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Chris Sayer’s Travel Diary

Sunday, 01 May 2016

Location: Istanbul, Turkey

MapAnd so, after three weeks and 4,800 kilometres exploring Morocco, we’ve made it to Istanbul. It was seven years ago, sitting in the back of a taxi heading for the airport with my left foot heavily bandaged, that I wondered if I’d ever get back here. It’s sometimes strange where life takes you.

After just 24 hours in this majestic city, one big difference to seven years ago is the police presence. The blue uniforms make themselves obvious all over the city, either on foot or horseback, motorcycle, Segway, car or armoured vehicle. In light of recent events, it is somewhat assuring for us to see them out and about. Locals are telling us that tourist numbers are down for this time of year. Hotels and restaurants are feeling the pinch.

Another difference in Istanbul that we’ve found to Morocco is that the street hawkers always apologise for interrupting as you walk past, and they are friendly and wish you well when you refuse them. They are polite at being annoying.

I think we still love Istanbul, as we grew to love it back then. It is a fascinating place – the largest city in Europe, only second to Shanghai in the world for the number of people who live within its city boundary (population 14 million). It is modern, has skyscrapers and state-of-the-art bridges and freeways. It also has old sections with buildings dating from Roman times and before. You can drive over a bridge and cross from Europe into Asia. The population is 99% muslim, and some women still wear traditional Islamic head cover, but the majority dress as women do in any Western city. The red Turkish flag flies from every building and vantage point. We arrived here on the Friday to have a few days before the tour starts to explore more of this great city. The rest of the tour participants arrive on Monday morning.

The evening after we’d arrived, there was a knock at our hotel door. We opened it to be greeted by tour member Jim, who’d also arrived early. Now, let me introduce you to Jim, because there’s no doubt he’ll be mentioned several times in this story. Jim lives in Sydney, and has been to Turkey on every one of Mike’s tours, so this is trip number 16, therefore he was on our 2009 tour. He loves this country, and he has become so well known to several locals that they call him Jim Baba – “Jim my brother”. When you’re with Jim in Turkey, you feel like you’re in his home. Mike arrived the following day, and so the four of us have had a couple of days to reconnoitre before the others arrive and the tour starts.