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Istanbul: searching for hippies in Sultanahmet

More Adventure travel tales in Turkey:
Gulet Cruise
Selçuk and Ephesus
Other East European Tales:
Vilnius, Lithuania
Prague, Czech Republic
Budapest, Hungary
Brasov, Romania
Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria

View over the Bosporus and Golden Horn from the Galata tower

Istanbul, where east meets west, is the only city with a European and an Asian part. The Bosporus in between is the most important sea route from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea and Russia. It’s also the gateway to the Middle East and Africa, being part of Turkey, a Muslim country with Western influences.

The disadvantage of a night train between two countries is the hassle in the middle of the night at the border. We have to leave the train, and are pointed in the direction of a counter for buying a visa. The formalities take an hour and we try to get some more sleep before we arrive at 10 AM in Istanbul. The train moves along the sea of Marmara, and we get a glimpse of the Bosporus and the old city wall, before we arrive at the train station. There, we become millionaires (at an ATM we take 400 million Turkey Liras) and we take the tram to Sultanahmet, the backpacker area of Istanbul. Underway, we pass the Blue Mosque, the Spiral Column and two huge obelisks. But when we have found a hostel, we first take a nap before we explore further.

Pudding Shop and Hippie route

Hippodrome and Aya Sophia in SultanahmetOnce awake, we move into town. In between the dominating Blue Mosque (with 6 minarets) and Aya Sophia (4 minarets), is the Hippodrome. This used to be a horse racing track, but currently it’s a park. Behind it starts the shopping area, with many restaurants. We settle down at the famous Pudding Shop, which used to be the meeting point for all hippies heading for or returning from Iran, Pakistan, and India, the so-called hippie route. Currently, there are no hippies here, only the richer tourists. The Pudding Shop now is just a good restaurant where we enjoy an excellent döner kebap.

Low budget Sightseeing

When we head for the major attractions of Sultanahmet, we are in for a shock. Aya Sophia, which used to be the largest church in the world, then a mosque, and currently a museum, costs 10 Euros. Topkapi, the old palace of the sultans, costs 10 Euros as well, with an extra 10 for visiting the harem, and another 10 for the treasure room. A little too much for a budget traveller, so we settle for exploring only the exterior of those attractions. We can pass the gate of Topkapi for free, and enjoy the view over the Bosporus. Then we move back to the Blue Mosque, which can be visited for free. Not much to be seen there, except the many blue tiles for which it got its name.

Galata tower

Galata tower in IstanbulThe area of Sultanahmet is separated from the rest of European Istanbul by the Golden Horn, a side branch of the Bosporus. On the bridge over the Golden Horn are many fishermen fishing. On the other side we walk up the hill to visit the Galata tower. For a small fee we can climb this tower, and have a great view over the city, the Bosporus, and the Golden Horn. Most striking is the amount of mosques in the city, which all look alike.

Back on street level we pass the bridge back to Sultanahmet via the Egyptian bazaar and the great bazaar. There is a huge crowd here, which we join strolling along the many shops and booths. People are calling at us everywhere, trying to make a sale. A bit claustrophobical we eventually reach the exit.

Trip on the Bosporus

Boat trip on the BosporusWe cannot leave without making a trip on the Bosporus. The sun is shining, but there is a cold wind, so we are both warm and cold. But the trip is great, with nice views over the many mosques, but also over the Dalmatus palace, the two bridges connecting Europe with Asia, and several other nice buildings. We set foot on the Asian part of Istanbul, only to have a drink. Unfortunately, the boat doesn’t come close enough for a good look at the forts at the second bridge. But altogether, it was a good trip.

After a few days we decide it’s time to move on to Cappacocia. Istanbul has a lot of attractions, but many are a bit expensive, or too far from the Sultanahmet area for a quick visit. We regret that nowadays the hippies are replaced by mass tourism. But it is still a great destination.

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