|A 17th floor view of Turkey from the Barbaros Area.|
Flying from Nairobi, you'll be on Turkish Airlines, yes, that one that has a football advert featuring Messi and Kobe trying to impress a kid on the plane. One thing though, the flight takes off at quarter to 4 am, and it lands back at 2 am.
|Leather seats with curved leather headsets in|
Turkish Boeing 737-800ER
Approaching Ataturk airport, you will notice that Istanbul is quite a large city. The approach to the airport will see you having a close view of Skyscrapers in the range of 20 floors and above. Again, you will notice that the sea cutting across the city is quite busy.
The "sea" itself is a natural waterway linking two seas, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean sea, and is referred to as the Bosphorous. It is a shorter and an all-year-round path from Russia and some former Soviet countries into Europe, through the Mediterranean sea. You will come to notice that Istanbul is both in Europe and Asia, with the Bosphorous forming a boundary between the two.
Now you will come to notice that Istanbul is a large city, insanely huge. The population of the city is 13.8 million, or a third of Kenya's population, or four times the population of Nairobi. The size of the city is more than 5,300 kilometres squared, or to put it plainly, just under 10 times the size of Nairobi. The population makes it the second largest city by population after Shanghai's 17.8 million people. Area wise , Istanbul again comes second after China's Tianjin, whose 11 million people occupy 7, 400 kilometres squared.
|Multi-storey buildings such as this are common in Turkey, with its 13 million people|
The Nairobi CBD between Moi Avenue and Kenyatta Avenue would be just one of several business districts in Istanbul.
Even with such proportions, the city itself is more efficient than Nairobi - most buildings seem to start at 10 floors, upwards. In Nairobi, most buildings would top out under four floors.
Their airport is busy, but again, seeing it's Turkish's base, they probably got us in at peak hour, when all flights arrive to allow connecting flights in the next hour or two. It's still bigger than what we have here, and busier, and functional.
Immigration may have some long lines, as most flights will be arriving then, but it does move quickly - again, note that the long line breaks into smaller lines at the counter, and some will be slow moving, given that people travel in families, or groups. The lone traveller queues are the faster ones. Some pretty lady, whose age was hard to tell, but couldn't possibly be 30, stamped my passport.
|One of the many buses that ply Istanbul.|
The trip from the airport to the hotel,located near Besiktas, about 1 kilometre from the Bosphorous was quite eye-opening. For such a large and populous city, traffic surprisingly moves, and there are no delays. Again, the traffic lights here are better coordinated - if you drive at some speed about 50 kilometres per hour in the urban roads, you will clear sectors of lights where all the lights will be green. This alone must contribute to the moving traffic.
Also, the road are well done, with wide highways leading from one point to another, complete with overpasses and underpasses at junctions.
|A tram in Istanbul|
A tram I took cost about KSh. 150 from one end to another, though charged the same amount across all stops.
I did try my hand at shopping, but emerged empty handed, more so from my notoriety as a bargain shopper, and again from the difficult nature of Turkish shopkeepers. Shopping districts include Besiktas, where you can find a Nike shop, and also other shops selling perfumes, or clothing such as gomlek(shirts) and even antique items.
One thing though, Istanbul looks like it is the capital of knockoffs, with designer imitations of everything from Polo to Burberry, down to Burberry scarves and gumboots. This will often have a higher price than non-imitation designs. The same applies for perfumes.
As mentioned earlier, English speakers are few, and that will be your biggest shopping problem. You will find 3 Turks in a shop, and the English speaking one will give you a separate price in Lira, while the other two will give you different prices in Lira and in US dollars for the same item. I'm not sure if they accept dollars, but you may get away with using a merchant card (Visa or MasterCard). Again, I did not have the patience to negotiate based on the different prices given.
