We had returned back to Istanbul after our trips to Selcuk-Ephesus and Cappadocia, and for this final leg, the 4 of us actually managed to get a local to host our stay in Istanbul. The term is called ‘couch surfing’ if I’m not wrong. It’s a global network where individuals offer their homes at no price and get a recommendation (good/bad) at the end of that stay. So as it goes, you will be more trusted as you get more positive recommendations, ultimately enhancing your reputation as a host. It goes both ways, cos’ if the host travels a lot, that positive reputation will put him in good stead for his overseas trips as he couch surfs too.
Nways, our host for the next 4 days was Akin, a graduate from Istanbul University. Not married and living in his own apartment. Akin was a great host, and made our final stretch of days in Istanbul easier.
For this day, we visited the 19th century Ottoman Dolmahbace Palace, a ridiculously extravagant European styled creation that was in stark contrast to the more traditional and grand Topkapi Palace, for centuries, the seat of Ottoman power.
Also, we had our first brush with a stretch of road which I remeber fondly. Istiklal Caddesi was written in our guide as as a must visit place. So me and David asked Akin on whether he could bring us there. Little did we realise that, that stretch of road will be frequently visited by us time and time again. It was wonderfully lit and to add to the charm, no vehicles was allowed in except for the electrically powered tram coming through from time to time. It was virtually human traffic. What was special however was that, that walkway itself was lined with 18th to 19th century buildings which were used as ambassadorial housing for the many foreign influences in late Ottoman Turkey. The beauty of the place was really hard to describe. It was like Orchard Road, minus the skycrapers, cars and smog, but add to that beautiful aged buildings, beautiful people and fresh air. At Istiklal Caddesi too, I had a taste of Turkish sheesha called narghile. Strong stuff man, just a few sips and I was lightheaded already. Sheesha in Singapore is mild by comparison.
On this day we visited a place called Eminonu (smtg lik that). Visited the Yeni Cami (new mosque) and also the Blue Mosque again. This was so mainly because while me and David reached earlier, and we managed to do our roundings at Istanbul first, the 2 ladies only joined us when we were at our 3rd day. And that was when we departed to Selcuk and Cappadocia. The ladies thus, have not really explored Istanbul yet. We also visited the Spice Bazaar and the Sinan inspired Rustem Pasha Mosque.
This was the day where we spent our time at only 2 places. Both magnificent in their own right – Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque. While the former was mysterious and hauntingly opulent, the latter had this cheerful awe inducing demeanour to it. So for this day, we just hung around the Blue Mosque and the Sultanahmet area until about 10pm before going back to Akin’s place. Oh ya, Akin works, so he is able to join us only after 6pm every day. For this day we just told him that we would be back late and we would just meet him at his place.
Visited the vast expanse of the Topkapi Palace and after which we went back to Akin’s place and helped the ladies packed up. They were continuing their graduation trip to Europe and were leaving by train today. So on this day, we said goodbye to Liwen and Jasmine, good companions that we had for at least half of this great trip. We accompanied them right until we reached the Metro, before saying our final farewell. By then it was almost 8pm. The Topkapi visit lasted half a day. At night end, me and David came to where we started, only the 2 of us, plus Akin, who we would be leaving tomorrow. He was expecting another group of couch surfers later tomorrow.
This day we spent at the very expansive Military Museum, which was inevitable for a land that has for centuries been perenially in conflict, from within and without. A martial race, some Europeans call it. As such, at the museum itself, you see a vast array of collections from the 13th century up to modern times. Even kerises from Indonesia, for that one time where Southeast Asian Sultanates, especially the Sultanate of Acheh looked to the Ottomans as leaders of the Muslim world. The Ottomans even sent a group of artillerymen to aid one of the Sultanates (dont remember which) against Portuguese expansion.
This day too we managed to try out the much vaunted eatery HACI ABDULLAH at Istiklal Caddesi, one of the rare restaurants in Istanbulwhere alcohol is not served. It is said that the owner is a conservative Muslim, and stands stoical to the tenets of his faith. It was a much welcomed information. After that dinner, we went back to Akin’s place, packed up and said our goodbyes to our very hospitable and friendly host. The 4 of us had brought him a batik shirt from Singapore, something that we thought was unique for him. This was the last few days of our trip. Our next lodging was an 8 men dormitory. I hope the relative comfort that we had so far, be it sleeping in hostels, Akin’s living room, or in the overnight buses; will stay.