It was clear that The big cycle into the city took it's toll on me when I managed to get off my bunk after a whopping 19hrs sleep. I found Jonny downstairs in the common area talking to his friends on Skype, he'd be awake for ages.
We stayed 5 nights in an 8 bed dorm at the 'Laventem' hostel, the rooms were 'ok' and quite clean but the bathroom was a bit messy and shared between 12 people. The only negative thing about this place is that they allow smoking in the common area. The place is air-conditioned, therefore air-tight, and the room filled up with smoke very easily. As with every hostel there were a few annoying characters lurking about, but luckily we had really nice people in our room. First we shared with four 17yr old English lads who'd just graduated from 6th form, their sweet and polite nature made us smile everytime we spoke with them. Two days in they were replaced by a fantastic four girlies from Belgium (ladies, i'm hoping for a reunion back in Brussels!).
The hostel is conveniently situated on a side street just off Istiklal Caddesi, the main drag in Istanbul, this street never sleeps! This 2.5km avenue is filled with shops, bars, clubs, coffee houses, bookshops and many more that spill into all of the surrounding side streets. It's easy to become absorbed by the hectic flow of the main drag but the side streets are very much worth some attention, here everyone slows down taking time to relax, drink and play backgammon.
The Lonely Planet advises that this area is not safe after 9pm, the only thing this achieves is putting people on edge when they arrive, it's as safe as any other big city. We had no problems whatsoever, mind you we were not hanging out so often in dark alley ways.
All we knew about Turkish food was that they eat lots of Kebabs, this could be their only food as far as we knew. On our first night we chose a simple looking cafe with a cosy seating area outside. The lady running the place was really nice and promised to fix us up a vegetarian plater. We nervously awaited in anticipation. Usually when someone agrees to make you a veggie meal (not from the menu), you end up with some blunt boiled carrots with a few potatoes and perhaps a cracked egg for good measure if you're lucky. Phew, the plates arrived and it was legendary! Loads of variety, some artichokes marinated in lemon and dill, stuffed aubergines, stuffed wine leaves, salad and crusty bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar... a veggie heaven :)
After dinner we explored the area around Istiklal Caddesi, and a few backstreets later and we did end up in a dark alleyway, completely off the beaten track, ooops. Whilst heading back to the main drag we stopped by a really cool clothing shop (Roll: www.rollist.com) and before we knew it we had glasses of wine and had been invited inside for a small party. The owner (Husein) and a few friends were enjoying a Friday night after work party. Girls were trying on everything in the shop whilst the guys kicked it bac with some beers. They even had a friend coming down later to perform a small theatre piece, ''Cool, lets stick around'' we thought. Turned out to be a short teaser from a play about the homosexual incestuous relationship between a father and son, performed by a single actor and a banana. Jonny turned to me at the end saying ''that was really good, I wish we could see the full play'', whilst I was thinking, ''that's a bit heavy for a Friday night maybe'' :p
We necked the wine and beers and hit a club where the girl DJ was putting on a really good deck (either that or I was drunk) and we danced for hours. Jonnies feminine side came out as he spent most of the night dancing with the two gay guys of the group, to which he later justified by explaining that it was no different than when he goes out with his close friends in Liverpool. The night ended around 5am after heaps of fun and loads of great new friends. We were especially close to Husein's cousin, Ercan, his girlfriend Dilek and her sister Tulay, They are cyclists and asked us to join them in two days time for a sleep over and trip to a close-by island for a ride together, rendezvous agreed.
Needless to say, our first day of sightseeing was pretty unsuccessful as we nursed our hangovers. We took the tram to the close-by Sultanahmet (the main tourist area) just three tram stops and a bridge placed us right outside of Hagia Sophia, the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years. The bridge was packed with people hoping to get lucky – fishing – they simply fish off the bridge and many of them have bbqs soaring next to them, can't get any fresher than that. Turks seem to love bbqs and picnics taking them to a whole new level. Mid morning on a sunny weekend and the parks and shores are filled with big groups of families dashing around with odd pieces of furniture, grill, kitchen utensils, hammocks, you name it... all trying to clam some shaded grass and setup their elaborate day out. They're really good at it and very inovative, the only thing they seem to forget is to take the rubbish home when they've finished, it's a real shame.
We're the worst tourists ever, three attempts to see the Blue Mosque and we still failed, once we had inappropriate clothing and twice we came at the wrong time. ''Nevermind'' I thought, there's still the palace to see. At this point Jonny already looked hot and bothered, I suspected the hungry Jonny monster was rearing out too. I chose to ignore it and dragged him up the hill to the palace. We were only through the second courtyard when a guard asked for our tickets. '''hey?!? ticket?'' he pointed round the corner at the loooooong snake of tourists queueing up... jonny's jaw dropped. A massive queue, 40quid to get in and a hungry and irritated red-face Jonny = recipe for disaster, we we're outta there.
Our next stop took us to the main Bazaar where the beautiful colours shone out of every stall. It must have been the amount of Turkish men hitting on me that prompted Jonny in buying two silver rings!! So pretty! Thank you Jonny xxx We entered through the 'leather clothing' section with 50million people asking Jonny the same question 'Mr, Leather Jacket? You want a leather jacket?', it was a little too much for Jonny ''I don't want a leather Jacket, mate, it's 40 degrees outside, update your stock according to the season!'', and off they went.
The next night we met up with Ercan and his ladies. First we picked up some beers and headed for a viewing point not far from their house. More friends turned up and we talked, laughed, drank and learnt how to eat pumpkin seeds like a real turk (spitting out the shell bit everywhere, not cool). The boys were running low on beer so Bahadir called the supermarket for a delivery, address? The hill! Ten mins later and they started chasing a guy on a moped... ooops, wrong guy! Fifteen minutes later and we were enjoying another round of beers! The party was 'cut' short, literally, when Husein stood on the base of a broken bottle whilst taking a leak in the bushes. He came back with blood everywhere!!! Ercan called a friend who turned up minutes later and rushed him to the hospital. They stitched him up and he now has a Frankenstein foot with 12 stitches. WARNING: There's a picture of it below so you may want to brace yourself!!!!!!!!!!!!
We slept the night at their place and grabbed the morning ferry across the Sea of Marmara to 'The Island', as they call it. 45 mins later and we were cruising around the island. No cars allowed, horses and donkeys only. They took us for a beer on the highest poitn then afterwards we slept for an hour under a secluded tree. It was the most relaxed we've been on our trip so far. They really gave us a very relaxing time-out break from the trip. Thanks guys for being so generous to us. We repaid their kindness a little the next night by cooking dinner at their place. Radka enjoyed this a lot :) As the Colonel would say... ''it was finger licking good'.
One person we haven't mentioned so far in Aycut who we met on our night out at 'Roll'. He doesn't speak English but we connected really well with him. He even gave us gifts to say goodbye. He's such a genuinely nice guy.
Istanbul is a wicked city and it seemed like great and exciting things were happening to us even without trying. We left our friends and Istanbul via ferry boat, crossing the sea to the town of Yalova, From here we were heading to central Anatolia where we'd explore more rural Turkey.