Status Update:

Current location: Bochum / Germany

50 countries, 1226 days, trip mileage: 124200 km

24 Jun 2008

Turkey (2)

Blue Mosque, Istanbul

With nearly 15 million people, Istanbul is the largest city in Europe. And although I’ve had three years of practice with London traffic, I’m quite happy to leave the bike behind for a change and get on a passenger ferry instead. The crossing from Bandirma takes about two hours, and with the atmospheric late afternoon light shining down onto Istanbul, I couldn’t think of a better way of arriving in this beautiful city: as the boat approaches the harbour, the Blue Mosque emerges first, then Aya Sophia and finally a stunning panorama of European & Asian Istanbul opens, divided by the Golden Horn and the Bosporus. The atmosphere is particularly good tonight, as Turkey is playing Croatia in the European Cup Semi-Finals, and after one of the most dramatic games I’ve seen in a long time, Turkey won after penalties – which makes earplugs mandatory for a good night’s sleep.

Istanbul to me seems the best place to sort out my tooth problem: one of my friends grew up there and already e-mailed me a dentist recommendation, and so I give Andy’s advice of putting on some superglue a miss. It’s Saturday afternoon as I make my way to the harbour and catch a ferry to Kadikoy, on the Asian side of Istanbul, where I will meet the dentist. It is week-end, and in most countries I would imagine it to be be difficult for a stranger to get a same-day dentist appointment anyway, let alone with a 3-hour notice on a Saturday. Not only that: the dentist, Mr. Kesimgil, also picks me up from the ferry and takes me up to his practice, some 30 minutes drive away. At first I feel a little out of place, sitting in a car and talking with my new dentist whilst he’s making his way through dense city traffic. With a mix of French and English we manage to communicate quite well, and by the time I enter his practice, I already feel much more at ease than ever before a dentist appointment. If you ask me: I think there’s a huge market gap for this “chat before you drill” kind of service. Anyway - 45 minutes later I’ve got a new composite filling. Total cost: €60, return-journey to the ferry included!

I spend the evening away from the touristy Sultanahmet (the ‘Old Town’). As I’m strolling along one of Istanbul’s most vibrant quarters, Ortakoy, it soon becomes apparent how open and multi-cultural Istanbul really is, and how close tradition and avant-garde can be: it doesn’t seem to be unusual for young women to wear a head-scarf and at the same time tight neon-coloured trousers and high heels.

The last day in Istanbul is dictated by sight-seeing: Aya Sofia, Blue Mosque, Underground Cistern, Bazaar, Topkapi Palace, Galata Tower… Istanbul has a lot to offer, and I would love to stay at least another two days to get a better feel for the city and soak up more of the pleasant atmosphere. But unfortunately our visa for Iran starts running very soon, and we only have a few days left to get there. But I’m sure I’ll come back one day – it is a fascinating place!