Mosques, bazaars and nice dinners

In the last ten days we spent five days in the center of Istanbul. The first time, we went together with our host family. Because the girl is only four years old, we couldn’t walk around too long, although we got a quick view on many of the main sites. A few days later we visited the city together and did most of it at a slower pace. Then, Nienke’s father and a friend of his arrived on Friday and stayed for a couple days. With the four of us, we walked around Istanbul for two and a half days. By now, we might even be able to be city guides!

It was really great to have Nienke’s dad, Jan, and Aalf here. Normally, we wouldn’t visit all the touristy things, but together with them we entered almost all the famous buildings. First of all, we walked around the Topkapi Palace, which was very interesting. Of course, we couldn’t miss the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar; we really loved wandering around both of them. Then, we climbed up to the Suleyman Mosque, that has a splendid view over the city (especially when the sun goes down!). The next morning, we visited the Hagia Sofia, which looks a lot better on the inside than on the outside. Nevertheless, its size is very impressive! Afterwards, we visited the famous Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque), although we couldn’t really see anything with all the construction works. Finally, we walked to the beautiful Galata Tower, where a lot of people were waiting to get in. We didn’t want to wait that long, so we continued walking. Besides visiting all these buildings, we’ve also walked around some crowded and nice-looking neighbourhoods and eaten some incredible (and some less incredible) food. And most of all, we had lots of time to chat and catch up! Thanks for the amazing days Jan and Aalf!

The rest of the week we spent time with our host family. On Thursday, we collected the daughter from school and took her for a tea and a simit (some kind of bread). Although she enjoyed being with us, she was very tired and fell asleep in Nienke’s arms on the way home. She slept for 20 minutes, but then she woke up and wanted to play with us. In the ten days we lived with her, she learned many new English words; most of all by playing memory!

Last Monday was our last day with the family, although both parents needed to go to work and the girl went to school. Thus, we had the morning to ourselves and did some shopping, charged all our batteries and got ready to leave the next day. In the afternoon, we walked to the school where Aytan, our host, works. She asked us to visit one of her lessons, in which the students are working on a special project about solving environmental problems. Before the lesson started, she showed us the buildings and the yard; they even have chickens walking in the garden! The school is a technical high school for teenagers from approximately 14 to 18 years old. The students take a.o. electrical and automotive classes, so when we walked into a classroom, we really didn’t understand anything they were doing. When our lesson started, we introduced ourselves to the students. Then, they wanted to ask so many questions that the only thing we did with them was just talk! It was a great opportunity for us to get to know some of the Turkish education system and for them to learn some things about (education in) The Netherlands.

On our last night in Istanbul, Nienke cooked pumpkin soup, while Aytan took care of some salads and fish. After dinner, we had another nice talk with them and said our goodbyes. We really enjoyed being part of their family and we learned a lot about Turkish habits and typical foods. If we ever come back to Istanbul, we will definitely visit them again!

Right now, we are a few hundred kilometers south of Istanbul. So far, the main roads in Turkey are quite good and we get an average of about 70 km/hour, which is pretty fast for our standards. We will visit some touristic sites during the next few days, but then we will go further down south to our next Workaway address. We really look forward to temperatures above 20 degrees, swimming in the sea and spending a lot of time with the animals on a horse ranch. Please stay tuned for more adventures in the coming week!

Hospitable Turkey

Crossing the border into Turkey was quite an experience! Our first thought was that it was super easy, and we were already cheering that it was so easy, only to find out a couple minutes later that we had only passed the exit border for Bulgaria. Entering Turkey took a lot longer. There was a long line of cars and every car seemed to be checked thoroughly. Some people even had to open and empty all the bags and suitcases!

We were a little worried: if they wanted to check Tiny like that, we would be at the border for a whole day! When we finally got to the ‘checkingpoint’, we opened our sidedoor and the officer opened his eyes really wide. We could see him think ‘how on earth am I going to check all of this’. He opened some cupboards (and didn’t close them again), took a look in our overly filled bathroom, crushed our – just bought – enormous leek and then looked at his colleague. The other guy kept saying the word tourist and I guess that was helpful, because he was finished in just 5 minutes. They were just telling us that it was ok and that we could move on, when a loud alarm rang. All the systems shut down, so even though we were good to go, they couldn’t add us into their system. Luckily the rebooting didn’t take very long! All in all, it took about 1.5 hours to cross the border. Borders have been pretty easy so far, but from now on they will be a challenge!

