We found the old center of town without too much of a problem and started negotiating for a place to stay. Initially surprised at the high room rates, we settled for a 30 Euro/night place that turned out to be a good choice. We ended up staying for six nights. A side benefit was the fact we were able to piggy-back on a WiFi connection from a neighbouring hotel for the time we were there.
The views from the rooftop and balcony were stunning. On one side we had a view of Aya Sofia (below left) and on the other side a clear view of the Blue Mosque, one of the best known landmarks in Istanbul.
The atmosphere in Istanbul was a lot more relaxed than we anticipated. Life moves at a slow pace and from a personal security perspective, we felt totally safe most of the time. The gringo district houses a number of hostels, right next to the Four Seasons, the swankiest place in town with $400-$14,000 / night rooms. Our hotel was right across the street, but we ended up parking the bikes on the Four Seasons' side, right near the guards and cameras, between their limos. I surely expected to be booted out at some point, but our old iron seemed tolerated between the polished BMW's and other goodies.
The Galata Bridge, connecting the old town to Taksim and other areas, is a place to hang out, with lots of bars and restaurants along the lower parts of the bridge. Around the same area, hidden along the shore, are more restaurants and places where people get together. Tourism in Istanbul is mostly of Turkish origin, although there are lots of Europeans, North Americans and Asians as well. Tea and water pipes are everywhere.
The first mosque we visited was Aya Sofia. The interior is under heavy restoration, but nonetheless, it was worth it.
The Blue Mosque is very different inside and actively used by the local Muslim population. A large area of it is reserved for prayer. Here you had to take of your shoes and be covered appropriately. Jan was in shorts and was given a very nice skirt to wear. I took pity on him and decided to not post the picture.
Walking back from an afternoon drink, we wandered into the Spice Bazaar. The name says it all, but it is noteworthy that the vast majority of people there were locals or Turkish tourists.
The next visit we planned was to the Topkapi Palace, a place used by successive rulers. It was unremarkable, to the point we took no pictures, except the completely unrelated one below. There are successive rooms filled with rather modestly displayed clothes from the various times and one room displaying ornate jewelry. In most places, photography was not allowed and strictly enforced.
Aside from the Spice Bazaar, there is the much more famous Grand Bazaar. Here we did see a lot of tourists. There are supposedly 4,000 shops in the place, but despite our best efforts, we managed only a small fraction of it.
Apparently, buying arms in Istanbul does not involve a lot of effort. In the markets you can find shops like these. Take a good look. At first I thought the guns were fake, but they are all working copies of well known brands (Beretta, Glock, S&W,..). We also saw a few regular gun stores, with everything from handguns to military hardware.
Another noteworthy event was a visit to Ahmet Demitres, owner of ATA Moto in Istanbul. He's the KTM dealer and has the right attitude to motorcycles. We were offered his shop and tools to use as we pleased. He can get parts for all makes and tires of all sizes. Those riding through can contact him on 02122433554 or GSM: 05323752211 for directions. He's located in Findikli, right below Taksim.
On one of our last days in Istanbul we spent good quality time taking the picture below.