Yup, still in Australia... sorry, Istanbul - though it's a very easy mistake to make. The youth population of Australia must be decimated, because if there were a lot hanging about Eastern Europe then Istanbul is crawling with them. Like a sick dog with lice. I think I'm developing a prejudice. Although all the Australians I've met individually have been great, I keep seeing gangs of people that can only be Australian, talking loudly and acting Australian, and I cringe/
But Australians aside, Istanbul is a remarkable city. Absolutely different from everywhere else I've been before. As well as the countless mosques and rocket-like minaret towers that distinguish it from any other European city, the entire place just has a different feel to it. It operates on a different agenda. Also a significant factor is that it's the first place (except perhaps Albania) where it's very evident that I'm not a native. I don't look Turkish. Other countries I just about fitted in, but not here, with the consequences that I'm accosted by numerous Turkish salesmen desperate to invite their new "friend" to their carpet salesroom, silver shop, kebab shop or anywhere that might involve a sale. I have become very very familiar with the phrases "Hello my friend!" and "Where are you from?". But I don't mind it. They're pushy but not unfriendly and as long as you take it in the right spirit, it's quite fun. Mind you, in a bad mood you realll cannot be bothered with it sometimes.
Anyway, our Istanbul experience can be very neatly divided into two halves, the second of which is ongoing (and could be ongoing all the way to Israel possibly). The first half is set in our first hostel, the Orient hostel, with Maurice and Becci, Viking the Finn, Bambi and Barbie the Canadian girls, and various annoying Australians all around. The second is at our second hostel, the Yucult, with two Australians we met (independently) in Sofia and met up with again, Melissa and Owen, plus various other annoying Australians all around (and some, just for a change, New Zealanders).
I'll begin, predictably, with the first half.
We checked into the Orient hostel on Tuesday morning, along with Viking but not Maurice or Becci who ended up going to a cheap hotel. Perhaps a wise choice as our hostel turned out to be pretty awful. Despite its various facilities (Travel agency, internet, bar), it couldn't compensate for the fact that the rooms were small and pokey, and it was part of what I've termed "Hostel Row". Basically 3 or 4 hostels all on one street, with the consequence that I felt like we were all being herded like cattle into one little area. Honestly, I felt like a package tourist. I didn't feel comfortable with it at all.
Anyway, that day we went out with the Canadian girls to the Grand Bazaar and the Blue Mosque. The Grand Bazaar was rather fun, albeit full of just tourist tat. I went and argued and haggled with various salesmen over stuff I had no intention of buying. It was fun just walking about and having various Turks pounce on you. Mind you, the hassle we received was nothing compared to what the girls got. They were ok with me and Simon around, but without us they said the "attention" went up a hundredfold. Yeah, girls, if you ever go to Turkey you've got to be prepared for some serious attention from the Turkish guys who see an opportunity with an easy Western girl. They're not necessarily aggressive, just very very persistant indeed.
The Blue Mosque then, a gigantic mosque coloured blue, you may not be surprised to hear. Not very blue though, just slightly. Bluish Mosque might be a more appropriate term. It was the first time I've ever been into a mosque and I have to say, I was hugely impressed. Not what I expected at all. After various churches and cathedrals I was expecting a similar sense of awe and grandeur, but the huge open interior of the mosque instead felt very serene and relaxing. Giant chandelier type things hung from long ropes from the roof, suspended just above your head, and a calm feeling enveloped the whole building. It was really pleasant, very serene.
A guy tried to pick Bambi up there too.
Then, after a while of just pissing around, darkness fell and drinking began. Oh Lord.
This all came from a bet I, apparently, made with Barbie in Bucharest. A bet I didn't actually remember making, but I'm very glad Barbie reminded me. Basically, the bet was that I though Kylie Minogue was less than 35, and Barbie thought she was older than 35. Whoever was right was owed 10 beers. And before you ask, if Minogue turned out to be dead on 35, we called it even. Barbie was insistant she was 37, but I was sure otherwise. Not just from my Neighbours days, but from Vince in the Sofia hostel. He was a big fan of Minogue and said he shared the same birthday as her, and was born just a year before or after her. Vince was 32, and I trusted his Minogue obsession.
So we popped on the internet, and typed in "Kylie Minogue date of birth", and got this: Kylie Minoque - Date of Birth: May 28, 1968. Ten beers were mine.
I'd already had a few. As you might imagine, that night I got very very drunk indeed. Too drunk, even if I say so myself. I was so drunk I was literally immobilised. Thinking clearly but unable to talk or move. Like a zombie.
In the bar opposite the hostel, it was all ok. Maurice and Becci additional, we sat round drinking and talking, along with a bunch of other people I can't even be bothered remembering anything about whatsoever. I'm willing to bet they were Australian, and I know that a few of them definitely irritated me. It was only upon going to some club way over in the other side of town, that my entire body shut down. I was gone. For about two hours I just stood, propped up against a post, watching stuff happen. I could think clearly, but couldn't actually do anything. Just think "Oh man, I'm really rather drunk here." I would have attempted to just head back to the hostel and go to bed, but I didn't have a clue where the hell I was. Eventually I was bundled into a taxi with some guy and gave him mild abuse before making it back alive.
I was in a bad mood all the next day. Hungover, lethargic and restless. I went to the Aya Sofya, an ex-church, ex-mosque, and it was soothing and I walked around, but I was in no form to do anything constructive really. Later on I went on a walk to try and defuse my bad mood but just ended up having an encounter with a damned shoeshine boy that I really don't want to talk about because every time I do I get really really angry, and so was in a bad bad mood. But things relaxed in the evening (after a drink...) and I was better. We had a final meal with the Canadian girls (at Zaza's restaurant, a Turk who accosted me in the street and started putting on a bizarre Scottish accent and was actually quite funny so I decided to eat there) as they left that evening to go elsewhere in Turkey. We're not sure if they're going to meet up with them in Egypt now as their worried mother is terrified of them going there, but Bambi is likely going to be working in Scotland in a few months so it's possible we'll see her again.
They laughed at a lot at my extreme drunkenness the night before. Cows.
And Maurice and Becci? What happened to you? They just disappeared. We'd been hanging around with them since Sofia, forming a band, and getting on well. I even gave Maurice an Uzbekistani hat. We agreed to meet up with them at a bar at 6 or 7pm. They didn't appear, and when we tried them at their hostel they weren't in. We knew they were going to leave Istanbul the next day, but we've no idea what happened to them.
I was exhausted anyway. and just had a few drinks with Simon and was taught how to play Backgammon by one of the bar people. I beat Simon. Twice.
All change the next day. From the Orient hostel to the Yucult hostel, saying goodbye to Viking the Finn in the process (I've criminally said nothing about him - hopefully Simon will). And hello to Owen and Melissa.
Owen was there when we got there, and Melissa arrived from Sofia later in the day. I had a meal with them at some place Melissa recommended, and as she's spent the last month in Istanbul she knows what she's talking about. She walks down the street and all the shopkeepers know her.
Dammit, I've written too much again. I've got better things to do. Basically, this is the story - tomorrow myself, Simon and Owen all go to Marmarus in Turkey to get a boat to Rhodes which goes to Cyprus and then Israel. Melissa is currently trying to decide if she wants to go, torn between actually going elsewhere other than Istanbul and celebrating her 21st birthday on a boat to Cyprus or staying put with her Turkish "manfriend", the night-shift guy at the hostel. At the moment I think she'll probably come along, as we all make a pretty good group and it would be a 21st birthday in style. I'm going to go now and do something better than writing to you lot.