I still haven't stopped yakking about my trip at home but now that I sit down to write about the two weeks I don't know where to start! When we landed, it was freezing cold at 6 degree Celsius and it only got colder over the next days. Istanbul is very hilly and the icy cold temperatures gives it a hill station like feel however when you drive down the streets you see a mix of things oddly placed yet making perfect sense. High rising buildings, fast moving cars indicating a modern well developed city interspersed with remains of an ancient building,palaces and castles standing in its full glory, magnificent mosques with tall minarets and the Bosphorous. Bosphorous is a natural waterway or strait that connects the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea dividing Istanbul into two halves, one in Europe and another in Asia!! People talk very fondly about the Bosphorous, it is something that connects them to the city. I got the feeling that the Bosphorous was visible from anywhere in the city. I'd go sightseeing or shopping or just go out looking for restaurant and there it would be, a different view but looking just as beautiful specially during the night when the shores would light up. Most residential areas are in the European side of the city and offices and commercial buildings on the Asian side. I got a kick everytime I saw the 'welcome to Asia' and 'Welcome to Europe' signs on the bridge. The taxi drivers are very much like the auto drivers of Bangalore. Nobody wanted to cross the bridge, 'no! no! problem, traffic problem' they would say. That's when we found the new route taking the ferry boat instead of crossing the bridge and what fun it was! People speak little or no English, communicating was very difficult but people are soo nice! Most of them were very happy to see us. 'Hindistani?' they would ask and gleefully smile when we nodded. We had trouble converting our travellers cheques, people in banks would apologise profusely, make hundred calls finding where we could get it done and then come out of their seats and give us directions as to where to go. I cant imagine bankers in India doing that! When taxi drivers complained about traffic we never understood what the problem was, the few times we crossed the bridge traffic was normal, lesser than what we see in Bangalore. But then Pope came to visit and the city came to a standstill. All roads were blocked making it impossible to commute. Another reason why I loved the ferry so much!
Weekends I did touristy things. I went on city tour with unknown people but it was fun! I love places with history and Istanbul has many stories to tell of the Byzantine empire and the powerful Ottoman empire. 'Melancholy' is a word heavily used in Pamuk's book on Istanbul. He says that there is a gloom set over the city ever since the fall of the Ottomon empire. In seeing the Topkapi palace and the Dolmabahce palace the power that the Ottoman Empire once had is very evident. Dolmabache is easily my favorite. You have to see the pictures to know why. I now know what living life 'kings style' truly means! Other places we saw was the famous Blue mosque and the Hagia Sophia. Hagia Sophia once used to be a church which was later converted to a mosque. It now stands as a museum with both pictures of Mary and inscriptions in Arabic. When the pope arrived people wanted to know if he would pray there. Well,he didn't. My second favorite place is the Grand Bazaar in the old city with 4000 shops selling exquisite jewellery, carpets, handicrafts and more. Shopkeepers drag you into their shops with their smart talk. Two of them knew Hindi, one of them was convinced I had studied in England. I was pretty happy with my bargaining skills and bought quite a few things but somebody slipped in a fake 20 lira note. I was caught at Pizza hut when I tired to use it. Barring that incident, I enjoyed my stay. and I still believe the people there are very nice. Food is another story and will require another post.
For two weeks, I kept my passport and tickets safely, I kept all the bills, I took proper change, I never forgot a thing, I was on time. I come home, day one I forget to take my id card to office. Day two I leave my jacket in office. Its good to be back home :)