Istanbul Part Two

Who run the world? Kurds.


Well, at least in this neighbourhood they do.

We are back near Taksim, and this time with a new couch surfing host, Chelsea. Chelsea is a 23 year old Canadian woman who has been living in Istanbul for over a year teaching English and doing freelance photography.

In the space of maybe two hours, Chelsea was able to fill us in on many points that had been plaguing our poor Western brains for the past week and a half.

She met us and our backpacks outside a local high school on Istiklal street on Tuesday night. She and some friends walked us back to her place and, surprise, surprise: it was only two streets away from our first air b ‘n’ b apartment. It probably doesn’t seem like a big deal, but in a place as huge as Istanbul, it was pretty funny.


We all had a good chuckle over breakfast, watching this little kid wave her mean-looking replica firearm around in the building opposite. Mum (behind) watches on proudly.

Chelsea took no pains to hide the fact that she lives in a dodgy Kurdish neighbourhood. In fact, she celebrated it, whilst also giving helpful, practical pointers on what we can expect behaviour-wise from our neighbours. Basically, they are harmless to us. If you see a child waving a gun around, don’t be alarmed: it’s a very convincing-looking replica (we were fortunate enough to see one the following morning). There are drug dealers loitering on our door step, but they won’t bother us because we’re Western, and because I have a man with me. The few times I was alone, the most they did was venture a clumsy, “Hello.”


Chelsea’s hood.

So basically, it’s a very colourful thirty-second walk through this neighbourhood from our doorstep to the main street.



Chelsea explained that the continued police presence in the area is due to it being a Kurdish neighbourhood, and the dots started to connect for Jesse and I in terms of the tear gas and riot police we saw around on our first few nights. Again, it’s very, very common in Turkey. Chelsea cheerfully suggested that lemon juice is helpful for taking away the sting of tear gas.


Near our old place, just a few streets away.

Even though our first place was only a few streets away, it seemed to be a much nicer neighbourhood; there were cafes, old Turkish men sitting for ours on tiny chairs on the footpath, and a lot of car traffic moving up and down the street.

This neighbourhood is like something from a Turkish-Dickens novel: old, dirty cobbled streets that twist unexpectedly and lead into dark alleyways; dirty children running around, and putting their hands out for money; old dogs and cats asleep next to the street; laundry hung like many hundreds of colourful banners overhead; dilapidated houses and the smell of trash and sewerage. And yes, Chelsea said the children carry knives. Cute.

Chelsea has been living there for a year and a half. She explained that her Kurdish neighbours don’t really bother her: their main beef is with the police. When the police decide to flex their muscles and direct their tear gas in the direction of the Kurdish neighbourhoods, the Kurds all hang out the windows and bang their pots and pans to antagonise the police. They also throw Molotov cocktails and whatever other concoctions they can muster. Again, the strange sounds of ten days ago begin to make sense.

IMG_0550IMG_0551Chelsea has a beautiful studio apartment that is completely incongruous with the sordid neighbourhood around it. She spent a lot of time cleaning and repainting it until it is as light, breezy and modern-looking as you could wish. With blonde-wooden flooring, white walls, a high ceiling, varnished bay windows and light, floaty curtains, it is a haven of both beauty and Western living in the midst of the sometimes oppressive Turkish culture.


This cat had a beautiful Turkish name beginning with “B” but we couldn’t remember it…so it was just easier to call her Beerburrum.

She shares the space with crazy ex-street cat (the name of which I cannot pronounce; we nick-named it Beerburrum), and (for the moment) her Canadian friend Brody. Jesse and I take up the futon. We felt immediately welcome, and Chelsea has us laughing basically every time she opens her mouth. The trashiest, most frustrated and base comments I have about this country can be uttered aloud to Chelsea, with the assurance of emphatic nodding and the declaration of, “Yes. Oh my god, yes.” A person without pretension, Chelsea escorted us and our backpacks home, gave us a key, told us “My house is your house and basically don’t be d!cks,” and then left us to it. A backpacker’s dream. The breakfast she hooked us up with the next morning was just as special.


Jesse-made porridge, with real coffee, milk, sugar lumps, apples and mandarin. It probably seems like a really small deal, but after the Nescafe nightmare that is Turkey – we loved it.

