I woke up on the top bunk of our hostel in Istanbul with a strange slight burning sensation in my eyes and nose. I didn’t think too much of it as I climbed off the bed and took my laptop into the common room to get to work on some writing.
But as I left the bedroom the burning sensation got stronger. I heard a loud clamour in the streets outside and I saw the staff of the hostel running around slamming the windows shut. Out on the streets there was an enormous cloud of gas billowing and a group of policemen with riot shields running down the street.
It was May 1st, 2013 and we were staying in a hostel just blocks from Taksim Square, Istanbul. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The 2013 May Day protests were actually a series of international protests that happened in many locations around the world and were opposing poor working conditions and austerity measures. Unfortunately, while we were in Istanbul the protests turned ugly when the police used water cannons and tear gas to disperse the hundreds of protesters.
However, this is not a typical day in Istanbul and the city is quite safe to travel – so there is no reason why you shouldn’t visit this fascinating destination. Any protests have nothing to do with foreign travellers and life carries on as normal in the tourism sector.
For example, the next day we went out to do some sightseeing and we visited the amazing Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. It was built between 1609 and 1616 and it’s name comes from the gorgeous blue tiles that decorate the interior. This building is the pinnace of two centuries of Ottoman mosque architecture development and it is considered to be the last great mosque of the classical period. It’s a pretty stunning sight to behold.
When you visit the Mosque, or any other religious building for that matter, make sure that you are dressed in a way that is appropriate and respectful. Visiting a sacred space of worship while wearing a crop top and short shorts is a huge cultural faux pas. While visiting this mosque, ladies are requested to cover their hair and if you don’t have a cloth to cover it with they have ones you can borrow.
The next stop was the Grand Bazaar – one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. There are over three thousand little shops within 61 covered streets, so you can get lost for hours looking at rugs, pottery, jewellery, gold, spices, tea sets and other treasures. It is one of the top attractions for people who visit Turkey and if you are looking for a gift to bring home for your family from your Turkey holidays, this is the best place in Istanbul to find something really special.
The Grand Bazaar has everything… even a few things that are a bit odd. If you want to spice up your love life you can always bring some natural Viagra tea home with you. I love the little icon on the sign that illustrates the effects!
Istanbul is a fun city to wander through aimlessly, which we like to do a lot. I feel that the best way to absorb the atmosphere of a city is to explore it on foot. We took a stroll along the bridge and admired the Blue Mosque from afar. Then we wandered through the neighbourhood near our hostel around Taksim Square.
I was started to get hungry from the delicious smells of doner meat slowly twirling and roasting in the kebab shops. Doesn’t it look delicious?
One of the coolest things we saw while we were in Istanbul was this guy making ice cream. It was absolutely hypnotising to watch him pull the ice cream out in a long stand and twist and stretch it. There was a huge crowd around him watching while they licked their ice cream cones. Plus, he has a pretty bad-ass moustache.
Another thing I noticed about Istanbul is that the cats had the most amazingly intense eyes. Just look at this gorgeous creature! He was watching us with jealously while we ate our lunch.
Istanbul is a delight to explore. It’s a little bit European, a little bit Asian and has a lot of history, elegance and charm. It’s quite affordable compared to many destinations in Europe and the food is delicious. We fell in love with it on our first visit and I would certainly go back again.
Have you been to Istanbul? Share your travel stories with us in the comments.