I have never been to Asia, so this was a big one for me. Istanbul being part European and part Asian, I was excited for something brand new. I live in Poland, I have been to almost all countries in Europe, but never outside EU (Oh, I got plans for near future!) besides one trip to Asia when I was a small child, I barely remember… And I was not disappointed. I went to Turkey in the end of September / first days of October, so: no heat (happy me!), a little rain and wind (not much), however I feel like the heat in summer is an important part of the place and maybe I should have gone in summer to feel the real Turkish life, with the heat and sun included. I like cold, I just do.
First night, I spent in small town of Keşan in Turkey. Stray dogs and cats all over the town, people feeding them with no special attention, like between words. Dirty children running around together with teen boys all dressed up and hair done for a party, which I think was not going to happen, walking around the street was their party. Next to the loud restaurant-club with expensive cars parked in front, older people walking with big bags of items they sell on the street, wearing worn-out dirty clothes and almost completely broken shoes on their feet, walking on broken pavement with holes. A Mosk was really close, loud sounds of man singing (Imam calling people in for pray by singing) in the whole area. If you never heard the Imam singing, which you probably did hear since it happens in all Islamic countries all over the world, then you need to hear it live, it can not be described.
I walked into a bakery, a traditional stylish one. Stylish meaning big empty hall with bread ovens in the wall, Turkish men smoking cigarettes inside not caring about people walking in, fresh Turkish bread and pretzels with sesame seeds of incredible taste as it turned out two minutes later. Poor lighting in the bakery, no one speaking any English. If you ever come to Keşan – please go there and taste it: www.trabzonekmek.com.tr
The second day I came to Istanbul, where I stayed for next 5 days. Oh, all the stray dogs and cats are here too! In such a big city! They just live here, sleep on pavements or grass, no one minds. There are only big dogs, I found out the smaller ones had no chance of surviving the winter, so there you go. Jungle law among dogs. Imam sings from the Mosk Minaret speakers a bit louder here, it has to be louder, the city is loud. Always buzzing, like a bee hive. All day, all night.
And so I started to visit all the most important places, the biggest and oldest Mosks, Museums, the Topkapi palace complex (insanely big to walk around all of it), the last station of Orient Express, where currently handcrafts bazaar is happening in the main hall, I took a cruise around Bosphorus, went to both the European and the Asian side of Istanbul, saw the bridges, the mountains, the castles. The load od smells, sights, impressions was so big I thought my head can not take it. It took it, I am fine 😊 In the Grand Bazaar I felt like there is no space left to breathe, so many colorful products, textiles, glass, ceramic art, jewelry, handbags (lots and lots of knock-offs), candy (Turkish Baklava, Lokum), Turkish coffee and tea, spices… But all the Bazaar feels like made mainly for tourists, I felt like it is not 100% genuine, all a tiny bit too expensive if compared to other parts of the city, probably not all items made in Turkey if you know what I mean. However, it is really a rich and beautiful place worth seeing, if you need to buy gifts from your trip – this is the place. I also did some shopping in Fatih district, near my hotel, in small local street where there were only men, drinking coffees and playing some board games, selling all kinds of clothing and goods, mostly very cheap and poor quality… but I was directed to a shop with pashminas (well, not pashminas, but scarves) in amazing colors, made of great quality fabric. I bought some. Could’t zip up my suitcase after. Worth it.
Some things in Istanbul surprised me. I read two guidebooks before the trip, and what surprised me was: no bicycles in the city. Maybe my luck, maybe the weather, not one. No runners (joggers). I was told to negotiate the prices with the sellers, I found out three times they were irritated by it and did not want to negotiate at all (I don’t think I am bad at it), once a man was looking quite angry. Other one said “please don’t kill my small business”. Wow. Quite strongly said “no negotiations”.
Another thing which was strange for me is that in local small family markets around the city, often there are no prices on products. You need to ask every time. And I think maybe the prices are not fixed… This wouldn’t be possible in my country. Also, I was told Istanbul is very clean. Well, I would say piles of cigarettes and trash all over the streets and pavements would not mean exactly clean for me. I did not use any probiotics, I did not get any food poison (tried to eat local food only). And as to food – also: I was really excited to taste the real deal of Döner Kebab, I know this is very, very unhealthy and bad, but I just love it. And I must say, a rolled Kebab in Turkish bread on a bench near Boshoprus, with sun shining (there were sunny moments) and wind blowing and also Turkish tea waiting to be drank – exceptional feeling. By the way, in Poland in street rolled Kebab we have cabbage and vegetables, lot of sauce, meat. In Turkey I got French fries inside twice, no sauce every time. Still, delicious, the meat is awesome.
I saw cotton farms and olive trees on the way, pomegranates on trees. I drank a lot of fresh pomegranate juice, lots of Turkish coffee, which is boiled with sugar (of course the sugar is optional for tourists), Turkish strong black tea, I ate too many Baklavas, Kebabs, brought back lots of useless but super pretty things. Now it is time to go to the real Asia. I feel like I will be blown away.
Plus, on my way home, I spent one night in Greece, in lovely Kavála. Wonderful place, tomatoes like I have never tasted before (and I have been to Italy several times). Oranges on trees in the city (two small oranges came home with me, I hope to plant the seeds and have Greek orange plants at home). Delicious Greek wine, delicious sights. I will come back here for sure someday.