Sat, Nov 30, 2013
I said goodbye to my Georgian friends and headed back to the hostel to pick up my bag and then caught a taxi to the airport around 3:30 in the morning. Today is day 2 of 3 days of travel to get home but today’s leg is short – just over 2-hour flight to Istanbul. I had purchased this Altas Jet ticket for $60 on the internet and didn’t know what to expect. I was guessing I might have to pay a huge fee for my luggage or there was something hidden in the low cost. I was wrong. The flight was wonderful. I didn’t pay anything extra for the luggage and there was even a free breakfast of meat and cheese, tomato, cucumber, muffin, bread and butter. I only managed to get less than an hour of sleep. There was a ranting drunk guy in the same row as me. I saw him passed out in the business class section as I got off the plane.
Arrival in Istanbul was at 6:45 am local time after gaining 2 hours on the flight from TBS to IST. I got my $20 visa to visit Turkey and then got thru passport control and collected my bag. I used public transport to get to the old town. It was straightforward to take the Metro/Subway and then transfer to the tram. I was happy it was early because I imagine the tram gets quite busy later in the day. And the good part was it cost $3 for two tokens for the ride as opposed to the 20 Euros or more for a taxi. I got nice views of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque in the early morning.
I walked over to the Orient Hostel, where tonight’s room was covered by our tour cost. I quickly met some of the others from the group who were having breakfast before their day out in Istanbul. I met Pete and Kirsten, the owners of Odyssey Overland who had flown into Tbilisi to run the last 8 days of the tour after one of our guides had an accident. I found out Helen had returned to the UK and had been discharged from the hospital but then was readmitted after having a seizure. Everybody seemed so excited to see me after 8 days – it seemed longer.
Since I had spent over 4 days in Istanbul just 2.5 years ago, there wasn’t alot that I hadn’t seen before, so I was limiting my visits to the markets and the Chora Church which was rated very high on TripAdvisor and that I hadn’t visited before.
I started out with Anna, Chris, and Barb going to the Grand Bazaar. This place is huge. There are alot of nice things there but you must bargain hard and I had done all my Turkish shopping a couple years ago, so I didn’t buy anything.
I next walked up one of the main streets for over an hour to the Chora Church. I stopped at the old city wall on the way. Maybe I should have paid the extra $5 for the audio guide, but I didn’t get much out of the Chora Church – only spending about 15 minutes there. Yes, the mosaics are amazing and the best in Istanbul, but I didn’t feel it was worth the entry fee.
After the Church, I walked down to the Golden Horn – a large bay off of the Bosporus Straight. I was amazed by the number of jellyfish that are living there – such beautiful but terrible creatures.
At 1:20 I walked by a tour boat that looked ready to depart so I asked the captain if it was an open tour. For $20, I took a tour on the boat up the Bosporus Straight, past the amazing old and new architecture in this huge city of 20 million people. I drank a cup of apple tea as the sites went by.
Mid-cruise, we stopped in a little town for an optional buffet lunch. I skipped the lunch since we were meeting at 6pm for our Overland Tour final dinner. So, I bought a couple snacks and sat in the park overlooking the body of water. Sunset was a very early 4:30 as we cruised back to the old town.
I swung by the market on the way back to the hotel.
Some of my tour group were sitting at the hostel bar so I joined them to talk about my week away from the trip. Then all 22 of us met at 6pm to have dinner in the old town with the group. We had a few appetizers and watched a slide show of our trip set to music. It was fun to remember all the good times of the trip. This dinner was included because there was enough money in the “kitty” or cash payment for the trip. I ordered the flambé steak, which was set on fire just in front of our table. Since I was so tired from the only 1 hour of sleep last night, and the fact that I had to pack and get up at 5:15 am tomorrow, I was the first to leave. Quite a few of the group are staying another day or few. So, I went thru the gantlet – hugging and saying goodbye to everyone. I hope I will see some of them again. I went back to the hostel and packed my bags and then got some much-needed sleep.