Istanbul – Mosques and meatballs

It was a mammoth 31 hours from our Ko Lanta base to our apartment in Istanbul.  We were dreading this leg but once again, the boys surprised us.  Handled without incident although, we did have to fend off some awkward questions from Dominic whilst on Royal Jordanian Air about how bad the Taliban are.  Dominic has always shown an interest in the “naughty” countries i.e. Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afganistan and there was a bit of association going on at a volume that didn’t display discretion.

Our home for the next 5 days was in the Beyoglu (pronounced bay-ooh-lu) area of Istanbul.  This used to be a less than desirable place to reside but has undergone a huge transformation over the last decade.  The location was fantastic.  Close to great restaurants, trendy wine bars (where we sampled a few local varieties), rooftop terrace bars, which offered fabulous views over the city and only a 5 minute walk to the tram.

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Istanbul boasts both an underground (metro) and a tram service.  You can get to any destination in the city for TRL3 (approx. NZD2) and the kids are free.  In fact, the kids are free to most things here.

It was hot.  No day less than 30 degrees, so sightseeing and walking was at a minimum.  We did visit the Blue Mosque, where Trina had to don a more appropriate attire (picture below – I think she pulls it off!).  We managed to run through this in an about 15 minutes.  It was ok and worth seeing but we’re not really churchy/mosquey type of people.  Across the street is the jewel of the Istanbul mosque scene, the Hague Sophia.  Where the Blue Mosque was free to enter, the Hague Sofia charges a hefty TRL50 (NZD30) to visit so we flagged it.

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The Grand Bazaar was well worth a visit.  It was so easy to waste away an afternoon here.  We did some shopping and got down to some serious negotiation with the shopkeepers who were born to sell.  Sampled some apple tea and generally just strolled around the 3,500 shops.  The Bazaar has been here for over 700 years and the building alone is an attraction in itself.

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A real highlight of Istanbul was a cruise up the Bosphorus Strait.  2 hours spent enjoying the views of this massive city.  Amazing homes right on the water with the hillside dotted with Turkish flags and mosques.

Food was easier than Thailand.  It’s hard to go wrong with meat stuffed into bread and the boys particularly enjoyed the Turkish meatball.  A wide selection of mezzes (similar to tapas) provided a cheap and tasty option.

The boys were a hit (once again) with the locals.  People of all ages would walk past them and either pinch their cheek or ruffle their hair.  After Thailand they are used to it and I think they actually enjoyed the attention.  There was also plenty of wrestling, waiters at restaurants would just grab them and start to play fight (yep, grown men). The Turks love a wrestle!!

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Istanbul is an amazing city.  Westernized but still provides the Arabic flavor such as a regular call to prayer which can be heard over loudspeakers 5 times a day from every mosque in town.   The first one at 5am is a tad early however!

A bus trip to Gallipoli is next.  Although a fair bit of travelling time to get there and back we felt that it was a necessary trip while in Turkey.

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