The street we live on is full of life. This afternoon, after maybe seven hours of solid walking (with one half hour break) I crashed for a nap around 6pm. And literally couldn’t sleep. There was so much activity on the street: children shouting, mothers shouting, fathers shouting, people talking, things (I don’t know what things) banging. Despite not being able to sleep, I found it quite calming, insomuch as it was very natural. It conjured to mind a picture of standard suburban Australia, and the silent, well-spaced apart blocks of land, with no children playing in the streets (lest they be injured or kidnapped) and no raised voices for any reason (lest the neighbours complain or think you’re an asshole) and no bustle or activity in the neighbourhood (because every family is self-sufficient).

Somehow, I prefer this for the moment, perhaps because it is a new experience, but also because of the realness of it all. One thing I have not seen in Turkey yet is people glued to their iphones, ipads, or television sets. It just doesn’t happen, mainly because many people are too poor to afford the technology, but also because it would detract from the ingrained culture of togetherness. There is a community feeling to the place; like on every street, no matter how lowly or dirty, people know each other, there is a tight community and people live – crossly, loudly, impatiently, angrily, happily, dishonestly, desperately – but they live their lives, with witness others doing the same.

It is a far cry from what I know in Australia. It is not orderly, regulated, well-maintained or polite. Brisbane City Council would shit itself looking at the sidewalk pavement on any one block in Istanbul, and I don’t get the feeling that anyone would be filing a lawsuit with the local council if they tripped on a loose brick. Some of the sights have been confronting. There are homeless mothers and babies outside shop windows ladened with gold jewellery; children walking up to you in restaurants and asking for your leftovers. There are homeless cats and dogs everywhere, and police with riot gear, guns and water cannons a few blocks from where we stay.

While Istanbul is possibly the home of the most well-dressed men in the world, there seems to be a nearly invisible female population, and the women that I have seen mostly dress conservatively and wear head scarfs. There are ads for Gucci, Armani, whichever brands you can imagine targeting women – and men who stare at me like I’m a prostitute for wearing sandals. It has taken time to understand the culture, and where the people are coming from. Like most things, it takes time, context and perspective. And the ability for me as a tourist to remember that in the heat of the moment.

Next: My epic meltdown in Istanbul.

Days Five to Nine

Not a lot happened during these days. Well, whilst I was living through them I’m sure they were fairly eventful, but in hindsight, they were fairly simple days. Pendik is a few bus/train rides outside of Istanbul, maybe a couple of hours’ travel time, and neither Jesse or I felt really keen to take the challenge. The Istanbul bus system is fairly insane, even if you do speak Turkish. Plus, we were both pretty tired from our first week. So we spent relaxed time around Pendik. We went to the local mall, spent time at cafes to use the free WiFi, and walked the local neighbourhood. Basically, we just acted like unemployed youths for a week.

So this blog is more of a photo collage of happenings from these days, with a few small yet memorable highlights. Enjoy!

Below is the cafe down the road where we begrudgingly have to spend hours if we want to connect to the World Wide Web….

Below is a just a very small selection of some of the local pudding talent……

Jesse Reilly is our shopping boy. Here, I was very bored whilst he was shopping. So I picked up a pair of grey men’s undies, yelled out, “Hey Jesse!” and threw them at him whilst simultaneously trying to capture his reaction on camera. Nothing major, but it looked like this:

Hahahaha, still cracks me up….

Basically, in the below photos we are at the sea-side at night after an hour’s walk from Leyla’s place. We just hung out with cute creatures, played in the kid’s play area, drank beer on the rocks and visited THE TARDIS CAFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

And lucky last, a bunch of even more random photos:

Next: back to Istanbul.

Day Four

We had a sleep-in this morning – 9am. We got up and the house was quiet. We showered, dressed and pulled apart some bread to eat. There was still no sign of life from Leyla’s room after an hour, so we decided to head out and check out the village and find coffee.


We approached a café and asked if they served coffee and they told us no. As we were walking away, a sturdy, cheerful-looking middle-aged Turkish man called us back. He was trying to communicate something very earnestly to us in a booming Turkish voice. He addressed himself only to Jesse, which I am understanding is more common the further out from the main city centres in Turkey. We had no idea what he was saying, but he jauntily led us through the town, about a ten minute walk to a little café, presumable owned by his friend. Then he requested to exchange phone numbers with Jesse. He was very excited and insistent and there were at least five minutes of gesticulation and frustrated talking in Turkish. Then he shook Jesse’s hand, slapped him on the back like Jesse had won a medal, and walked away. It was all quite puzzling, but I have since learned from Leyla that Turkish people have a need to help others and fix problems. This man would have felt desperate to help us. The insistence on the exchange of phone numbers would be so that we could call him if we needed any further assistance.

