Ever fancied going on a tour around Europe by rail? This month's guest post is from avid-traveller, Ben Fletcher, who did just that! Here in this post, he shares his experience of Turkey - his expectations, what he got up to, food and any problems he faced. Check it out below!
Hi Ben! How long did it take you to travel to Turkey?
Istanbul, Turkey, was the furthest point we reached on our trip. Famed for it's fantastically varied history this was by far the most memorable place on our trip, the blend of lifestyles and beautiful buildings made it the most dynamic city yet. We took a night bus from Greece (where we had left off) into Turkey, this 12 hour bus was an ordeal by any means. Being ram packed full and with constant stops for passport control, immigration checks and loud passengers the chances to sleep were limited if not near impossible. Needless to say we arrived in Turkey at a bus depot at 6am, tired from all the travelling but excited.
Did you have any expectations before you arrived?
The city itself was once called the 'Trade Point of the World' and is everything you would expect it to be. It's alive with a humdrum of activity mixed with more chilled out rock beach areas surrounding the Bosphorus. It's a great mix of both worlds and offers something to suit everyone - I'd definitely recommend it if you haven't been - it's well worth a visit.
What was your accommodation like?
We stayed in a hostel as it was cheap and suited our budget. Our hostel for the few days was a surprise for me as my friend promised me a room with a view. What I didn't realise was that the 'room with a view' meant that we were actually sleeping on the floor of the roof completely open to the elements.
What things did you get up to?
We went exploring a lot to find local mosques and eateries; going for short walks around the initial place we were staying helped us get our bearings which made navigating the city quicker and easier later on. However by the end of day 1, the tiredness had got to me, and after our hasty dinner from a street cart selling some 'meat on a stick' as my friend Ollie called it we retired to our beds eager for some sleep.
Our second day was taken up by the bazaar's and museums (all the touristy things). Our aim was to stroll around the famous Grand Bazaar, which we were keen to see as we had been told was a fantastic experience. We were also lucky enough to stumble upon the Egyptian Souks, which was full of life with exuberant wares being flogged. Moving on we headed around some of the buildings in our area, the Hagia Sofia (a large and intricate mosque) and the burial sites there which contains many emperors and sultans of old. We also saw the fantastically beautiful Topkapi Palace, where the Sultans used to live, within the grounds were many archaeological museums and information points.
A stroll around a few of these museums was very enlightening, and gave more detail about the famous history of Constantinople such as the Great Golden Chain which used to span the Bosphorus river or the Maidens Tower. We could have very easily spent a whole day in these historic places but night drew on and food beckoned, returning to our meat cart street vendor from the night before. We slept well that night feeling full of knowledge and excited for the next day.
Our third day here started early, as we left the hostel at 7am for our cram-filled day. We headed for a hop-on hop-off tour bus, which is designed for tourists who wanted to see more than just the immediate area - this type of travel was a great choice as it allowed us to get out and visit each place then get on another bus. The buses were good and reliable as they came along every 20 minutes. The buses themselves came with an audio description and toured some of the most famous places up and down the city, from old mosques to the football stadium.
I thought that the audio was brilliant as it had a wide range of languages available, and gave detailed information about each stopping point. I love learning about history so this was definitely right up my street! We chose the tour that would take us over the Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridge which is one of the only places to cross into Asia without the use of a boat, this made our travelling into a Euro-Asia adventure, definitely a momentous occasion.
Once we had returned it started to get darker and after a quick trip to a local restaurant we wandered the streets marvelling at how active the city was during the night, with everything from street acts with flashing glow sticks to vendors of all forms. We sat in front of the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (or the blue mosque) which is the largest mosque in Istanbul - it had been illuminated by bright coloured lights and a fountain just in front of the building which looked incredible at night. The sight was entrancing and we sat drinking Salep (a drink made from Salep powder with many ground up nuts and spices mixed in), it was similar to rice pudding without the rice and was fantastic.
We sat here for many hours waiting for our next night train that we were due to be on later to take us to our next stop, soaking up the scenery and already reminiscing about our time in Turkey.
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