Welcome to our European Odyssey

House sitter moved in....check
Currency sorted....check
Months supply of cat food purchased.....check
Travel docs and plane tickets ready......check

24 hours until our flight departs Sydney, bound for the crossroads of the world, Istanbul.
Needless to say, we are all very excited, and a little nervous, to be taking our first trip to Europe.

Next stop, the Sultanahmet district and our home for a week in the old city area of Istanbul.


Day 1 - Istanbul

After around 30 hours of travel time and 36 hours without sleep, we arrived in Istanbul at around 1.45pm local time. After a quick check through immigration we were met by at the airport by a driver, arranged for by our host, Suleyman, for our 20 minute drive into Sultanahmet.

On first impression, Istanbul reminds me a lot of Melbourne. Lots of trees; big strips of green grass down the middle of the major roads and the Sea of Marmara looks a lot like Port Phillip Bay, except there are literally scores of freighters waiting around for their turn to head up the Bosphorus and into the Black Sea.

Sea of Marmara with freighter traffic.

On the drive in, we also got to see some of the old city Walls of Constantinople. Some of these date back to around 500 AD and as to be expected, these ruins litter the city and I'm sure we will see many more of them in the coming days. 

Walls of Constantinople.

Our drive into the city was pretty hairy! No one indicates, everyone appears to be on their mobile phones while driving and the horns are used as a warning for everyone else to get the hell out of the way!

Upon arrival we met our neighbour, Taner, who manages the flat we are staying in. We were all re-energised and excited to to go for a wander, so we dropped our bags and headed out into the mysterious new city. One of the selling points of our accommodation was the close proximity to the Grand Bazaar and the rest of the Old City attractions, so we made a bee-line for the Bazaar for a quick peek. 

The walk was amazing. This part of the city is just bustling with all sorts of commerce. Streets filled with people, pushing heavily laden trolleys up and down steep hills. Lots of sidewalk stalls selling perfume, handbags and watches. Noisy, loud and smelly. Everyone seems to be smoking and the cigarette smells have a distinctly foreign, and in some cases, sweet aroma.

We reached the Grand Bazaar and it was very busy. Before we even reached the front archway, I was being ushered away by a salesman to look at leather jackets. Michelle and the kids were following behind, looking nervous, as the salesman led us down narrow alleys into an old arcade with 4 storeys of shops. 

This is something that I was expecting and eager to experience, but it was a bit frightening for the kids. The salesman was very insistent that they try something on, and they obliged. Then the haggling began. The price for a jacket went from 450 TL to 200 TL in the blink of an eye, as I explained to the salesman that I hadn't even had a chance to get any Turkish currency. I stood my ground and he wasn't happy, so we left. Once outside again, the kids just wanted to get the hell out of there and we wandered home in search of dinner. Whilst it was an interesting experience for me, it did frighten the kids. Che wrote in his journal; "Today I went to the Grand Bazaar. It was horrible. They were so pushy! I don't want to go back. Boo Turkey" 

In the cold light of day with a decent night's sleep, I'm sure they will look more fondly on the experience. 

We got back to the apartment around 5 and crashed. I wandered out to find a supermarket and came back with some bread and Nutella, a big bottle of water and what I thought was margarine and apple juice. Turns out I guessed well, but when I returned home everyone was asleep. I had some Nutella toast and water for dinner and enjoyed the sounds of the evening call to prayer at the mosque just down the street. I then crashed like a falling tree and didn't move until 3 am this morning.

We all woke up and quickly exhausted our meagre grocery supply's, caught up with the world on our laptops, phones and ipads and all enjoyed the morning call to prayer at 5.50am.

The kids were much more philosophical about their bazaar experience and are keen to give it another go.

Day 2 - Istanbul

Taksim and Galata

We were all awake by 3am, so we just bummed around the flat catching up with the world and planning our first full day in the city. Around 9.30 we set out and caught the Metro train to Taksim Square, considered the heart of modern Istanbul. From here we headed down Istikal Avenue, a 1.4 km shopping mall, similar to Bourke Street mall in Melbourne. The next hour and a half was spent window shopping, people watching and dodging cars, mopeds and trams. There are some amazing buildings and a lot of history on this avenue, so there was no shortage of things to look at.