In Turkey, Nescafe (yes, the brand) is served in cafes as regular coffee. Most cafes also have the option of Turkish coffee. Some will also serve espresso or filter coffee, but it depends. The owner approached us (the only two customers) and again addressed Jesse as to where we were travelling from etc. I sat in the corner making mud pies and trying not to be an embarrassment to either of them. We ordered two Nescafes and spent a couple of hours chatting.



Spot of grocery shopping.



When we got home, Leyla was still asleep. It was nearly 2pm. She seemed very sleepy and a little confused that we were up so early when she heard us come in. She insisted on making breakfast for us. We had already bought a loaf of bread and some cheese on the way home, and added this to the table. We all sat on the  balcony, and ate apple, grapes, olives, feta cheese, yellow cheese, scrambled eggs, salad, bread and tea. My gut was enormous by the end of it.

Jesse and I were both feeling curious about our itinerary. Leyla had suggested to us a full day of sight seeing, and was still talking as such. But it was now past 3pm and the two of us wondered how this would occur. She had also warned us that she would be taking us dancing at Taksim, and that we would be having a big night out.


Pendik (Leyla’s suburb) is located on the Asian continent (Anatolia) and outside of Istanbul central. Instanbul is on the European continent. To get to Istanbul from Pendik, you need to cross a bridge or go via ferry. We caught a ferry from Kadikoy to Eminonu. Along the way, we saw Galita Tower, Ayasophia, New Mosque, some palace and Blue Mosque.

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We visited New Mosque and were allowed to go on the tourist section. Women are required to wear head scarfs and everyone must take off their shoes and carry them in a bag whilst inside. It was very, very beautiful. I felt peaceful, and, at the same time, angry. This isn’t a political or religious commentary piece, just a snapshot of my honest reaction to various places along my travels. I felt angry that only men could pray in the main area, amidst all the splendour and grandeur, and that women were relegated to a plain area down the back near the entrance with the tourists, roughly the size of a bus.

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We then went for a walk through the Spice Bazaar. It’s hard to do it justice in a written piece, but I loved it. Excessively crowded, both with people and wares, there were sweets, spices, cloths and trinkets enough to tempt even the most tight-wad traveller. Salesman were at every stall, engaging the crowds and enticing people’s custom. We bought some amazing turkish delight, which a young man cut off a massive block with a mini scimitar. There were many aisle and one could easily spend half a day in there, but we maybe spent an hour. The spice bazaar was established in 1660, and with the crowds and the diverse, high-quality range of goods, it’s easy to see how it comes to enjoy such longevity.

Turkish Coffee

DSCF1159Once we emerged, Leyla could see we needed a break. We sat down at a traditional Turkish cafe and ordered Turkish coffee (which is always served with some pieces of Turkish delight). By far, the best part of this experience was learning how to read the coffee grinds, much like some gypsies read tea-leaves. We spent maybe 40 minutes entirely engrossed in this activity. This traditionally is only done with Turkish coffee, however. My cup had a lot of activity going on in it apparently!

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Tipping our cups upside down to cool; putting something metal on each one to assist in the cooling process!


Traditional Turkish coffee cart

Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to go inside either of these (we missed the visitor times) but we hung around outside the touristy area and took a bunch of random photos.

Dinner and Cultural Exchange

DSCF1220   DSCF1223       After all of our sight-seeing, Leyla insisted on taking us for traditional sea-side fare – bread and fish. Jesse and I were both very, very hungry and this sounded like a great idea. We walked back to the sea side and towards a row of restaurants underneath Galata Bridge (best explained here:

DSCF1209There were dozens of fishing lines hanging down from on top. Leyla ordered for us and we were delighted when three half-litre mugs of beer appeared at our table, as well as enormous, fresh bread rolls each with a large fillet of fish, as well as lettuce and onion. We also squeezed lemon juice onto it. I have no idea wheat kind of fish it was, but it was delicious.DSCF1213 and I were very full afterwards but Leila, who probably weighs maybe 40kgs, ordered a second beer and looked surprised when we didn’t. Then she chain smoked and we had a very funny cultural exchange, which is best explained in pictures. Jesse ordered Pepsi and I ordered Nescafe whilst we sat around for another hour and chatted. We were starting to understand that in Europe, 11pm is still very early, and there is still the rest of the night to enjoy. So we took our time and tried not to look tired.


