Features: The sights and sounds of Istanbul
Location: Ciroz Camping, Yesilkoy, Istanbul, Turkey
Distance so far: 16,256 km
GPS Co-ords: 37d, 42.321' N, 26D, 39.701'E
Dates: Tuesday 14th November to Saturday 18th November
Highlights: Chaka woos Istanbul, Neil has a cut-throat shave that literally sets him alight, Rottweilers, Rottweilers everywhere, plane spotters paradise!
Well, its back to me for the next couple of updates to tell you about our touristy bits - I can't deal with prop-shafts, cross-members and fly-wheels. What does it all mean? Whenever I had a problem with my Audi A4, I used to book it into the Audi garage, was given an Audi A6 as a courtesy car for the day, told to come back at 5.00pm, signed on the dotted line and off I drove happy as a sand-boy - girl, without a cross-member passing my lips. Ignorance is bliss! However, those days of driving at over 50mph, not having to change down to low ratio gears to climb anything larger than a mole-hill and switching on the cruise control are long gone. Oh well, prop-shafts and fly-wheels it is!
After spending the previous day at the Marmara garage, and criss-crossing the Bosphorus…
East meets west
and to the north.
………we thought we should do a bit of unadulterated tourism and headed off to Yesilkoy train station to catch the train to Istanbul. Now to say that we needed a bit of washing doing would be a slight misrepresentation of the facts. To say we had a sack load would be more accurate. Our main problem is that a lot of our clothes, trousers at least are light coloured and at the mere whiff of a spot of travel, they are dirty. Advice to all you budding travellers - buy dark colours. Now of course we have our Rottie along with us who adores jumping up at you just as he has run through a muddy field, wet sand, dusty dirt track, in short, anything that places a nice mucky paw print on your breast - as in my case - or smack bang in the middle of your crotch - as in Neil's case. Manys the time we have just changed into pristine, clean clothes, commented on how good it feels and then be landed with a smackeroony in some embarrassing bodily location that we then have to proudly adorn for the next few days until our next change of clothes. Of course, when the weather is hot and dry and we are staying at a camp-site, we can wash the clothes, hang them out and they would be dry within a couple of hours. Not quite so easy when you are on the road for days at a time, sleeping at Truckers stops, Service Stations or small fishing marina's. I don't think either would take too kindly to having a washing-line erected, displaying our garments for all the world to see. Also, more often than not, camp-sites only have cold running water which is fine when the clothes are not too grubby and the weather is hot and sunny, but not quite so appealing when the clothes are filthy and the weather is cold and damp, with little prospect of them drying so quickly. I might add that I have spent many a happy hour - sorry, that should read, day - washing our clothes however, this time our sack load seemed less appealing and we opted for a laundry instead.
We had briefly visited Interyouth Hostel in Istanbul the previous day to enquire if they took laundry - I guess everyone in Yesilkoy must own a washing- machine - and the answer was music to my ears. Yes! So we packed a back-pack full - 8kgs worth - and off we went.
The train fare into Istanbul was a flat rate 400,000TL - 40p, Railtrack take note - and dogs go free. In fact, we thought it was only right to ask if it was indeed ok for Chaka to travel on the train and we were met with raised arms swiftly followed with a nod of the head. We got the feeling the question had not been asked before. We had also learnt very early on in our travels that Chaka attracts a great deal of attention. England is without a doubt a country of dog lovers and you notice this more and more as you travel to other countries where wild dogs roam the streets in packs, scavaging for food and all the dogs look the same, a sort of cross between a German Shepherd and a Sheep dog. We are always surprised how many people know that Chaka is a Rottweiler as they are not a common breed, but he is constantly met with 'Ah, Rottweiler' and some very brave people who come straight up and stroke him. Even as a Rottweiler owner, I would never approach one I didn't know and stroke them or any larger breed of dog for that matter.
