The overnight-bus from Goreme to Istanbul was even more brutal than we could have imagined. Sheer hell. Not only did the driver insist on cranking the heat, but the bus broke down and we had to make a swap in the middle of the night. It was about two-degrees outside. And in the change-over bus, with a new driver, the heat was again turned up to eleven. No wonder everyone is always sick and coughing up all kinds of different colours in Turkey. Rapidly changing body temperatures screw you up. Still, at that point, we thought the pools of sweat that were pouring off us were going to be the worst of our problems.

On entering the main bus station of Istanbul, with around two hours of broken-sleep between us, Lorna and I said goodbye to our two new Turkish girl-mates and gave each other a definite look that suggested we may have actually died during the ride, and, we may have somehow mistakingly been driven to hell. Still, I wasn’t too scared. I planned on quickly finding the devil himself to tell him this was all just a great-big mistake. A massive screw-up. Tell him that people like me and Lorna, we don’t belong in a place like this.

The bus doors jutted open and we were ordered to pile-out and I shook my head as I tried to break out of my hell-dream.

It didn’t work though.

Istanbul bus station is the craziest, most insane place you will ever experience on Earth. There were literally thousands of locals coming and going and hundreds of people yelling at us. It was relentless. Car after checkered-car would pull up along-side us.

“Taxi, taxi! Where you going? I take you!”

At least thirty different taxi guys, on foot and still in car, terrorized us for about ten-hot-minutes as we tried to figure out if we were still on planet Earth. I’d pretty-much had-enough when one particular taxi driver followed us for five minutes, constantly demanding we use his taxi, then eventually grabbed my shoulder and spun me around to tell me again. I didn’t seem to be listening well-enough to his barking for his liking. Although I did verbally let him have it, he’s lucky I didn’t nail him to the pavement. I was in the perfect mood for it. However, although I was living on the verge of losing it, I managed to avoid having a physical battle with the over-hyped locals, thus avoiding a visit to a Turkish prison. Although, it would have given me some pretty decent material to write about. The thing that really pissed us off though was… our hotel had emailed us the day before saying it was “okay” and we need-not worry, they’d be there to pick us up.

They weren’t.

We ended up choosing the least-annoying taxi-guy after unsuccessfully trying to ring the place from busted up phones at the station. It cost about $50 AU and was another thirty-minute nightmare with no seat-belts and a driver who believed he was driving a rocket-ship.

We checked-in to the Park Hotel in Sultanahmat, the tourist hub of Istanbul. The room was average and over-priced but the rooftop view with the ocean on one side…

the Aya Sofia mosque on another…

And the Blue Mosque on the opposite, was pretty bloody awesome.

Still, the next day we checked-out and moved ten-minutes walk away to a cheaper hotel called the Serenity Hotel.

Serenity was far cheaper, only $60 AU per night as opposed to $90 AU, because, after all, we weren’t there to hang out in the room or on the rooftop. Plus, their sister hotel is a five-star beauty called Sokullupasa Hotel and is situated across the road. You can enjoy the reception area over there, complete with wi-fi and also the free buffet breakfast, which was the best breakfast we had in Turkey. Still shit coffee though.

There’s obviously plenty to see in Istanbul, but we had four days to make the most of it. We rested up from the previous night’s nightmare and looked forward to starting fresh the next day.

On day-one we decided to visit the Aya Sofia mosque.

The Aya Sofia Christian mosque was my favourite of the two main ones. It was built in the year 360 and originally served as the cathedral of Constantinople. In 1204 it was turned into a Roman Cathedral. In 1453 it was turned into a mosque and then in 1935 it became a museum. It is beautiful inside and well-worth a look.

Afterward we were going to check out Istanbul’s Palace, but we didn’t get around to it. Plus, something strange was happening inside my stomach area so we decided to take a rest at the hotel. I eventually felt a little better, so I decided to find somewhere to work-out.

