16.10.2010 23 °C
With much regret Sam and I left Bosnia after a wonderful 3 days. We decided to avoid the 30 hour bus trip to Turkey which inevitably goes over a mountain range on bad roads and through Serbia which is kind of similar to having an Israeli stamp in your passport. Border troubles! And we didn’t want no “border troubles”! Instead we decided it was worth wild taking a 1.5 hour flight. Unlike most of Europe in which we’d braved the rigors of budget airlines, we decided to take a Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul. Out of sheer habit we both charge onto the plane barrelling people out of the way to secure a seat. And what did we find. An unimaginable paradise equipped with leg room, assigned seating and food and drink you didn’t need your wallet for. Amazing …
I’d managed to weed out some decent accommodation in Istanbul right in the heart of the Sultanahmet. Much like the decision to take a break from budget airlines, we’d decided to take a break of hostels and 1-2 star hotels and reserved a 5 star hotel for our time in Istanbul. Our troubles began when we decided to take a taxi from the airport. Big Mistake. I think I lapsed in and out of a consciousness to briefly glance at the speedometer which was hitting 80 mph, before passing out back into the comfort of my fear coma. Fortunately somehow we made it to our hotel in one piece.
We were ushered in by the hotel manager sat down and told we had no booking. Seeing as they never received our booking, they seemed pretty well prepared for us. He then went on to say he’d never heard the website we’d booked from and that they must be fraudulent, and he was unable to refund out booking fee. Ok so now we find ourselves at 7pm at night on Easter weekend with no accommodation and no other options due to everything being booked out. After I kicked up a grumpy fuss we ended up in a taxi being taken to a “sister” hotel, with the promise of a free night’s accommodation and to be moved back to the hotel tomorrow.
To cut a long story short re: accommodation. We ended up 30 mins out of Istanbul in some god awful commercial district in a hotel where they only spoke English when they were asking for your money. There was no free night, and no transfer back to the nice hotel (in fact we never heard from the manager ever again). Our hands were tied; there were no other options due to the influx of Easter holiday’ers. Either way we decided this wasn’t going to get us down. We managed to locate a tram line to take us into Istanbul for some sight seeing.
Unfortunately for us, we couldn’t seem to wash away the bad taste. It seemed like everywhere we went or every time we tried to look for a nice place to sit or eat or shop we’d get hassled, jostled and flustered. You get use to persistent hustlers which gather around tourist attractions throughout Europe, but for some reason Istanbul just seemed on another level. The constant wolf calling and badgering was becoming exhausting. There was a brief reprieve inside the walls of the Blue Mosque, a mellowly comforting calm. Both locals and tourists equally respectful.
Sam's Food Review
The towering pale minarets reminded me of Sarajevo, and unfortunately I longed to be back there. And it hit me that that may be half the problem. We’d both been so affected and entranced by our time in Sarajevo every little issue in Istanbul was becoming magnified in comparison. Everyone and everything felt so impersonal and inhospitable. It was that night we decided that a holiday shouldn’t be so difficult. Our dodgy hotel managed to dupe us for double the original price agreed to before leaving for the bus station to board a 20 hour overnight bus to the Bulgarian capital.
Cats Rule Istanbul ... much like most of Europe!
I think we definitely missed out on something very special in our hasty abandonment of Turkey (and the rest of our Middle Eastern plans). A capital city is rarely a true taste of a country, but there was no denying a really strong sense and feeling that we should be heading in a different direction. Perhaps we’re not savvy enough. Or perhaps we’re but wimpy western tourists. Either way I like to think I would return again one day. Just might have to give Istanbul a wide berth LOL.