We were trying to keep a low profile as it was the first time we had taken Chaka on a train and as peoples reactions to him vary from exuberant delight accompanied by lots of head patting and stroking, to utter fear and a swift crossing of the road to avoid his path, we were a little cautious to say the least. But, as we stood on the platform waiting for the train, we were greeted with shouts of recognition from across the tracks in an adjacent garage. It was the man we had met a couple of days previously as we were walking Chaka by Yesilkoy marina. He also had a Rottie, 4 months old and very sweet. By this time, half the platform had stopped reading their newspapers and were watching the spectacle with intent. Shouts of 'Chaka' resounded from across the tracks and Chaka once again found himself in his favourite position - the centre of attention. We smiled back trying not to draw any more attention to ourselves as Chaka started straining at the leash. The man gestured for us to wait a moment as he disappeared out of sight to return a few minutes later with his Rottie along with a couple of other dogs for good measure. Well, all hell broke lose. Barking, pulling, possibly a few growls, just to get the waiting passengers on the platform extra worried. We had been foiled again. The train arrived not a moment too soon and as the doors opened and everyone piled on we held back hoping to find an empty carriage, but they were all full. It was either wait for the next train, or pile on with everyone else. So on we piled with Chaka in tow. Chaka was extremely well behaved but peoples reactions were less positive as they realised what was sitting at their feet.
First stop on arrival at Sirkeci station was the Interyouth Hostel who took delivery of our washing, much to the relief of my back and on we walked towards the Blue Mosque. As we walked past a large street café on the opposite side of the road, we suddenly heard shouts and a lot of excitement coming from the café. A man literally bolted across the road and smothered Chaka with hugs and kisses and told us how much he liked dogs. He invited us to have an apple tea at his café and when we came to pay he said it was free of charge. So kind and a great introduction to Istanbul.
We walked on to Sultanahmet Square home to the Blue Mosque, quite a spectacular sight.
It is also home to the even more spectacular Aya Sofya which is directly opposite. It literally towers over the square and is said to be the Byzantine Empires greatest building. It was first built as a church in 325AD, destroyed by fire in 404AD, rebuilt and again destroyed by fire, then a third church was built on the site and remained as such until around the 15th century when it became a mosque. Today it is a museum. Quite a history.
We walked on to the Hippodrome famous for the Byzantine riots and chariot racing with a political bias. Each political party would enter a team in the races and people showed their political alliance by supporting a certain team. Possibly a thought for George W Bush and Al Gore!
We had expected Istanbul old town - the Sultanahmet area - to be a madhouse of people, traffic, noise and be a gateway to ancient Turkey. But we were surprised, if not a little disappointed, to find it had a very peaceful, laid back, almost surburban feel to it. Narrow, tree-lined cobbled streets, resembling Devon more than Istanbul, cafes, manicured gardens and designer-clad locals. An altogether very modern, Westernised city. It was in stark contrast to the 'old town' Medina's of Morocco where you really did step back in time. Here in Istanbul, as in the vast majority of Turkey, time has taken a huge leap forward into the 21st Century. Its path into the EU is only marred by its high inflation - 100% - and multi-party government. If it wasn't for that, they would be right up there with the best of them.
We headed for a spot of lunch and settled on a kebab or kebap as they are called here. We placed our order for 2 kebaps and sat down at an out-side table to watch the world go by. Our food arrived closely followed by a plate of chicken especially for Chaka - here we go again - and were told that his name means 'joke' or 'international terrorist' in Turkish. Whoops!
The sun sets at 4.30pm and by 5.00pm it is pitch black. As that time was approaching we headed back to the station but this time we walked a little further to Kumkaki station where we found a small street lined with street cafes. It was now dark and with all the lights on, it resembled St Christophers Place in London, buzzing with atmosphere, wonderful aromas and obviously quite a trendy little area. As we walked along, we noticed a small barber shop and stood and watched as a man underwent a cut-throat shave followed by a rather relaxing looking facial massage. As Neil's hair hadn't been cut for 3 months and he had 3 days of stubble sprouting from his chin, I popped in to get a price. For a hair-cut and shave, 5,000,000TL - £5.00. So in we went.
