Istanbul/Izmit

Yes, finally, another blog posting!

I very much enjoyed my trip to Izmit and Istanbul last weekend.

After arriving in Istanbul on Friday I met cousin Olivia and her other half, Brad, near the underground cistern, Sultanahmet. That afternoon we didn’t do much – ate a fish sandwich in Eminonu and drank a beer on the lower level of the New Galata Bridge. This bridge crosses the Golden Horn between Eminonu and Karakoy.

Olivia (an Aussie) and Brad (a Kiwi) are on their round the world trip. Previously they had visited Thailand, India, UK and Germany amongst other places. The weather in Istanbul was the best they experienced in a long time, sunnier and warmer than northern Europe, milder than India and Asia.

After picking up bags from the Mavi Guesthouse, we made our way across the Bosphorous on the ferry to Harem, Asian Istanbul, for the Efe Tur bus to Degirmendere, around the corner from Izmit.

After departure but prior to leaving Istanbul there were some dramas on the bus. A woman had a ticket for the later service but had boarded this bus. Her seat, #35, was one of ours and I sat in #43 instead. The woman refused to leave and another woman, who had #43, was forced to wait for the later service.

Betul met us in Degirmendere, a ‘village’ around the bay from Izmit.

Across the bay from Degirmendere the Izmit oil refinery displays its splendour.

Degirmendere was very close to the epicentre in the 1999 earthquake and much of the village was destroyed. Many people moved away after the earthquake and the character of the village changed.

That evening it was dinner at a seaside restaurant. The best tomato soup (with cheese and crouton additions) I have consumed in Turkey was followed by okra in a tomato and minced meat sauce.

The fresh hazelnut season has begun and Brad and Olivia sampled their first ever ‘soft’ hazelnuts.

Saturday morning was a scramble to catch the Efe Tur bus back to Harem followed by the ferry to Eminonu to make the 1.35 pm final public “Bosphorous Tour” ferry of the day. We did have time for another fish sandwich in Emimonu, though.

For 3.5 million TL one-way or 7 million TL return, the Bosphorous Tour is a great value ferry ride from Eminonu north under the bridges to the Black Sea entrance at the start of the Bosphorous Strait.

The ride was very pleasant, zigzagging from European to Asian terminals. One of the ports on the Asian side, Kanlica, is famous for its yoghurt. A crate of small pots of yoghurt came on board at this stop to be sold for the princely sum of 3 million TL, or almost the cost of 1-way on the ferry! The yoghurt was very good but hardly worth the loot.

At the ferry’s final destination, Anadolu Kavagi, there were castle ruins on a hill overlooking the expensive fish restaurants and other tourist traps. The hour in between boats was just enough time to get to the castle and return again on this hot, tiring day. From the top the Black Sea was visible through the points of the strait. I observed two tugboats guiding a large ship through the narrowest/most dangerous stretch. I guess, by law, ships above a certain size must require guidance through the Bosphorous.

The ferry passengers consisted of Turks and foreigners from all parts of the world. The most memorable passengers spoke very loud. I won’t say which country they came from… In Istanbul I saw more foreigners than I have seen for a long time, both on the ferry and around the city.

One of the lasting impressions of the tour is the number of wealthy Istanbulites. Bosphorous-view houses and apartments are highly sort-after and often sell for millions ($ not lira!). On this trip we passed thousands of luxury houses. Some of the buildings were very thin and long, literally only one room wide. This feature maximised the number of places with a view.

The 4 of us disembarked at Besiktas, on the European side. There we walked inland a few streets to a 3rd storey pub for a beer and stale fried chips.

A taxi ride later we were in Sultanahmet. For dinner (‘tea’) it was Iskender kebab at an excellent restaurant on an Istiklal Caddesi side street. Sweets (called ‘pudding’, according to Brad) consisted of 4 different Turkish deserts at another restaurant, this time on the main drag.

Afterwards we walked through “Cicek Pasaji” (Flower Passage) and onto an extremely crowded restaurant alley. Via a stairway I would never have found, we climbed 5 or 6 levels to a rooftop pub. This small ‘alternative’ pub is a favourite of Betul’s, and it seemed, many other people. We had to wait for a vacant table before entering. The stairs are very steep and I don’t understand how any drunken person could make it back down safely.

A 700 ml beer later we did safely make it to the ground level. The next destination was Eminonu for the -> Eminonu -> Harem -> Degirmendere sequence. On the walk back to Eminonu the local in our group was very jealous that I knew more about the area we were walking in than she did 🙂

The 10 pm (final) ferry to Eminonu had left so we caught the 10.30 pm ferry to Uskudar and then a taxi to Harem.

Sunday was a lazy day. After a great Turkish breakfast, we eventually made it outside for a walk along the coastline. For a while we viewed a beach soccer tournament 2 streets inland from the coast. There is no beach in Degirmendere. The 3 players + goalkeeper on each side looked serious but I doubt they were ‘playing for sheep stations’.

After a quick pack up and a rushed meal of lahmacun we left Betul’s for the final time to catch a dolmus (minibus) and then taxi to the Izmit otogar (bus station). There, the handle for walking my small suitcase mysteriously broke and the mechanic, Brad, did not know how to fix it. There were no spaces left for buses to Goreme/Nevsehir so Brad and Olivia spent an extra day at Betul’s.

Izmit is famous for its pismaniye and I bought a packet of this for work. As Betul and I were the only prospective shoppers in the vicinity, the salesmen (didn’t see any women) begged us for our business. Ipek Pismaniye ended up winning.

My bus to Mersin was delayed, and when it arrived, the air conditioning did not work. Luckily they fixed it before leaving. A final goodbye and I was off just after 9 pm. Amazingly, the ‘Mersin Seyahat’ bus attendant recognised me from a previous trip. I guess I have spent too long living here 😉

On the freeway before Ankara the traffic slowed and then stopped for a short time. The only previous time I was in a bus stopped on the freeway was in 2002 when snow marooned us for 4 hours. There surely was not any snow this time in the peak of summer.

A vehicle behind us sounded its siren and flashed its lights – a seemingly ancient fire truck. The bus passed a truck on the roadside with its cabin completely in flames. I swear I could feel the heat of the fire from inside the bus two lanes away. The front of the trailer was also on fire and there was a spot fire on the verge. I hope the driver and any passengers escaped safely before the flames took hold.

After 8 am I arrived back in Mersin, took the free Mersin Seyahat service dolmus home, showered and chatted with Umut and Beysun before going to work.

2 or 3 times over the weekend we indulged in blended drinks at Betul’s place. The Averna, Kahlua Especial, chocolate ice cream, milk and ice smoothy was particularly delicious and indulgent. When I receive my next pay rise I will invest in a blender – they are awesome machines!