Mongolia Rally Diary – A taste of Istanbul

We arrived Istanbul in a chaos of traffic and highways, and we had no map, nor no idea on how to get to our destination. We stopped at a gas station to ask for the way, but none of the guys there spoke a word of English – but as we never gave up trying they finally understood where we were going and showed us a description of how to get to Sulthanamet in English. Obviously we were not the first tourists asking for the direction. After a deep breath we were ready to throw ourselves out into the traffic – when a man waved at us and told us to follow him. After half an hour we finally saw the sign: “Sulthanamet”. After some attempt of driving in the narrow streets, being directed first one way and then another way by eager and helpful locals, we chose to park the car in a garage and walk the short way to our hostel. A good choice!

Passing a Mongol Rally Car on the way we left a note with a greeting, and after walking another few meters  we met an energetic man who asked where we were heading, and then he grabbed my bag and ran up the hill to show us a shortcut to the hostel. As we were tired after a full days driving we had a shower and got ready for bed – when all of a sudden some ralliers knocked our door and invited us out for a drink. On the beach with a view over to the Asian side we exchanged stories with the travelers and the restaurant owner next door to our hostel, enjoying our first impressions of Istanbul until four in the morning.

The next day I were tired, but after a cup of coffee and a delicious breakfast from the smiling woman at the kitchen in the hostel I were ready explore this impressive city – which may be the world´s hippest for the moment. This is a town with an un-numbered amount of sights worth seeing, and it´s not easy to know where to start. I did it the easy way: Jump on Jump off. The tourist bus may be expensive compared to walking on your own – but it gives you a good overview of the city and you have free transportation for 24 hours.

If you´re looking for edible souvenirs the spice bazaar is the right place! It is situated at the southern end of the Galata Bridge. The bazaar was – and still is – the center of spice trade in Istanbul, all though more and more stalls sell other goods than spice. You will find nuts, honey, dried fruits, incir (figs) and loads of lokum (Turkish delight). You will also find tea, jewelry and lamps – and even though the market is more and more turned towards tourists it is still an exciting market in beautiful buildings from the 1660´s. The market was constructed as a part of the New Mosque complex, so that the rent from the vendors supported the upkeep of the mosque. The spice bazaar is also called the ´Egyptian market´ from the time when the market was the last stop for the camel caravans that travelled the Silk Routes from China, India and Persia.

Walking in Istanbul your eyes are definitely bigger than your stomach. On the streets you can eat fresh grilled corn, and the magicians playing with their meter long ice cream scoops will make you feel it as an eternity before you finally manage to grab your ice cream. You will pass stores full of the most amazing sweets and Turkish delight, but in my opinion most of it looks better than it tastes. The restaurants exhibit their traditional puffy bread to tempt you to stop, and they serve delicious meze, vegetarian kebabs and pide – the Turkish form of pizza. In the morning you can grab a simple breakfast on the street from the vendors of simit (a sesame-encrusted bread ring). They walk around with a heap of simit on a plate on their head until they´re sold out. Don´t forget to finish the meal with traditional Turkish tea, usually served in small delicate glasses.

The days were filled with activities and sights, and with only two days in a place with a thousand “musts” the time does off course not suffice. In between everything I did get the time to meet up with Sherry from OttsWorld though, a lively woman who runs a blog sharing travel experience, photography and life experience as a full time nomadic traveler. She did the rally last year, and had a lot of good stories to share and some handy tips for the rest of the trip.

I did also have my first experience of a Turkish bath. In a steaming hot room I and Nina were placed on one bench each. A woman poured hot water over me and started scrubbing my whole body with a rough cloth, followed by being covered in soap foam as she commanded “sit lady”, lay down lady”, “turn around lady”. Afterwards I was again soaked in water in several rounds before a rest as Nina got the same treatment. Afterwards I had half an hour of oil massage. Being thoroughly washed by a half-naked woman was a rather bizarre experience, but the feeling of freshness afterwards was just wonderful!

Six thirty in the morning we left Istanbul and passed over to Asia by the 1510 meter long Bosporus Bridge, which connects the two continents. Even early in the morning it was rather time consuming to cross over due to road works and heavy traffic. We got a small glimpse of the Asian part of Istanbul, which I had not been able to visit during our short stay – but which for sure is on my list for the next trip to Istanbul!

How do you like Istanbul?


About the Author Elin

I´m an Oslo based web publisher with passion for communication, travel and a green lifestyle. When I travel, I prefer to go slow, sustainable, and “live like a local”. Why slow? It is about challenging the cult of speed, and to enjoy the small things in life and to live in the present.

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