Some shops will however sell items with listed prices, or have English speaking shopkeepers.
|Tokens used to access trams in Istanbul|
A little researching online seems to imply that European tourists, with their higher income, have spoilt the Turks. It's not like it used to be. For starters, I barely came across any carpet store in my shopping, and I'm told those who do have to do with Chinese carpets.
|The moon rises across the Bosphorous Strait, The image is taken in Europe, overlooking|
Asia across the strait
Sight SeeingOne thing that Istanbul is quite good at is sight seeing. There are lots of sights, and places, as you would expect in a city that has been here for 2,700 years.
You can start with the Bosphorous Strait, which provides a sight for ship watching, with strange ships, including those that have tankers on them, cruise ships and more.
Then you can take a tram from Kabatas to Sultan Ahmet. As mentioned earlier, trams cost TL 3 on this route (KSh. 150). Alight from here and it's a short walk to the Hagia Sophia.
|Decorations that give the Blue Mosque its name|
Hagia Sophia does contain both Christian Mosaics and Muslim art, though the Christian Mosaic are restored after they were plastered over when the building became a mosque. Most of these mosaics are therefore incomplete.
|A partly restored Christian Mosaic at the Hagia Sophia.|
Such mosaics were plastered over when the building became a Mosque.
|Christian Mosaics and Islamic|
Inscriptions at the Hagia Sophia
But then, 2 minarets were added to the Grand Mosque. Some say that the Sultan at Istanbul sent his engineers to Mecca to add the number of minarets there. Either way, with the Grand Mosque now having more Minarets, the Blue Mosque could now be constructed with six minarets.
The mosque picks its name from the blue floral pattern inside, alongside pinkish or violetish and gold patterns - you may think the decoration as more similar to China cutlery.
While the mosque is open to all, ladies have to cover their hair, and also have ankle length dressing and have their arms covered - well, you get the drill. It is also closed at times for a few hours, such as on the particular Friday, it was closed between midday and 1430 hrs to allow for midday prayers.
Entry to the mosque is free, but carry along a polythene bag in which to carry your shoes in once inside the mosque. I also recommend that you carry some cash with you to donate to the mosque, for its maintenance and upkeep. They accept Lira alongside Dollars and Euros.
Shopping Part 2
|A shoe retailing at about KSh. 1,500 to KSh. 2,000|
Also, you can explore shopping, but again it may bound to be disappointing. For shopping, just follow the tram line to the Laleli area and all the way to Aksaray Along the way is a bazaar, which is also fine for shopping, but will get you higher prices due to higher tourist presence.
|Part of Istanbul|
Around Aksaray, you will find more of retail shops, but also more of poor Chinese quality items. The items around Laleli go all the way to higher quality ones.
|Turkey does have a gigantic flag, and some traffic too, on the left|
Also, as you get to Aksaray, you will spot more and more Africans, especially West Africans and even more especially Nigerians. I did see bales of clothing being bundled into a truck, all labelled Lagos,Nigeria.
Kenyan retailers also do buy a lot in Turkey, a guy at the airport, probably Turkish, greeted me in Swahili and handed me a card indicating they do logistics (shipping) to Nairobi from Turkey. You will also probably run into him, or his partners at Ataturk.
Also at Aksaray, are a number of hotels which looked more affordable to me, especially if you are a small trader. You may want to do your due diligence on the same though.
You can catch the tram back to Kabatas from Aksaray, or any other of the tram stations for the same KSh. 150.
I did take a bus from Kabatas, but only because some kind lady paid my bus fare with her card, since being a foreigner, I didn't have a bus card.
|My favourite, the shawarma sandwich|
I did try some restaurant around Yildiz Posta Caddesi (see map http://her.is/3BStB) - The food was affordable (TL 13/KSh. 700) and had a variety of some rolled rice, various pastas, chicken and peas stew. I would recommend it, if you can find it at the corner of the given location above.
For beer, you can try their Efes Pilsener. Or Carlsberg.
The shawarma joints are all over Istanbul though.
Night clubs and villains
|A plastic recycler ferries his wares across Istanbul|
First, my nearest club, the Discorium, was not opening till midnight, and only for a private party, and one needed to call to reserve a spot, and also to pay about TL 30 to get in, and to be a couple - the couple rule seems to be surprisingly common in lots of countries.
