The trip to Turkey took an unplanned detour to Bulgaria for three days. My husband insisted it would be an easier way to get to Istanbul as Greece is lacking a little in the public transport presently. In reality we spent three days in Sofia walking from one side of the city to the other looking for cheap mountaineering equipment at each of the fifteen different outdoor stores. Don't get me wrong, I love a good looking ice axe as much as the next girl, it just seemed a little convenient. After doing absolutely nothing touristy for three days, we jumped on our first overnight train since Russia and set out for the border with Turkey. We relived the joy of 3am customs checks and were tossed onto a bus at 6am to make for the city. The cool thing was we turned up outside Hagia Sofia just as the sun was coming up and not a tourist was in sight. Istanbul is an incredible experience from the eerie wailing that signals the time for prayer to the cheeky gypsy kids asking you to buy them MacDonalds for lunch. We hit up the Blue Mosque with my hair appropriately covered in the requisite head scarf and climbed underground to the Roman Cistern now full of fish. If you walk all the way to the back of the massive cavern there are two columns held up by giant stone Medusa heads. Oh and Istanbul is full of cats. I don't know a better way of describing the total domination of strays throughout the streets, parks and stations but it's like nothing I've ever seen before, even in Thailand. The best bit is the locals feed them so often they hound anyone with food in their hands - unnerving. The real highlight was definitely our day out at Gallipoli which is a 4 hour drive south of Istanbul. Studying the war and seeing the beaches in person were so different and our guide spent the day proving and disproving the different theories we had been taught. We visited the cemeteries, the stands made ready for April 25th and walked along the beach at ANZAC Cove. Standing at Chunik Bair with Turkish school groups surrounding the memorial to the kiwis was pretty special and I understood why so many people make the trip out there. We had a whole day to kill before another overnight train to Romania and we spent most of it in the bars and restaurants where we had already befriended the staff on previous nights. I had so much complimentary apple tea in three days I became a little addicted to the stuff. Cannot recommend this city enough, especially spending an afternoon haggling in the Grand Bazaar followed by a Chicken Kebab.
Rachael and Jeremy