(written by Nancy)
Our ferry didn’t leave until 11:30 this morning so we had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel before packing up. The ferry port was only about a 5 minute ride from the hotel but we decided to head down there early just in case there was any issue with getting the bikes on board. My wrist bands were at the ready but I did not take Dave’s advice and wear them riding to the port.
We had heard that passengers were required to put their luggage through security screening and had read of cyclists being required to remove all of their bags from the bikes and run them through the screening machine. We rolled up into the ferry terminal and over to the security area and the guards motioned to us to simply walk the loaded bikes through the screener, which not surprisingly went off (steel bikes). No worries for the guard – he just held the bike on the other side and asked us to walk back through the screener without the bike. Thankfully, no alarms that time so no issues. I’d say it is a slight hole in their security procedures, given we had 10 bags between the two of us that were never searched or put through the x-ray machine. Perhaps we just looked safe and non-threatening…
After getting through that tight (!) security process we hung out in the waiting area for an hour before we could board the ferry (okay, I guess we got there a little bit early). Wheeling on to the ferry was no problem and we tied our bikes up to the railing before the cars were allowed on so we were set. We had assigned seating so went upstairs to find our seats. They turned out not to be too good – crammed in with a bunch of other people, and worse, they were facing backwards. It’s bad enough to be on a boat but being on a boat riding backwards is really not good. So, Dave went on a walkabout and found us some good seats outside on the balcony at the back, sheltered from the wind but with some fresh air.
The ferry ride was just about the advertised 1 hour 15minutes and before you knew it we were pulling into the ferry port in Istanbul. Then the excitement began – riding to the Sultanahmet area to find a place to stay. It was only 3k but I think I would have to say it ranks up there with the wildest bit of riding we have done on this whole trip. Cars, buses, people everywhere, cobblestone roads, hills – you name it! We didn’t have great timing either, riding right past the famous Blue Mosque about 1:30, prime tourist time. I finally had to get off my bike and walk it a bit as there were people walking in the street and between them and the huge tourist buses that seemed hell-bent on smashing me into cars parked along the curb I could not really ride. Dave was braver and just rode down the middle of the lane and let the tour busses honk at him until he was ready to pull over – I think that’s probably a better way. Honking is well practiced here and ignoring a honk seems to mean nothing.
We finally made our way to a café that we had heard about where we pulled over to catch our breath and have some lunch. Dave then went off on his hotel search, wandering the streets for quite some time looking for a place to stay. We finally ended up at the Side Hotel and Pension just around the corner from the café, where we have booked in for 5 nights. This place was recommended to us by an Aussie couple we met in Goreme and it is a nice spot – I think we were lucky to get a room.
We unpacked the bikes, dragged the bags up three flights of stairs, put the bikes in the basement and got cleaned up before heading out to wander a bit. Here we are, in Istanbul!! A bit hard to believe – this has been just a dot on the map for so long and we have finally arrived. We are stone’s throw away from the Blue Mosque and can see it from the balcony of the hotel. I can see it lit up right now from where I am typing this. This city is pretty wild – it is a bit of a shock after being in relatively small towns to come to this huge city where there are so many people and cars everywhere.
We headed to a bike shop that we had read about on the web (Pedal Sportif) to get Dave a replacement water bottle. The bike shop looks like a little hole in the wall, its windows crammed with odd things but in fact it had a pretty amazing selection of bike parts – even a Campagnolo Record 11-speed cassette! You would never have guessed it looking at it from the outside.
We stopped for dinner on the way back – another meal of lahmacun. We couldn’t resist after walking by a shop filled with locals and it turned out to be very good. Then, the obligatory stop at a pastry shop for some Turkish delight for dessert. It seems as though there are pastry shops every 100m or so here, with fellows standing outside each of them snipping off little pieces of Turkish delight for you to try. I suppose you could just keep wandering the streets and get your fill of it without even buying any, if you were game to try.
We have made a list of the touristy things we want to do while we are here – we’ll see how much progress we make on it. Then there is the planning day and the dentist day and the laundry day… see, five nights will go by in a snap and we will be dragging the bags back down the stairs again. But for now, we are going to enjoy being in Istanbul – wow, we are in Istanbul – who would have thought?