Istanbul ... 08/07 - 13/07
Loukoums, baklava, harem, bazaar, kilim, Constantinople, Byzance... All those words we have been dreaming of are just a few hours away. We are going to Istanbul, mythical city, torn between Europe and Asia. We arrive early in the morning , a bit tired but very happy since we are staying in the fabulous hotel Hilton thanks to Ben´s points.The welcome by the staff is exceptional even though we look a bit rough. They are amazed by all the kilometers we have done to get here. Once the door of the room closed, we jump up and down, full of joy: our room is superb with a magnificent view on the Bosphorus.
The streets are teeming with people, selling anything you can think of, corn, seeds ... We definitely have a feeling of Asia. We eat in a small restaurant in a back street behind the harbour: lamhacun (turkish pizza with a very thin crust), salad and shish tavuk (chicken grilled on a skewer). As nearly everywhere in Turkey, çay (tea) is on the house.
We only visit a small part of the city, probably the most touristic one: Sultanahmet. It houses the main monuments: Hagia Sophia; the Blue mosque, and Topkapi, the sultans´ palace. The Grand Bazaar is huge but way too touristic, we prefer the Spice market, a bit more local. Sultanahmet is also the main area for hostels and touristic restaurants, a turkish version of Kao San road in Bangkok. Once we are done with the main attractions, we visit Eminönü quarter. Each street has its speciality. We just go to the bikeshop street to get some spare parts for our bikes.
A few days after our arrival, we have the great pleasure of meeting again with Benoit. You remember, the Canadian guy we met on the Danube that changed our way of cycling! He was so fast that we never thought we would see him again but fate decided otherwise. Benoit got sick in Bulgaria due to ticks bites, and he had to rest for about 10 days. We visit a couple of monuments together, eat baklava, drink çay, wander in the small streets of Istanbul as well as on Istiklal Caddesi, the main shopping street in Beyoglu. Benoît is looking for Lonely Planets and Sylvie wants a big book preferably about Istanbul or Turkey so she doesn´t feel too guilty. We get the Constantinople of Philip Mansel, a historian.