I wanted to go to Istanbul, Turkey as my Dad had hitchhiked there as a student. So it was lovely for me to have the opportunity to travel to the same place.
Istanbul is split up into the Old Town and the New Town. The New Town centres around the main shopping street, Iztiklal, which stretches from Taksim Square right down to the river.
Iztiklal is the modern life of the New Town. When we arrived it was around 11pm on Friday night and the street was full of people. And I mean, Full. Full of families, couples, friends. Not out drinking, but just strolling and enjoying the atmosphere. The restaurants were bustling and the kebab bars were also doing a good trade. Turkey seems to have embraced modernity alongside its religion. A few people wore traditional islamic dress, but almost everyone wore western clothing.
We walked up to Taksim Square. This is the main square of the town, and is where protests normally start. It is also where bombs have gone off before so I was a bit wary, but it is just a vast space and we sat for a while people-watching and admiring the large moon. We popped into a newsagent shop to buy bottled water and a man asked us if we were Russian (“Ruski?”) which amused us! After being mistaken for Italians in America, we are now apparently Russian! 🙂
We bought an ice cream from a street seller and made the mistake of not asking the price first. He did the customary show of ringing the bell and banging the cart with his stick which was fun, When it came to pay, I expected it to be around 6 Turkish Lira. He proceeded to charge us 30 TL (about £9) and pointed to a price sheet discretely hidden at the side of the cart. We paid up but resolved not to go back – We don’t pay that much for ice cream!
In the daytime, Iztiklal has most clothes shops, including international brands like H&M, Zara etc. There are also burger bars and ice creams. It felt totally safe and vibrant. If you follow the increasingly steep road down towards the river you will pass several stalls selling freshly squeezed juice which was delicious and inexpensive so we had good Vitamin C levels while in Istanbul! 😉
Travel Tips: It’s not a major safety concern, but just to be aware – there were some women and small children sitting by the side of the street begging, and selling flowers. The children have clearly developed a tactic to sell their flowers – hugging people and refusing to let go until you buy a flower. I saw this happen to a couple in front. When a child tried to hug me I swiftly stepped backwards with my hands in the air – I was determined not to let them get hold of me, as much out of public awkwardness I didn’t want a random child attached to me and to be unable to get away. This seemed to work and they went away. More about this in my Greece posts later…
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