I got a recommendation to try out Club Quba around the Taksim Area, where you will also find lots of other clubs. I hooked up with a Sierra Leonean, and we grabbed a cab to the Taksim Area.
The Taksim Square has been the site of protests this year. It is an open area, surrounded by shops, and with small hills in it. Here, you will find the police, who every other minute will pass by in a busload, or in an anti-riot water truck. Children play in the background, with some lights, while hawkers line their wares, keeping a wary eye for the police, sometimes sprinting with their wares, just likey would do in Nairobi.
We checked out a number of clubs, including Kiss & Fly, another popular club. Most of them demand an entry fee of between TL 20 to TL 30 (KSh. 1,200), and may offer a complimentary drink alongside the fee, or not. They also did indicate that beers are about TL 16(KSh. 700) in most clubs.
|One of the bridges linking Europe and Asia on the|
We were on our way to Quba when some guy approached us and offered to show us some "nice places". I was not enthusiastic, given that I had read that such guys often get a cut, and their cut will be bundled on your charges. My friend however said there was no harm, and off we went.
He took us down an alley, and up to some empty club, where some skimpily dressed ladies around a pole looked relieve to see us, as if we were there to rescue them from the boredom in the small empty club.
We declined, and the guy again, offered to show is another club, despite my insistence that we continue with our mission. My friend wanted to see the other club, and off we went, further down the alley, and up to another club. It looked like the first one he had shown us, seats to the back and along one wall, a platform with skimpily dressed ladies.
|Another Mosaic depicting Jesus and one of the emperors of Constantinople.|
Later, the city was ruled by Sultans.
|Inside the Hagia Sophia|
All this time, my homely West African friend had accepted the ladies request for a drink. Even before we had ordered, 3 'colas' were placed before us, and the ladies were served some pale, cheap looking wine in some sort-of-fancy bottle in a bucket with ice. I declined to take my drink, even as my guide insisted that it was "only cola". I insisted I had not ordered anything.
For some reason, my friend insisted that I drink, he would pay, but I refused. I'm not exactly a fan of soda and its ingredients, preferring natural beer instead. I had peaked at the menu, and had noticed that our colas were billed at TL 40. The high price of drinks in this city was something peculiar - probably, being a Muslim dominated country, the Turks don't drink as much.
We then asked for the bill, which to my surprise, was presented in a flash, as if they had anticipated our asking. Even more shocking, was the TL 1,000 bill presented (KSh. 43,000). The pale, cheap drink the ladies had been imbibing was a cool TL 250 per bottle.
|The queue outside the Hagia Sophia,|
part of the annual 3 million visitors to the museum
|A ship plies The Bosphorous, with Asia in the background|
The only other items of interest were dollar bills in 1s, 10s and 20s.
Then it was my turn.
"Show me the Lira! Show me!" demanded the barman, as his gaunt frame almost lifted me off the ground by my pockets. I offered to empty my pockets, insisting I had no Lira on me. My guide then helped in frisking me. from my pocket, I drew lots of KSh. 500 notes, with a TL 100 in between. The blue note probably got lost in the green of the KSh. 500 notes.
|One of the Bosphorous suspension bridges|
Such a well perpetuated scam, that preys on your good will, innocence and trust of others.
I then headed to a jewellery shop, to ask where I could find some police officers, despite my friend insisting that we should head to our hotels. It is then he told me that Miss Chinese had asked why we had gone to that club, and told him that we would be robbed.
|A view of traffic in Turkey|
Some other guy who was eavesdropping approached us. He told us not to go to the police station, he would refund our cash. He dashed into a shop, then returned with $460.
He then escorted us some distance to where we could find cabs, before demanding $20 facilitation fee, of which I gave him a bill with Andrew Jackson on one side.
The driver in the yellow cab confirmed our dollars were genuine, he scratched them with a blunt tip, and it left a mark. They did smell real to me.
For comparison, also see a write up on Istanbul from one of my friends by clicking this link.