Today was a day which could have swung one of two ways. We had planned to get our Tajik visas at the consulate on Internet advice that it could be done within a day. If this plan failed, we could have lost days or at least the day we had planned to spend in Istanbul. Having previously visited the sights, Alex volunteered to go and sort out the visas while Ant and I cycled into the Old City.
However serene this ride may seem, the streets of Istanbul soon put that idea to bed. The streets are tight, the pedestrians are blazé and the traffic adopts, as our host succinctly pointed out, a “big fish eat little fish” policy! Alex was quick to get used to the Turkish way by riding on the wrong side of the road, and cars, a number of times.
Ant and I started off by visiting the Kariye Müzesi and witnessing the stunning murals and mosaics which make it famous. Following a speedy radio interview live to the UK, we decided to dabble in a shared passion of ours: finding high things and getting to the top. Much to our embarrassment, as we started to climb up the city walls, the locals were quick to point out the huge steps leading right to the top only 50 metres behind us!!
As we headed to the coast through tiny streets, we started to get an impression of the true centre of Istanbul and the dominance of the gigantic mosques crowding the skyline in a display of imperial power. The Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia were two stunning examples of this – the latter being where we met up with Alex who had been successful with our visa application within 30 minutes!
We had lunch in Hamdi, a restaurant recommended by my grandfather, then headed across the Bosphorus to look for white gas. An hour and a half later, having trawled throug the seediest electronic and spare part markets and climbed a multitude of useless staircases, we came out with some watch cleaning fluid, apparently made for our stoves… We shall see!
Visits of the Süleymaniye and Fathi mosques on the way back were true cultural highlights and once again, Ömer welcomed us back – this time driving us straight off to the most delicious traditional Turkish restaurant. Feeling obliged to finish our food, we proceeded to wipe clean every mixed starter and kebab dish the restaurant could lay out for us!
So in contrary to the title of this post, we enjoyed far more than a whistle stop tour of Istanbul and are excited to cycle North towards Sile tomorrow! Thank you very much to our terrific hosts at Agrepa!