• Sunday , 21 January 2018
Istanbul not Constantinople

Istanbul not Constantinople

Istanbul, the seventh largest city proper in the world and the largest city in Europe, was our home for almost a month. Straddling the Bosphorus Straight this city has one foot in Europe and one foot in Asia. Riding the motorcycles in Istanbul was a nervous affair and the Turkish driving style takes some getting used to. For example, it is totally normal for cars to share a lane with a motorcycle and pass within inches. Often a two-land road will be crammed five cars across as the lines painted on the road mean nothing to Turkish drivers and neither do sidewalks, one-way streets, or driving on the tramway tracks along with the tram. However once we adjusted to these quirks, the roads were not as dangerous as they first appeared. Istanbul is one of the most feared cities to drive in Europe but we survived mostly thanks to the ultra modern public transit, in other words, we bought a train pass and only rode the bikes when absolutely necessary.

A perfect storm of motorcycle travelers. Peter, Leonnie (Amsterdam to Anywhere), and Clinton are also on long trips spanning the globe. All our vectors converged one night in Istanbul so we celebrated with a long dinner where we swapped stories and good cheer.

Istanbul was made for long walks and it was fun to get semi-lost. There is no such thing as a dull street and there were constantly great vistas to photograph.

The Sacrifice Feast (Eid el-Adha) in Turkey is a four-day religious festival. The Sacrifice Feast traditions in Turkey include sacrificing an animal in a special ritual, visiting relatives, and helping the poor. We are unsure of the significance of this gem left on a pedestrian walkway underneath the train tracks during the holiday.

Fishing, a picnic, and target practice with a pistol; leisure activity overload on the Bosphorus Straight at sunset.

Istanbul loves cats and no street was without them. The street cats here are well looked after; people commonly leave food out for them and build cat houses out of unused cardboard boxes.

Shannon negotiating the price of roasted chestnuts near Taksim Square.

The Galata tower is just to the north of the Golden Horn’s junction with the Bosphorus. It is one of the most iconic landmarks in Istanbul. Built in 1348, Galata Tower was the tallest building in Istanbul at the time.

It was a luxury to have an apartment with a kitchen, sitting area, and two bedrooms. Our biker pal, Clinton, roomed with us for a couple weeks before taking his final leave and heading off to new adventures in Greece. We became regulars in our conservative neighborhood and made friends with our local shopkeepers, neighbors, and tradespeople. We felt included and welcome here.

The quiet back streets of Istanbul can look a little sinister at night but we found the city to be one of the safest of our trip.

Treats abound in the Spice Bazaar. In an earlier time, the bazaar was the last stop for the camel caravans that travelled the Silk Road from China, India, and Persia.

The smell of the Spice Bazaar was as amazing as the color.

We have found that all our favorite big cities also harbor our favorite street art. Istanbul was no exception.

Street art in Istanbul, Turkey.

The cat whisperer of Taksim.

The setting sun over the Bosphorus; you can’t take a bad photograph in a place like this.

The cool air and rarified light of the fall season makes Istanbul a treat to see in October.

Our time was split between work and play. Work consisted of gathering quotes and laying out the logistics of shipping the bikes as air cargo to Nepal, planning our route around Turkey, and getting boots and riding gear repaired not to mention the five visits it took to get our India visas. Mostly we explored, made dinner dates with other Turkish overlanders we met online, and played tourist at museums and markets. Istanbul is fun and contrary to what you may think, is a very safe city in comparison to similar megalopolises in other parts of the world. We walked long and far without a single problem.

Hagia Sophia is an architectural wonder. It has been an important monument both for the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Once a church, later a mosque, it is now a museum, and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Inside the Hagia Sophia.

The Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul. This underground lake was fascinating to explore. Lots of fish swimming about as well.

The Basilica Cistern, Istanbul.

Shannon’s childhood friend Gillian came from Seattle for a visit. Watching the selfie-stick army do their thing was amusing until it started to rain.

The worlds best fish sandwich can be found in Istanbul from this guy’s cart. Grilled mackerel, pomegranate reduction, and ten other mystery ingredients all toasted to absolute perfection.

The beauty of Istanbul can overwhelm.

Taking in the majesty of the Blue Mosque.

I am a lousy shopper. I quickly get bored looking at things for sale but I can watch people on the street for hours on end. My new furry friend? Not so much.

We loved our quiet, conservative neighborhood in Istanbul and we became part of the scenery after nearly a month here.

Bradley and Gillian visiting from Seattle was tonic for our homesick souls.

Istanbul, Turkey.

We have been asked why are we flying the bikes to Nepal instead of riding there. There are a few reasons: winter is almost here making the weather inhospitable further east; as a US-citizen it is very difficult to get visas and our US-registered bikes without a carnet valid in Iran are not allowed; and, finally, the bank account is reaching DEFCON three and we want quality time in Southeast Asia before the money runs out. If you calculate fuel, lodging, and associated expenses the cost of air freighting the bikes is a reasonable fee to magically “beam” ourselves from Turkey to the Himalayas. Next up for are Nepal, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, possibly Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia. This should keep us busy for a while.

A city we will always love, Istanbul has been a trip unto itself.

Yum! Batter fried sardines and green salad. A cheap and very tasty lunch we ate many times.

So much to see and do, Istanbul’s vibrancy is infectious.

Our last day in Istanbul and we are still finding new places to explore.

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