Monday, 12 March 2012

Eight destination : Istanbul - Day 1 and 2

I left Eskisehir on the morning of 24th October for Istanbul by train.  By noon I was at the Hydarpasa railway station.  While in Eskisehir I had a chat with a Couchsurfing friend from Istanbul about how to reach Taksim square, the most famous and happening place in Istanbul.  So as she had informed me, I started walking and was looking for the yellow cabs who operated on sharing basis.  Cheap and comfortable.   I walked some distance looking for them and finally after asking few people located the mini taxi station and in 5 Liras I was dropped at Taksim.  Though it wasn't the exact place.  I had to again walk quiet a bit to reach the Taksim square and the entrance to the famous Istikal Street.

Entrance to Istikal street from
Taksim side
While in Eskisehir, I had looked for some hostels and found one hostel called Laventen right on the Istikal Street.  As there were beds available I didn't book it and noted the address.  I entered the Istikal Street from the Taksim end and started looking for Kumbaraci street on which this hotel was located.  I had now walked almost till the other end of Istikal street but finally found the street and realized that I had entered it from the wrong end.  Kumbaraci street went downhill.  It was mentioned that Laventen hostel was at 150 meters on this street.  I was wondering what if I find the hostel packed.  It'll be really tiring if I have to walk uphill 150 meters back to the Istikal street with my 2 backpacks and find another hostel :( . But luckily I got the bed and found the hostel a perfect place.  It was my first time staying in a hostel, as this hostel thing doesn't exist in India.  We have budget hotels and cheap guest houses, but hardly any hostels.

By now it was around 14:00 hours and I didn't had anything to eat by then.  I was damn hungry.  So quickly I got ready and found a nice restaurant on the Istikal street for lunch.  I must say Istanbul was even more expensive than Warsaw.  Finally it was time to explore this wonderful, busy, colorful and happening Istikal street.  It was the first day of the week and still the whole street was packed with people and only people. Tourists, travelers, corporate executives, shoppers, local musicians, hawkers and pimps too.... ;)  I was enjoying walking on this street.  The rest of the day was spend walking up and down the street, observing the action going on the street and clicking some pics.  I was loving every bit of Istikal street.

Late evening I went back to the hostel to take some rest.  Didn't feel like eating anything as I didn't wanted to eat alone.  I was almost asleep when someone entered the room and switched on the light.  'Sorry, if I disturbed you'.  Erin, an American traveler from Chicago had just entered.  We exchanged our hello's and after a brief chat agreed to have dinner together.  It was her last day in Turkey.  We had some interesting conversations and went back to the hostel.  There we met another American Cassie. She had spontaneously decided to travel for several months and after traveling in North America and North Europe she had landed in Turkey.  At around mid-night I went to the Taksim square to see off Erin and thought it can be a nice late night walk for me and figured out how will I be reaching the airport to board my flight to India ;) .
Men fishing on the
Galata Bridge 
Next day morning I took a map of the places to see in Istanbul from the hostel reception and marked the places to visit and set out exploring unknown lanes.  My plan was to somehow find my way to Galata bridge and visit Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and later visit Galata Tower.  But somehow when I reached the Galata  bridge I saw the Bosphorus river cruise.  A four hour river cruise starting from the Karakoy harbor.  The Galata bridge was full of men who were fishing.  24 x 7 I saw men always fishing on this bridge.  It just came spontaneously that I bought the four hour cruise ticket and in 2 min. I was on the ship.  It was a cold and windy day.  Turkish chai in hand and sitting at the open front deck, I was feeling pretty good and fresh. Istanbul looked wonderful located on the 2 sides of the river.  On one side there were sights of so many mosques and the other side had few huge cruise liners harbored.  At some time lots of sea gulls were following the ship and flying side by side.  The cruise went past some historical monuments like the Beylerbeyi Palace, Rumeli fortress and few more.  Finally there was a halt of around 45 min. for a late lunch at some place from where the ship would return back.  It was a kind of tourist halt with lots of restaurants.  I kept roaming here and there and bought some small souvenirs.  Finally time to head back.  Another 2 hours on the ship which I mostly spend sleeping ;) At around 18:00 hours the ship reached Karakoy.  I really enjoyed this cruise and clicking lots of pictures.

Beylerbeyi Palace
Rumeli fortress
The walk back to the hostel was about 45 min. and I was hungry but didn't feel like eating as I didn't wanted to eat alone.  While walking on the Galata bridge, I saw a tourist clicking pictures.  It was obvious for me to know that she was a traveler from the clothes she was wearing and as she was clicking pictures.  I walked up to her and asked her 'Are you a traveler' ? And yes came the reply.  Madeleine from Sweden ;) She was doing a Europe trip by train and Istanbul was her last destination down and then she was going up north again.  While talking to her I came to know that she too was a couch surfer and she had a faint wish to go to the couch surfing meet on Istikal Street.  I also told her that I was hungry but didn't wanted to dine alone and it would be nice if she could give me some company for dinner.  It was so very nice of her to agree with that.  Also I too wanted to go to the CS meet and so we decided to attend it together.  We had dinner at the meet and met some local CS guys and few others from Portugal, Hungary and Singapore.  The CS meet again was very much like the meet I organize in Ahmedabad.  Mostly guys and girls from other countries.  Madeleine and I left the CS meet in an hour or so and decided to hang out for some more time.  Soon on Istikal street she suggested to have a Shisha ;) I readily agreed as it was really getting cold and on a windy day Shisha with hot apple tea seemed just perfect to hang around and have some nice conversations.  We spend quiet some time smoking shisha and sipping on hot, sweet and little bit sour apple tea.  Our conversations went from knowing each other and our travel experiences to being a little bit philosophical too.

The shisha started to go off and so it was time to leave. Some clicks of each other and we were back again on Istikal street, looking around some other place to hang out.  Soon we came across a bar with live music.  The bar was so packed that some people were sitting across the tables laid out on the narrow street.  We found one table right in the middle for us and ordered a bottle of Raki.  Madeleine didn't had the chance to sip on Raki so she was alright with it.  The live band was just perfect for a young evening, setting up a lively mood with their peppy numbers and their interaction with the crowd.  Cassi, whom I met at the hostel the other night was also there with some other travelers lodged at our hostel.  Next to our table were 2 turkish couples and one of the guy was already very high but still was decent enough. We soon got introduced to each other and were having some funny chats.  In some time the whole place became so lively that people took to the street and started to dance.  Madeleine and me too couldn't resist and joined the people to enjoy some dance steps.  One turkish girl also showed me some turkish dance steps and asked me to follow her.  Though I wasn't good at it but it was really fun.  Soon the high tempo mellowed down and while the band took some rest to my surprise the bar played one hindi song 'TWIST' from the movie Kal Aaj Aur Kal.  This song has lots and lots of memories as it was the anthem of Orchid Republic where my friends used to stay and it was played every time in my car when we used to go out.  It was like icing on the cake. Truly one of the best night of my entire trip.  I suppose that night I had made a wonderful friend.

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