First days in Turkey
Our first stop was in a city called Edirne, just across the border. To drive on the highway in Turkey we needed a so called HSG sticker. Some other overlanders adviced us to get them at the PTT (just like the one we used to have in the Netherlands!). After we got some Turkish Liras from an ATM we walked into a gas station and ask for the HSG sticker. To our surprise, no one spoke English, so after trying to point it out we had to use our phone to show them what we were looking for. They finally understood what we were talking about, but unfortunately the PTT was closed for lunch. We decided to keep driving and avoid the highways. After another two hours on the road we ended up in Silivri, a nice city on the seaside. We found a really good place to park the van, close to the sea and a park. We weren’t alone; our neighbour was a Turkish van. Since it was already pretty late, we decided to look for the PTT the next day. The van was parked next to a really cute boulevard, so we enjoyed a lovely evening strolling the boulevard and dinking some coffee. Again, no one spoke English, but we could just point out what we wanted. When we got back to the van, our neighbour came to our door. He went out to get us a delicious Turkish bread!! It was really hard to communicate, but we tried to show him how thankful we were!

The next day we walked to the nearest PTT and tried to explain that we needed the HSG. It felt impossible, because again no one spoke English and we needed to tell them a lot of details about the car (weight, license plate, distance between the tires etc.) to get the right form. All of the people we had met so far are super friendly and everyone is trying to help, but without language a thing like HSG is really hard to obtain! Luckily there was a customer who spoke German, so she helped us by being an interpreter. Our van is a category 2 and this PTT office only had category 1 stickers, so we had to go to another one. The friendly lady who spoke German even offered to take us there! It took almost the whole morning, but now we are in possession of an HSG sticker! We have no idea how to charge it yet, but hopefully we will figure that out soon.

Getting to Tuzla, Istanbul
We knew driving in Istanbul was supposed to be pretty crazy, and it was! Especially since maps.me took us to a tunnel that was only 2.80 meters high. Tiny wouldn’t fit and we had to take a different road and then we ended up driving in downtown Istanbul! It’s really busy and cars come from every direction, so we were really glad to get out without any damage! We already got to see a lot of huge mosques and the bridge over the Bosphorus, which made the scary driving a bit more enjoyable. It was really cool to see the sign ‘welcome to Asia’ when crossing the bridge! The family that we are staying with this week lives in Tuzla. It’s an area in Istanbul, about 40 km away from the big downtown. It’s also quite busy, but a lot better than it was in the city centre.

Our first week of Workaway
The family that we are staying with now, are really welcoming. Our first night, we enjoyed a lovely dinner with them and some friends. Tiny is parked in front of the apartment on a parking lot. Our main job is to help them improve their English and we also help with some little household chores. Besides, we will look after their 4-year-old daughter a couple of times. It’s a little hard because she doesn’t know a lot of English, but so far it has worked out. On our 3rd day the family took us to the city center. It takes about one hour by train, but it’s a direct line and it costs only 1 euro! They took us to the famous Sultan Ahmed square and we walked by all the main sites. When we are by ourselves and when Nienke’s dad comes (this weekend!) we will tour Istanbul some more. On Tuesday, it was a National holiday (like Indepence day) so the family took us to one of the Princes’ Islands: Buyukada. It’s a really nice island. The houses are very pretty and huge and there are no cars on the roads. Most people walk up to a famous church on the hill, where the view is spectacular, but some people take one of the hundreds of horse carriages. Of course, we walked. The last part of the climb was really steep, but the view was totally worth it! We enjoyed some drinks and Burek on the top and watched Istanbul from a distance. The city really is humongous, and we can’t wait to explore it some more!

For those who were wondering and saw our Insta story: Tiny is fixed again! Tiny really didn’t like all the crappy roads and speed bumps anymore and was making a lot of noise. That’s why we decided to get a check. Both the suspensions were broken and Tiny stayed overnight at an ‘otopark’ somewhere in Istanbul. It was a bit scary to leave him behind, but the next day he was still there with new suspensions!

 

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