Cultural exchange










DSCF1228DSCF1230 At Araf.

This blog does not adequately describe how much walking we do a day. It is a lot, at least several kilometres. Which is why there is also a large focus on food! So again, after scrawling “See you Next Tuesday” on Galata bridge, we walked up to Taksim and went to a night club to dance. It was an awesome club, with a mix of Western and traditional Turkish dance music, and we were there for maybe three hours. I loved seeing how there was more of a focus on actual dancing and having fun than getting completely wasted. Both Turkish men and women have great moves.

After this, it was definitely home time. Trying not to fall asleep on the bus (which was waaaayyy overcrowded at 4am) we finally got home and crashed around 5am. It had been an awesome night.



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Day Three

We woke up at 7am this morning and Jesse felt much better. I made us coffee and, first things first, put Disney Children’s Classics on Pandora and played it through the laptop. Now that the mood was set, it was breakfast time. I issued Jesse with the caveat of eating the dal – it’s amazing, but with a slight tang of burnt. You’re either all in, or all out. Of course, he was all in. And, surprisingly, the dal had matured and turned more flavoursome overnight in the fridge, negating the burnt taste. We also ate the rest of the bread, and I made Jesse eat a banana that he didn’t eat yesterday that is ready to turn. A few times he tried to change the station on Pandora, but I was onto THAT quicker that a fat kid on a cup-cake.


Second. Last. Time.

After a couple of quick stops at internet cafes for printing, we got to the Indian Consulate around 10am. Thankfully, we FINALLY got our visa applications accepted. Whee! All it took was me doing a lap-dance for the old Indian woman behind the counter, and Jesse doing a Derek Zoolander-esque walkoff with the tomato-headed security guard. We should have used our bodies earlier, instead of resorting to all of this printing and and hooking into WiFi business. We were very, very happy. We only need to return one more time now, in five days’ time, to collect our visas.

We popped around the corner to see how the local puddings were faring, and found what appeared to be a whole colony of puddings. The ones I’d fed the previous day were just the tip of the iceberg.

Because of all the walking, I have been ravenously hungry since arriving in Turkey – like, twice as hungry as Jesse. So we headed home, and Jesse cooked a vegetarian lunch (lightly cooked carrots, peppers, aubergine and onion with salt, pepper and lemon juice), which we seasoned with the leftover dal – which, by the way, had gotten even better in the four hours since we left it.


Drinking the rest of that bloody kafir.

After lunch it was washing, packing up and vacating time. We had to be out by 3pm. Shouldering our backpacks, we trekked back the Taksim Square to meet Leyla, our first Couch Surfing host and an Istanbul native. She met us at the local Starbucks, bright and friendly and 30ish, and eager to talk and ask questions.

First things first – we were going to a real café, she said. Jesse and I were both a little doubtful at this point, not knowing where it was and how far we would have to lug our backpacks. It turned out not to be too far, maybe a ten minutes walk down a series of twisting back laneways and alleys.


Us with Leyla at 260 Anarchy


This kitten took a shit under Leyla’s chair.


Trademark squint.



Continue reading

Day Two

Off meat


Rotting, horrid meat.


One of many cute puddings.

We woke early to beat a resentful path back to the Indian Consulate. At some point during the morning before we left the house, Jesse made an important yet rather obvious discovery: the horrible stench that we detected the previous day was in fact the tray of lamb pieces we had bought home after doing some grocery shopping; a tray of meat which to me had looked dodgy to begin with. It reeked. As we got our stuff together, I indicated that I would take it outside with us and find a bin on the street in which to dispose of it. a brilliant idea occurred to me: there were so many cute puddings (cats)


A friend.

around Istanbul. Cats that were friendly, and needing love. I could feed them with this meat! I decided to carry the tray of meat with me to the Indian Consulate building. I had noticed a lot of very cute cats around there the previous day, and felt strongly that I would derive untold pleasure from feeding them all, like some kind of Mother Theresa of mangy street cats.


