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relieved in istanbul

Day 20 & 21 - Istanbul, Turkey

We leave Amman tired, jaded, and mistrustful of most everyone. (Is he overcharging us? What is he trying to sell me? When will he mention this totally awesome tour his company runs? Why is there STILL sand in my shoes?) When we get out of Ataturk Istanbul Airport and encounter a taxi driver, Rob asks aggressively, "How much?" We're still in us-against-Jordan mode. The man looks taken aback and then quotes us exactly the price our internet research dug up for us. This is the first of many, many reliefs but mainly, we're relieved to finally be back in a big city with a huge variety of restaurants, shops, and things to do and see. 

We promenade down Istaklal Caddesi. I lose it when I spot Mango, H&M, Zara, and Top Shop. Actual shops! I'm even feeling benevolent towards the Starbucks. There is so much to take in of this youthful part of Istanbul. The grand, turn-of-the-century crumbling buildings that line the pedestrian-only street reminds of the Grand Boulevards of Paris that's fallen on harder times. They jostle for attention with glamorous, minimalist buildings that come to life at night, lit by different colours.

There are rooftop bars, poky sidewalk cafes with teeny tiny stools to sit on, grand kebab places with enormous meat sticks and equally enormous chandeliers, and there are lots of shopfronts with piles of turkish delight, sweets, pastries, and nuts. Further down around the Galata Tower, it's like a more vibrant and less twee Montmartre, with narrrow cobbled lanes, facades swallowed by ivy, and ramshackle music shops along with the usual tourist tack. I find myself in a store, fondling the 70 TRY towels and getting starry-eyed over Turkish cotton.



We walk across the Galata Bridge and there are hundreds of guys with their fishing rods hanging over the side of the railings. They are elbow-to-elbow, the place reeks of fish, and guts and scales pepper the sidewalk. We eat one sea bass each in a restaurant under the bridge. A full-on slapping and pulling-hair fight erupts between a brother and sister sitting near us and I gape at them through my mouthful of fish, chips, and salad.


Afterwards, we walk around the Galata Bridge and just gape at the masses, slamming down fish sandwiches left, right and centre. "It's like the Shibuya of Fish," says Rob. I kid you not but there are three floating barges decorated like a particularly glamorous cross between a mosque and an Ottoman Sultan in full ceremonial regalia. On the barges, men grill rows and rows of fish. Fish. Everywhere. There's fish.


I am so disorientated by the amount of fish-eating humans around me that I momentarily lose Rob in the crowd. We thankfully find each other after fifteen minutes of pure Gone Girl terror. We play a bit of a Who-Lost-Who game and then, lesson learnt, we clutch hands as often as possible in crowds. We enter the mosque that's right in front of us. The mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem eluded us but this one does not. We enter through the tourist area. I bring out my scarf, take off my shoes, and pad into the mosque. The colour, pattern and detail in the tiles is truly astounding. It's the New Mosque or Yeni Cami. We sit outside on the steps. I still can't get over the fish massacre happening across the road.


Back at Istaklal Caddesi, we find the rooftop terrace of Saray Muhallebicisi and eat chocolate pudding and Turkish tea as the sun goes down. People smoke all around me and the delicate little butterfly that I am, I go back to the hotel coughing mildly with stinging eyes.


The next morning, we're up late. Our only goal is to check out the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art. Before we get there, we cross Taksim Square and go down a random street to discover Faros Kebap and a truly spectacular latte. Only a couple of hours later, we have lunch at Konak Kebab because our first day, we took so many photos of their truly humongous kebab stick that we felt we had to try the goods. We're on the roof again. Lunch is great but all the waiters and diners come to Mexican stand-off with a stray cat. The kitty is running around frightening chubby children, scaring the life out of me by brushing against me when I don't realise it's there, and meowing incessantly at people for food. The waiters have no idea what to do with it. I turn away as they chuck some small rocks. The cat comes back. It gets chased around. I pick it up when no one else clearly wants to and gently deposit it to the neighbouring rooftop. I'm too soft-hearted and the cat knows it. It's back in an instant.


Apart from the cat-herding, lunch was also made memorable by my brush with the worst drink I have ever tasted. I order a yogurt drink, imagining mango lassi. Instead I get liquified natural yogurt seasoned with salt. Eker Ayran makes it into the only thing I would recommend everyone avoid in Turkey. At the table next door, the chubby boy frightened of the cat, drinks two bottles in one sitting. My stomach turns. I want to punch this drink in the face it is so so terrible.

The best thing about the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art is the way that you almost cannot tell whether the baby pram in the middle of the gallery is part of the installation or not. I'm startled but also excited to find that cassette tapes have officially been relegated to a museum. You're invited to choose a cassette, stick it in a tape deck and listen to it. It takes me a while to remember how to play a cassette. I'm all clumsy fingers and huh faces and defensiveness. I think of the mix tapes I used to record straight from the radio.


By the time night falls, we've wandered around the twisting, steep lanes of Beyoglu. I've patted a dog, stumbled on rows of nargile cafes and an alley full of truly hipster cafes underneath thick grape vines. I've eaten chicken and rice, a profiterole smothered in chocolate sauce at Saray Muhallebicisi (otherwise known as my second hotel room), and apple tea.


A riot hits the middle of Istaklal Caddesi. There are  tons of riot police with their shields up, plain clothes police men jogging up and down the street, two water cannon trucks, and a handful of police cars. We can't see the riot because we're behind the rows of riot police. As we gape from a vantage point, there's some really loud saxophone music playing from the store behind us. Try getting a peek of a riot when Kenny G music plays in the background. It's truly weird. Before the tear gas started flying, we hightail it back to our hotel. The locals around us are pretty blase; mildly interested but not scared enough to stop eating and shopping.

it's harem time

final ruins in aljoun and jerash