This article finishes the “A Couple of Weeks in Turkey” series and follows A Couple of Weeks in Turkey, Part 4: Cappadocia.
As I said in this series’ previous post, the Ankara visit didn’t go as planned. Our plan was to visit the city during the day and take the night train to Istanbul. I had read that the night train was really something to try so as soon as we arrived at Ankara we headed for the train station to buy the night train’s tickets and guess what… the wonderful night train was full!
Those were bad news, so after talking with Helena, we came to the conclusion that the best plan was to go to Istanbul on the next train. Of course, we didn’t have a place to stay at Istanbul and we would arrive there late that same night.
Fortunately I had written down the phone number of the hotel I had booked for the day after that one. I bought a public phone card, called them and, to our relief, they had a free room for that night. Now all we had to do was to wait a few hours for our train to Istanbul and we stayed at the station during that time because we couldn’t risk missing the train (and Ankara doesn’t really seem to have much to see, I was pretty much only interested in visiting the Atatürk Mausoleum).
Finally the train came, it would be another long trip and we would arrive late (at 11pm supposedly) but Helena and I had our first dinner ever at a train (at the train’s restaurant, that is), so it wasn’t all bad.
Late night adventures
What’s the worst you can do when you already know you’ll arrive late at the wrong side of the city (wrong continent, actually) and you’re pretty much confident of your travelling Turkish language skills? Hop off on the wrong station, of course!
The problem was that I was worried that we arrived too late to get the last ferry boat from the Asian shore to the European one (where our hotel was, in Sultanahmet) and I thought I heard the train announcement saying we had just arrived at Haydarpaşa (our destination)…
So we hopped off and it took us some long 5 minutes to realize I was wrong. Now I was getting nervous, I didn’t know how far from Istanbul we were, nobody seemed to speak English enough to understand me and the pride I had in having learned some Turkish was gone, leaving a trail of shame. After being told there was still a train to Istanbul that night, we bought new tickets and went to the platform.
When the train came, it resembled a subway one, with open space but dark, we also realized it was more than 10 stops until Haydarpaşa…
Finally we arrived safely at the train station and now there was another challenge for us to face: how to get the other shore.
It was almost midnight and we didn’t know when the last ferry to the other shore departed so we asked one of the passengers that was leaving the train station like us and he told us we needed to rush because we had perhaps 10 minutes or so to catch the ferry. We were so tired that we gave up on that idea and instead decided to take a cab. The designated cab driver didn’t speak much English so another driver helped us with the negotiation. The price was 40 TRL (~20 €) to take us to our hotel in Sultanahmet, I still had energy to bargain but the driver was inflexible, “40 lira it is!” I said.
The drive took about 40 minutes to get to Sultanahmet (the area) but as soon as we got there, he stopped and said “Okay, here. Sultanahmet!”. I told him that our hotel was still too far for us to walk with two big backpacks and reminded him that I had explicitly negotiated the price to get to the hotel, not the area. He said “okay” and drove around a little more, stopping every once in a while asking other taxi drivers for the hotel’s street (I kept telling him where it was and I had a map but he wouldn’t look at it). This lasted for 20 minutes or so until he found our hotel. When I reached my wallet to pay him, I said “40 lira, thank you!” and he said “thank you, but 40 lira Sultanahmet, please 10 lira more”, I said no-way, it wasn’t my fault he decided to take us to a destination he didn’t know and I tried to explain this to him. He said he had driven around so much that the 40 lira would not make it; “5 lira more!” he said with a lost puppy face and I gave in, took out a 5 lira bill thinking “it is just 2.5 € anyway…” and gave it to him; he said “okay, now 10 lira more”, “WHAT!?”, “10 lira more” he said. I wouldn’t take it, I felt bad that I was fighting over a couple of euros but the fact is that it was indeed his fault, he didn’t know where the hotel was, he didn’t use the taximeter and this sort of extortion was even advertised in our guide book so I took back the 5 lira from his hand, repeated my point a couple of times and headed to the hotel leaving him entering the cab while giving me a look not so much of a lost puppy but rather of an angered pitbull…
Grand shopping at the Grand Bazaar
The next morning we had breakfast at the terrace of our hotel, Hotel Deniz. The breakfast was nothing special but the view over the sea was great. That day, June 24th, we went to the Grand Bazaar to do some real shopping this time. We got there early and it was really funny because every time we discussed or asked about the price of something, we were told “because you’re my first customer today, I have a special price for you”. Of course this was bullshit and we still had to bargain everything
Bargaining is funny, there were a couple of unsuccessful deals (as in, the salesmen would not give in) but we always got a good enough price. Helena was astonished by all the materials, both in quantity and in variety, she could find for making her crafts.
Among other things, we bought:
- A Turkish coffee can;
- Several “evil eye” key-chains;
- Leather “Hugo Boss” shoes (the ones I’m wearing right now );
- A purse for my mother;
- A lamp made of tiny glass tiles;
- A traditional, hand-made flute for my brother;
- Turkish delight boxes (lokum);
- A traditional dagger replica;
- Purple “Converse All Star” shoes for Helena;
Helena bought these All Star shoes for 30 TRL (~15 €) and in purple, the color she loves and couldn’t find before. However, when we arrived at the hotel, we realized that one of the shoes didn’t have the Converse logo… Helena really loved the shoes so we headed back to the bazaar and found the salesman (just a boy, actually) who looked very embarrassed and swore he hadn’t sold those one purpose (I believed him). He made a phone call and soon after somebody came with a new, perfect pair.
Sightseeing and relaxing again
The Grand Bazaar is an amazing and hypnotizing place but we also did more than shopping for these last days. We went on trip up the Bosphorus where I took some nice photos despite the rainy day and when it finished, we ate a balık ekmek (fish sandwich) at a place under the Galata bridge. After that, we crossed the bridge by foot to visit Galata. This district seemed more urban (as in “European urban”) than the other two shores we had been at. We also passed by a jazz café that our Brazilian friends had told us about back in Cappadocia but we didn’t enter which was a pity because later that night, while at the Marmara Café, we found the Americans we also met at Capadocia and they told us they were there, at the jazz place, together with the Brazilians…
These last days we also found a really good restaurant in Sultanhamet. It is called Doy-Doy and we loved it so much we went there twice. The restaurant is in fact a building with several stories and we had dinner at the terrace. What is also incredible is that the kitchen is at the ground floor and there’s no elevator (not even a food elevator) so one of the waiters goes up and down all night. The price is good, the food is marvelous and the views of the Blue Mosque make it only more awesome. Go there if you have a chance.
We also passed by a famous calligraphist close to the Çemberlitaş Hamamı where I bought a plate with “Família Rocha” written on it for my mom. I know the calligraphist had a webpage that I once visited but I cannot remember what the shop’s name was, my attempts to find it on Google were unsuccessful as well but you can see his picture below. Still, it is easy to find if you pass by the Hamamı and is worth to go there instead of a street calligraphist as this guy is much better.
On the June 27th 2011 we boarded on a plane back to Spain. We loved Turkey, its people, its food and its beautiful landscapes and culture. I hope we go back at some point and I totally recommend it if you want a mixture of European and Middle-east cultures.
This finishes the series of articles about our Two Weeks in Turkey in the summer of 2011. Just like the Interrail series, it took me almost a year to wrap it up but hopefully I covered most of our little adventures in this amazing country.
Until the next trip!