Off-meat in an internet cafe.

Just to be clear, the meat really, really stank. We had to visit an internet café along the way to print off some documents, and I’m positive the young dude must have been wondering if all western tourists smell of rotting meat.


In prominent public places with the off meat.


Jesse looking soulfully away from the off-meat.


Feeding the precious puddings.

When we arrived at the consulate, I quickly went around the corner to the park entrance where I had noticed some cats. There were three or four hanging out there, including a kitten. I put the meat down, and within 30 seconds close to ten cats had swarmed over, popping out from all sorts of unexpected places. It was delightful to say the least, and yes, I did derive all manner of pleasure untold from this act.


















Let them come….





Shoe Shiner


I will shine your shoes!


Shine them! Shine them NOW!



Whilst we were walking towards the consulate (yes, still with the rotten meat), a Turkish man carrying what appeared to be a kit with shoe-shining material dropped a brush out of his case. I picked it up off the street and called out after him. He was very grateful, and insisted on shining Jesse’s beat-up hiking shoes. We thought it was in payment for our being so kind and saving his only brush. He was quite thorough, and even glued some lining back together that had torn away on Jesse’s shoes.Then he mentioned that he has five children. And that one of them needs corrective eye surgery. At that point we both knew we were weren’t getting a free shoe shine. After maybe three minutes, he demanded his payment – 16TL (roughly AUD$8). Jesse gave him 2TL, whilst I shuddered at the boldness of it all. As we walked away, Jesse recalled reading about a scam targeting tourists, which went pretty much exactly the same way.

When we got to the consulate our Estonian friends were there too. And they had a funny story to tell: apparently on the way, a nice man had dropped a shoe brush and they had picked it up for him and he shined their shoes…and demanded some exorbitant amount of money in return. We all sat there and marvelled at the ingenuity of the modern scammer.

 Indian Consulate – Take Two

We didn’t get our visas approved. We were missing MORE paperwork. So we left AGAIN and visited Robert’s Café to use their WiFi and short our shiz out. Apparently, our pages weren’t aligned adequately to the square root of f*ck-off-and-stop-rejecting-my-attempts-to-visit-your-country.

Jesse felt sick, but I felt ravenous. I ordered a Turkish coffee, croissant and an omelette.

Play Shorts


I will BREAK anyone who tries to take these play-shorts away from me!!

Now, this isn’t a phenomenon that is entirely exclusive to this trip, but it is becoming a daily staple of the trip: in my regular day-to-day life, when I get home from work or practically ANYTHING that requires me to dress semi-respectably, my greatest joy in life is to race up to my room and quickly change into my play-shorts. They’re basically a pair of pink and white board shorts that my Mum bought me four years ago, and also has an identical pair of. I call these my play-shorts because as soon as I’m in them I feel free as a bird and just want to PLAY! They go with any basic t-shirt or singlet. Housemates over the years have witnessed me coming home from work silent and surly, only to emerge from my room ten minutes later joy-filled and goofy, racing around the house and singing annoying songs. There is something about these shorts…something that makes me want to play….

ANYWAY – after spending a day in the city not making eye-contact with men and having the entire population of Istanbul look at me like I’m a loose woman because I wear sandles (everyone has covered feet and covered everything here), I like to get home, peel of my layers and scream something along the lines of, “Eff YYOUUUUUUU EVERYONE!!!!” before dancing around as obnoxiously as I can in my play-shorts. This is an example of how that looks:


Letting off Western-woman steam….

Jesse even got in on it!


Fuck yeah, shorts!!!!!


Shorts make me move like THISSSSSS..!

Then things got a little weird:

The main thing is that we are comfortable expressing our weirdness in the confines of our own home.