First the hair-cut. Most of the other guys coming in and out were having a number 2 or 3 cut, however, the barber obviously thought that was a little severe for a British tourist and set about a rather 'safe' haircut. Neil and I exchanged glances and both felt that a little more should be taken off. So the barber continued chopping away again. No, it still wasn't right, so I gestured that more should be taken off the back and left a little longer on the top. So off he went again, this time producing a shaver set on number 2 and shaving the back. Horror of horrors! For a brief moment I thought he was going to leave it like that with Neil looking as though someone had stuck a pudding basin on his head and cut around it. But, the barber trimmed the top and it looked great. Then the shave. A good covering of shaving cream and out it came, the cut throat razor. Again, the barber was meticulous and Neil looked very calm and relaxed.
Then he produced 2 long pieces of wire with cotton at each end, doused them in alcohol and set them alight. Aargh! Neils relaxed persona suddenly changed to one of horror and the barber proceeded to burn the hair from inside Neils ears. Very painful, I was later told but it certainly sorted out hairy ears syndrome. I was sitting with digital camera at the ready but was so engrossed with what was going on, I forgot to take the picture. He then got a piece of cotton, put one end in his mouth and wound the other around his fingers and started to run it up and down Neils cheeks in a sort of twisting motion. It was actually plucking out stray hairs. Again, quite painful.
Finally, a splash of cologne massaged into the face, a quick snip of the old nasal hair, a comb of the eyebrows and he was done. Totally devoid of facial hair and literally glowing.
We spent the next 3 days at the camp-site, a stones throw from the centre of Yesilkoy, a sort of Turkish St Johns Wood, with wonderful fruit shops, bakers - 2 loaves of freshly baked bread for 350,000TL, 35p - fishmongers and butchers. Wonderful restaurants by the marina, although a little out of our league and all in all a very welcoming place to visit. The camp-site has alot of very friendly resident dogs who roam around freely but we thought it best to keep Chaka on a lead. One of the dogs who was kept in a kennel was another Rottie called Pacha. He had apparently got hold of a smaller dog on the camp-site and in the words of John Cleese it was now, 'deceased, dead, gone, it is no more'. So all the people who worked at the camp-site were very familiar with Rotties. The camp-site is really super and for anyone travelling to Istanbul it is a great place to camp. It is a large site with a lot of resident caravans/campers. Apparently, after the earthquake last year, with its epi-centre being Izmit, a lot of people moved out of their flats and took up residence at camp-sites. Also, a lot of people have caravans which they use as weekend homes. So it has a very homely feel to it, with little picket fences around some of the plots and vegetables patches. The toilets and showers are absolutely spotless and cleaned numerous times a day. The only negative aspect is that it is right next to Attaturk Airport, literally next to the runway. Great if you happen to be a plane spotter.
We also took Chaka to the vet in Yesilkoy to get his annual vaccinations. They offered a similar combined vaccine to that of the UK and for anyone thinking of travelling with a dog, this includes Distemper, Infectious Canine Hepatitis, Adenovirus 2, Parovirus, Parainfluenza, Leptospira canicola and Leptospira icterohaemorrhagiae. Chaka was as good as gold. We also had him weighed, 35kgs and rising. Pet food can be a problem whilst travelling. We stocked up on Professionals Choice whilst in the UK which saw us through France, Spain and part of Morocco. But it was then a case of finding another suitable brand. Royal Chien is widely available throughout Europe and Morocco however, after various attempts, we realised that the vast majority of it passes swiftly through the dog and is then unceremoniously deposited, usually in the path of on-coming pedestrians. As a result, few nutrients are actually absorbed by the dog. At the vets in Yesilkoy they sold Eucanuba which have an extensive range and is excellent food. So Chaka is back on 'quality' food again and I think he notices the difference as he doesn't so much eat it as inhale it.
It's hungry work writing these features!…..