From here, we went in search of Galata Tower. This is a place I have wanted to visit for a very long time. There is just something about it that captures my imagination. There was a long line of people waiting to go inside, and as the day was overcast, we decided to come back next week, when the weather will be sunny and the views from the top will be much nicer.

Galata Tower

We headed home for a bit of a rest, as we were all still adjusting to European time. After a couple of hours I couldn't sit inside and do nothing anymore, so we went for a walk to Sultanahmet Square, where Sultan Ahmed Mosque and Hagia Sophia are located.

Sultan Ahmed Mosque is the famous Blue Mosque and it is absolutely breathtaking. It is simply the most amazing building I have ever seen. I could go on endlessly, but I will let the photos do the talking....

Sadly, when we got outside, it was raining and almost dark. But right on cue, there were men selling umbrellas for the bargain basement price of 20 turkish lira. Michelle bargained him down to 10 and we grabbed 2 and we began the 2 kilometre walk back to our apartment. Pouring rain, neon lights everywhere and the muslim Call to Prayer reverberating around the streets. It was eerily similar to one of my favourite movies.

We got home wet and hungry and were all asleep by 8pm.

Day 3 - Istanbul

Today started way too early again, but only a 5.30 start as opposed to the 3.30 start the previous day. As a result of the long, wet walk home last night, I awoke without a voice, which amused the kids very much.

The rain, that had drenched us the night before, was still around, so we pretty much just crumped around the apartment until it was time to go out to the first day of the Womens World Championships.

After dreaming about this for so long, it was kind of surreal to actually be collecting my accreditation and bib and strolling out onto the floor to shoot my first world championships. I was squeaking around trying to talk to people who could not hear me and couldn't understand me, so I gave my apologies and promised to be more social in the coming days.

I won't bore the non-basketball fans with the details, but the Opals won comfortably and are looking good for a final 4 finish. 

One cool thing we did see, was the train that took us to the stadium. On the outside, it looks like a normal train, but on the inside, there are no doors or dividers between the carriages. You end up with one giant 200 metre long carriage that just looks bizarre!

After the game, I was feeling pretty exhausted, so we schlepped home, got some pizza for dinner and watched a movie on the MacBook.

This overseas holiday stuff is actually pretty hard work...... 

Day 4 - Istanbul

Today the kids decided to tackle the Grand Bazaar again, So we trudged up the hill, only to be met by closed doors. The Bazaar is not open on Sundays :(

Luckily, the market stalls that ring the Bazaar were all open, so we managed to pick up a few bargains for the kids. Che got a new Nike tracksuit and some Converse low cut shoes, while Zoe picked up a pair of Converse shoes and a Converse sweatshirt. We even managed to pick up some presents for Nanny and Grandma :)

We headed home for lunch and then made our way to the basketball arena for the Opals next game. They were superb again, defeating Korea 87-54 and setting themselves up for an automatic finals berth, if the can defeat Belarus on Tuesday.

Tess Lavey had an impressive game against Korea

We jumped the train back home from the stadium, to have some dinner and get ready to head out to the USA game at 9.30pm. Che was in heaven, watching his favourite player, Diana Taurasi. The game was excellent, as the Serbians actually led at several points and the US only pulled away in the final quarter. Hope the Opals were watching, as the US had a few weaknesses exposed :)

We caught the train back to our station, arriving shortly before midnight and commenced the kilometre long walk home. Like any large city, Istanbul has many beggars. They ask for money as you walk past and that is usually the end of it. One persistent guy wouldn't stop last night and continued to follow me down the street. I just kept saying no, but he kept following me. He brushed up close against me and I caught his hand going for my pocket! I slapped his hand away and lifted my umbrella and at the same time, Michelle gave a yell and raised her umbrella. Needless to say, he went running. We felt like we have what it takes to travel in a strange land and take care of ourselves. Needless to say, the kids were, again, a little freaked out, but of their own volition, they are starting to realise how lucky we are to live in Canberra. 

Having survived our brush with one of Sultanahmet's more shady residents, we quickly went home and crashed into bed.