Amazing Burnt Dal

Jesse had a spew in the afternoon (thank goodness) and then felt achy and sleepy. Whilst he slept, I tried to navigate around the apartment in semi-darkness (the one main light is fluorescent and would have been a bitch to sleep with on). I pulled up all the blinds for extra light, and also because I secretly love being so close to all the action on the street. Still ravenously hungry (I can only assume from all the walking) I set about making myself some dinner. First I had a coffee, with some grapes and a little bit of chocolate while I did some stuff on the computer. I drank a bottle of water and then some kafir (which we bought on our first day, thinking it was milk. It tastes disgusting with coffee). Then I fried four pieces of bread in oil and salt and ate those (proper loaf bread, not packet bread). I had been soaking some red lentils and decided it was time to cook them. I chopped half an onion roughly and put it in a saucepan with plenty of oil and salt. It cooked for about two minutes, and then I added the lentils to fry for a couple of minutes. This is to crack them and make them cook quicker. And this is where I made my first mistake. Instead of gently monitoring and stirring them, I put the lid on, walked away, and logged onto FACEBOOK. Yes, Facebook, the harbinger of doom to most well-intentioned cooking ventures.

Needless to say, when I checked on the lentils in five minutes’ time, they were burnt, and an inch of singed lentils coated the bottom of the pot. Second mistake: I should have tipped the good, not-burnt stuff off the surface into another pot. But I didn’t. I just added water and prayed that by not scraping the burnt stuff off, it would not tarnish the whole batch. It was a bitter-sweet result. By the time it had cooked, the dal itself was really, really delicious – except for the aroma of burning through the whole batch. But it was only very mild. So I still ate it and quite enjoyed it.

Some More Random Photos…



Day One

The Indian Consulate


Aussies, Londoners, Estonians.


At Taksim Square. It is very quiet because, apparently in Turkey, 8:30am is the butt-crack of dawn.

We had an appointment at 9:15am the next morning at the Indian Consulate to apply for our visas. We  left home around 8am and managed to find it OK – it was maybe a 20 minute walk from our apartment. We got there early, and met with some other travellers – a London couple and an Estonian couple.  We thought we had the many thousands of documents needed in the correct numerical and alphabetical order required, as well as a sound knowledge of the secret hand-shake required in braille – but none of us did. We all ended up having to go to local cafes to hook into the wifi and complete what was needed. The consulate closes at11:30am each day, so we decided to try again the next day.

I drank a lot of beer (well, I had to buy something…) while Jesse did the necessary paperwork. Hey, we can’t all be heros. The Londoners managed to get it all done, but apparently the Aussies (well, me) were big fans of f#cking around. Oh well, life continues.

Tear Gas

When this happened, I told myself I wasn’t going to blog about it, as I didn’t want to worry family or friends. A day later, after the shock had worn off, I thought, “Nah, it was real and part of my story. And – what an amazing story.”

We were relaxing in our apartment in the afternoon, when we suddenly heard a series of loud bangs. We both assumed they were gunshots. We rushed to the windows to have a look outside. The human fixtures of the street were unmoved. The old Turkish men seated outside the café opposite barely looked up from their chais (cays). We shrugged it off and, knowing it was a public holiday, said, “Fireworks.”

The bangs continued to go off intermittently throughout the afternoon and early evening, very close to where we lived. Jesse and I were meeting up with our new London friends for dinner around 7:30pm at Taksim square. We didn’t realise it at the time, but Taksim is like the Times Square of New York. We got ready and left the house at 7:15pm and walked up the hill to the main road. We turned left, and started walking towards Taksim square. It would probably be a kilometre walk.

About 100 meters into our walk, we noticed something was wrong. The riot police, who we had noticed earlier in the day, seemed more active on the street. Then we noticed we were walking against the crowd – everyone seemed to be walking towards us, coughing. We got too close, and sure enough walked into a fog of tear gas. It really, really stung. I couldn’t imagine being in the thick of it – it seemed like enough would kill someone. There was a lot of shouting. Of course, not speaking the language and only being in the country for less than two days, we had no idea what was going on.

Rattled, we turned around and went back down our street. Home to roughly 14.5 million people, Istanbul is an almost incomprehensible maze of laneways and back alleyways. It is more common to get completely lost than not. I pity the poor bastards who have to Google Map it.

Needless to say, we got very, very lost and were walking for a very long time. We had not wifi access and couldn’t pull up a map on either of our phones. When we finally reached Taksim Square, it was 8:25pm and our friends were nowhere to be seen. We were both disappointed, but decided to go for a wander around and soak up the atmosphere. There were thousands of people about. We found an amazing street that had an impressive array of shops and malls on either side. There were plenty of Western shops – McDonalds, Starbucks, Burger King, Sony, Adidas, Gucci, Gap, etc etc etc.

We didn’t talk much as there was so much to soak up and take in. We wandered along, two in the throng of thousands, when something scary happened.