That night Lorna rested while I worked-out in a local park, if you can call it that. Basically the council had put some basic work-out equipment near a playground to entice fitness. Kids jump on the gear and the locals light fires at night to keep warm. Although no one at all probably used the place for its intended purpose, I put on my shorts and singlet and performed a full sweat-session there. Within ten-minutes at least twenty local Turks had come out of their abodes, were sitting on the ground cross-legged in front of me and scratching their heads in bewilderment as to what I was doing and why. I smiled at the children amongst my new fan base, gave some of them the thumbs-up and then “left the building” in true Elvis style by shouting, “Thank you very much!”

I then decided to cardio-up by running for a few kilometers to the Grand Bazaar. And, to use one of my favourite, overused words again, things were insane.

I can’t even guess the amount of people who were milling about in this massive market place, buying as much crap-that-they-didn’t-need as they could. If someone told me there were twenty thousand people crammed into this area, I would not have been surprised.

The next day I took Lorna. The Grand Bazaar is not the type of market you’re used to. I’d say it takes up about fifty streets. However, as with most markets, practically all of the shops are just filled with cheap-crap that you don’t want to waste space in your travel-bag buying. The experience though is one you will never forget. In fact, you’ll never complain about overcrowded supermarkets back home, ever again.

On day-two we visited the Blue Mosque. You have to pick your time to visit though, because when the locals are praying the Shahada as they face Mecca (the holiest meeting site for Islam in Saudi Arabia), you’re not allowed in. The mosque was built in 1609 and is still used by locals as an extremely important place of worship.

So important, in-fact, that you have to wash your feet and leave your shoes at the door before entering.

It is fascinating to stare at the architecture of such an important religious building. For at least an hour.

On day three, our awesome booking agent called New Deal Travel Agency (who had also found our new hotel and arranged our upcoming airport shuttle) came-through when a bus rolled up at 6 a.m. ready to make the five-hour drive to the most respected place for Australians to visit outside of Australia. Gallipoli. The only problem was, somehow I had eaten something wrong the day before, or it may have been due to the fact that I was brushing my teeth with the local water, but I was insanely crook in the tummy. My bones ached. I was dizzy and overheating. I told Lorna I couldn’t go and she should go on without me. Lucky for me she asked them if we could go the next day instead and they said it was alright.

I rested that day and literally stayed in bed for the twenty-four hours until the bus came again. I was feeling thirty percent better, so I battled through the morning bus-ride and was pleased and proud as an Australian can be once we hit Anzac Cove. I’m going to write about Gallipoli in a separate article because I think it deserves its own page.

On our last day in Istanbul Lorna and I visited the local market down the road from our hotel and haggled with a local Turkish carpet-store owner over a one-hundred-year-old small rug made in Persia.

Eventually we talked him down to one hundred bucks and took it off his hands. It is small though. Small enough to fit under the keyboard of my G5 Mac at home, but will be nice to write a book or two on. You know, with all that history oozing out of it I’m bound to be inspired.

Later-on we walked to the Basilica Cistern. This place is really just a great big underground water reservoir built by a man named Byzantine Emporer I Justianus in the year 565.

336 columns hold the ground up while 100,000 tonnes of water can be stored. In the Roman period the water was used to supply Istanbul civilians with drinking water.

Two of the columns have Medusa heads holding them up. It is believed that Medusa head images in the Roman period were used to keep evil spirits at bay and let them know they are not welcome in the area. By keeping them upside-down or on their sides, the locals wouldn’t be turned into stone.

After visiting Selcuk, Ephesis, Pummakale, Fethiye, Dalyan, Olympos, Mount Chimaera, Goreme, Gallipoli and Istanbul, in that order, Lorna and I decided Turkey is a truly amazing destination that every Australian must visit at least once in their lifetime. The middle-east is so much different than visiting the States or Europe and will really propel you out of your comfort zone and give you a broader outlook on life. So much so, you may even forget about the trivial dramas back home for a while and recognize the fact that we’re all a part of a much-bigger planet. We just forget sometimes.

You don’t know what you’re missing.

My advice to you is… start saving.

Rob Kaay is an Australian author and musician.

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