Istanbul (Not Constantinople) Part III
Next up: Asia! First, let me brag for a minute about the fact that I visited 5 continents (North America, South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia) between August 2011 and March 2012. Pretty neat, I’d say. Istanbul has the spiffy distinction of being located on two continents. The water running through the middle of the city is considered the divide between Europe and Asia, so visiting Asia is just a matter of taking a cheap commuter ferry a few minutes across the sea.
Of course, Asian Istanbul looks pretty identical to European Istanbul, but just the fact that you can so easily cross to another continent thrills me. A friend of mine once told me about the “transcontinental clubbing” he did during his stay in Istanbul. We didn’t do that, but I’d imagine a normal night out seems pretty lame after partying on two continents in one night.
Over in Asia, there wasn’t a lot to see, but we had lunch and then returned to Europe to pay a visit to the Istanbul Archaeology Museums, featuring ancient sculptures, creepy-as-hell skeletons, beautiful tiles, and lots and lots of other old stuff. We followed that up with the Basilica Cistern, the largest of the many cisterns underneath Istanbul, built by the Byzantines in the 6th century. While the pillars, dripping water, and scary Medusa heads are intriguing, tourism has made the place feel pretty much like Disneyland: they’ve added mysterious lighting, creepy, new-agey music, and tourist shops to the place, all of which seem entirely unnecessary. Still worth a visit.
Then, we headed for some more tea and baklava (of course), followed by wandering through streets of shops and passing through the Spice Bazaar again. We returned to the area around our hostel, had dinner at another cheap cafeteria, and then spent the night at a trendy rooftop bar.
We began our final day at the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, which was included in the museum pass we had purchased a few days before. Lunch was kebabs again, because how can you pass that up, really? Next, we paid a visit to the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul’s largest marketplace with over 3000 shops and 61 covered streets. The place is a fascinating labyrinth selling all kinds of clothing, decorations, spices, foods, and souvenirs. As obvious tourists, we were targets of every shopkeeper’s desperate attempts to lure us in with cheesy phrases and terrible deals. The calls of, “Hello beautiful girls. I have nice souvenirs for you,” or whatever the heck they tried and the incessant bartering quickly drove me insane, but I did get a few neat souvenirs.
We returned to the hostel, and the rest of the group went to a Turkish bath. I decided to save the money (and avoid the nudity and insane spa heat) and instead wandered around by myself, doing some souvenir shopping and enjoying Istanbul’s atmosphere for our last few hours there. We completed the trip with a lovely rooftop dinner before our pre-dawn wakeup call the following morning.
After liftoff, I realized that 1) I had booked bus tickets from Madrid back to Sevilla one day too early and 2) I had left my nice winter coat in the hostel in Istanbul, both horribly frustrating mistakes that still make me cringe but that I also realize are the kind of thing essential to any true travel adventure. We eventually made it back to Sevilla, a few euros shorter, exhausted, and having to push our way through Semana Santa crowds, but completely content after such a brilliant journey. Istanbul was unique, beautiful, delicious and fascinating — a perfect spring break.