Gow)

Turkish Pizza type 2: Lahmacun (Photo by EA Gow)

Chicken specialists at Kismet Muhallebecisi. On the left Taslik (chicken gizzards) and Menemen on the right. (Photo by EA Gow)

Our favourite sweet shop Altan Sekerleme. This turkish delight specialist received two visits from us as we loaded up on treats to take back - nearly 7kg between us. I would highly recommend trying the pistachio turkish delight and their helva. (Photo by EA Gow)

Istanbul Cycleats:

We weren't getting through the eats fast enough. As I'm sure I mentioned earlier in the blog the major benefit of cycling is an increased appetite so.....

We planned to dust off Scott and Wallace and tour the city, knocking off 9 eats between 8am and 4pm on one day. I'm not going to give any more detail here as this will be written up on a separate blog with feature video in the not too distant future!

Istanbul Cycleats planner!

The Gig:

The main reason we stayed on Istanbul for longer than we had originally planned was the surprising coincidence that Alex's second cousin, Pete, was performing with his band "Get the Blessing" at the beginning of December.

Alex put some considerable effort into getting a crowd together from the people we met along the way. Kerem, Peter and Lindsay came and also Marie (who we met in Sofia) brought along a gaggle of girls who became the dancing sensation of the night!

The band didn't disappoint and a we enjoyed a rip roaring night of punk jazz. Check them out here

Alex's second cousin Pete belts it out on the Trumpet and behind him Clive Dreamer, who was drumming with Radiohead when I went to see them in October, two weeks into my trip. Another of life's circles of coincidence closes! (Photo by EA Gow)

Bartering in the Bazaar:

This nice chap is called Suleyman and used to be a Chemical Engineer in Ankara before moving into the antiques trade. There were some heavy negotiations on price for two pieces and as a prize for getting through the deal he invited us for a cup of tea and a chat! I love this photo - it looks like Suleyman is a Gang mastermind and we are his henchmen!! (Photo by EA Gow)

The End and thanks:

And there it was - 2 and a bit months of travelling - cultures explored, pedalled and eaten.

Scott and Wallace in their boxes safely under the protection of the Airport Shuttle Bus Driver.

At this point I would like to take the opportunity to thank a few people: 

- Eliza and Dad for their daily support and letting me go despite their constant worries about my safety (until security guard Alex joined me!)

- Alex, for breaking the headwind for half of the miles between Ploce and Istanbul, and also being a fantastic road and eating companion

- All of the people that welcomed us into their homes or hosted us during the trip

- All of the kind citizens that stopped to talk to us, show us around or help with directions

- All of the people that have pledged to Mum's bike bench project and took part in the distance / speed estimation competition

- Ultimate Add-ons for making the world's most useless waterproof phone case

and also to all of you, for following this blog, which I hope you have enjoyed. 

Although this marks the final laying to rest of this trip, this Blog will stay alive with news of Mum's bike bench project and developments on NCN Route 18 so please keep checking back!

Here's one last picture for the road (boom, boom, tish, tish)!!

(Photo by EA Gow)

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