Somewhere in the crowd ahead, there was shouting, and then screaming. And then people began running fast back towards us. And then – the whole crowd turned, and suddenly hundreds of people were screaming and sprinting back down the street towards us.

We had no idea what was going on. No idea. Were there guns? Were there bulls? At the time, I felt very much like I was running with the bulls – not that I’ve done it, but it seemed to have a similar, desperate energy of getting away as soon as possible from an unpredictable yet potentially deadly danger. I desperately prayed that neither I nor anyone else would trip and fall, as the likelihood of death by stampede was fair. We managed to dart down an alleyway off the main street, and then jogged away without looking back. At that point, my sense of adventure was nil and I just wanted to get home as soon as possible. As we continued through the back lanes, we heard people saying the word, “Gas.” So the police had discharged more tear gas canisters into a calm and peaceful crowd filled with couples, families, and children, and then risked a stampede. Smart.

It took us a long time to get home. There was a lot of action around our area, and more than once we wandering into the tail end of a tear gas cloud. It f#cking hurt. Some nice local men warded us off a couple of times, by waving us away and saying, “Problem, problem,” in a very heart-felt way.

When we arrived home, we could still hear explosions very close to our house – just at the top of the street. They were very, very loud. We closed all the windows just in case any tear gas wafted our way. The explosions and yelling went well on through the night. As I lay in bed, I got a sense of how petrifying it must have been for citizens in Europe during the second world war, and how easy it would be for the military, police or unruly mobs to invade people’s homes. We went to sleep quickly and didn’t say much: I think we were both in shock. The next morning when I woke up I was still jittery.


Getting There

As with most of my previous travel ventures, I approached my take-off date in a combination of whirl-wind and haze: I could tell you all of the boring details about everything that had to get done before I left for my adventure, but that would be, well, the opposite of interesting. Something less boring to know is that I have approached this trip with a feeling of destiny: there is something at play here, pushing me in this direction. This feels right; like a segue to a new and exciting chapter of my life. Turkey, Iran, India and Nepal: all foreign, exotic lands which promise to take me as far out of my comfort zone as possible, which has been the whole point.

My first flight was with Virgin Airlines from Brisbane to Sydney. Despite the frantic and at times sleep-deprived nature of the past few weeks, I was finally feeling very light and clear. Everything had been done, and even if it hadn’t – I was on a plane, and on my way regardless. I had the window seat, and there was a young couple sitting next to me. We didn’t talk at all, (apart from a rather perfunctory hello) and I spent most of the short flight reading my book (To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf). However, what was to be a very short and uncomplicated flight turned out to be one of the scariest I’ve ever been on.

We were told the weather was sunny, gorgeous and clear in Sydney, which by every appearance it was as we flew it. The sun was setting, and from my window it was a beautiful red above the clouds. We started our descent and it was all very routine. The sun had set and the sky was beginning to darken. We had our seatbelts on. Suddenly, what seemed like only ten metres away from touchdown (but in reality was probably more) the pilot suddenly pulled up the plane it was seemed to be an emergency manoeuvre – a very shaky and frightening manoeuvre. We then headed out to sea and into a bunch of clouds where we couldn’t see anything. There was no announcement for a long time, and from the nervous chatter and laughter that suddenly broke out, I could tell everyone was thinking the same things as me: the pilot’s gone rogue and we are being hijacked.

After maybe ten minutes’ of conspicuous silence from the cabin crew, an announcement was finally made: there were strong winds around the airport, making it difficult for the pilot to land the plane. He was in communication with the flight tower to get the all-clear for making another attempt. We cruised the Sydney airspace aimlessly for twenty minutes and then made another attempt. This time the pilot was quicker to back out of the descent. We cruised again for another 20 minutes or so. But this time, people were freaking out. It became very clear that whether we like it or not, we were trapped in a very unpalatable situation over which we had absolutely no control. How long would we keep circling for? How much petrol was left? What about connecting flights? Etc, etc, etc.

At one point before the third attempt at landing, I made friends with the couple sitting next to me. The guy (who was seated in the middle) was a fairly solid, calm looking dude whose arm I instinctively wanted to grab every time there was bad turbulence. We started making small talk. I told them how I kept visualising a particularly strong gust of wind picking up the plane and flipping it over. The guy laughed out loud, and I felt better knowing that my fear was actually laughable. The girl told me about a friend she has who fears flying and throws up every time she’s in a plane – and whose job, unfortunately, involves flying several times a week, and often to other countries.

The pilot landed the plane on the third attempt after some hairy turbulence, and the plane erupted in joyous cheers and applause. Everyone was just so happy to be alive. If the pilot had been around when we disembarked, I would have slipped him a tenner. I was super grateful he paid attention at flight school, and knew enough not to crash our sorry asses into the ground. At Sydney I had a fairly uneventful transit to the International Airport via bus. There was myself, and one other woman and a man. The guy immediately looked familiar to me. Stocky with a shaved head and wearing jeans and a caramel-coloured t-shirt, I immediately started racking my brains for which personal-development course I’d met him at. He had an air of kindness and trustworthiness about him. We didn’t speak, but then saw each other again at customs. I asked where he was going – Dublin – and told him I was headed for Turkey. He was very friendly. We separated shortly after to be grilled by immigration.

I was flying with Etihad Airways to Istanbul, with a five-hour layover in Abu Dhabi. There were A LOT of people on the plane, which was to depart at 9:50pm. I hadn’t thought about it too deeply, but as I was boarding started to ponder: where would I be seated? What kind of seat-mate would I have for the next fourteen hours? Would I have easy or awkward access to the toilets? I arrive at my seat (aisle, yay!) to find that my neighbour is – bald man heading to Dublin! He looked up at me blankly when I said accusingly (but in a fun way) “You! What the heck (sic) are YOU doing here?” Of course, there is no correct way to answer that question when posed by a complete stranger, but from memory he answered appropriately enough. There is too much information of a detailed and personal nature to describe in a blog post, but we had a very lovely, heart-felt and transformative fourteen hour conversation. And the universe, no stranger to finding ways to indulge me, saw fit to delight me ever further. Ian (his name) lives in Melbourne and works for Cadbury as quality control. Yes, he has to eat chocolate for a living.

We hung out in Abu Dhabi airport during our lay-over, and drank some beer and ate chips. In honour of my departure from Australia, I order the dirtiest beer I could find – a Fosters – and Ian made it very, very clear to the waiter that the beer was for me. Yes, even in an ultra-conservative Muslim country, Fosters is a stain that most normal people do not ever want associated with their good name.

This beautiful man exchanged ideas and life philosophies with me for fourteen hours...and then bought me a Fosters and pretended he didn't know me. To be fair, he did let me smother our chips in tomato sauce! Thanks Ian.

This beautiful man exchanged ideas and life philosophies with me for fourteen hours…and then bought me a Fosters and pretended he didn’t know me. To be fair, he did let me smother our communal chips in tomato sauce! Thanks Ian, you’re a prince amongst men!

I would like to go into more detail about the people and how I perceived them – but ignorance regarding their dress, religion and culture prevents me. Suffice it to say that there were many men and women in traditional/religious Muslim garments, and they all seemed to be respectful towards people of other cultures. Some of the women were very beautiful and regal. I noticed they had what looked to be henna tattoos on their hands. Many of them had exquisite jewellery, handbags and sunglasses.

The four hour flight to Instanbul was not nearly so enjoyable, as I got moved around several times so that a group of Muslim women could all sit together and not have to sit next to a man. I got redirected to another seat (next to a man) who stated loudly that he did not want to sit next to me. So I ended up getting an entire row of four chairs to myself and having a sleep. By that stage I hadn’t slept in nearly 40 hours.

We finally touched down in Turkey, and the first thing I noticed was that the ground crew all looked like sixteen year old boys. It wasn’t long until I found Jesse sitting at the baggage claim (distinguishable by the fact that I know him, and also his trademark fedora) and we sat on the floor with our backpacks heaped around us, and laughed and acted like shitheads while people glared at us. It was fun.


We first have to take a stupid photo…


Then we take a semi-nice one…

We were both extremely tired, so we got a coffee and quickly found a bus to take us to our accommodation (an Air B n B place). We probably carried our back packs (20 and 25 kilos respectively) for 25 minutes once the bus dropped us off. Which, might I add, in the grand scheme of things isn’t too bad (we’ve come to realise). had an early night: we went out for a wander, ate dirty street kababs and then went home and slept. It had been a big 48 hours!