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Istanpul?

Istanbul. The only city in the world that spans two continents (Asia and Europe if you’re wondering…), and the final part of my and James' Eastern Europe trip. Istanbul at first glance is breathtaking. It is a city full of culture, tradition, religion and friendly people. We were lucky enough to be travelling during the month of Ramadan, which meant each night saw feasts and celebrations outside the gigantic mosques. A few days or even a week in Istanbul means you won’t be tired of finding things to do and see, however when we went, the summer, the city was really hot for my pale northern skin. This made it quite difficult to full on 'backpack' and travel around the city. Despite the heat, Istanbul is a great place to visit, and a great city for those with the backpack bug. As you would imagine of the capital of one of the world's foremost emerging countries, Istanbul is tourist friendly, but unfortunately comes with the prices to match. Expect Western Europe prices for food and drink, but lower for accommodation. Also not all of the bars serve alcohol, so don’t come here for a boozy trip!

Istanbul is easy enough to get to by plane, bus or sleeper train (book a day in advance); save €15 for the border fee - a fact that we failed to remember which saw us scraping around the bottom of our bags for change - and you’ll be set. On the accommodation front we stayed in the Green Apple Hostel. Decent enough, fairly priced, right in the centre, nothing out of the ordinary but good enough to say I would stay again.

What did we do?
Istanbul has recently featured in the latest Bond film, Skyfall, and it’s nice to look around and see which sites were featured on the set. An obvious sight was the Hagia Sophia. A pricey entrance fee considering mosques similar sizes next to it were free, but then again it has the status of being a seventh wonder and it was a must see. Another spectacle is the Blue Mosque which is magnificent to see from the outside as well as the in. Near these two great landmarks is also the subterranean Basilica Cistern which has held water underground since Roman times for the local populace. A peaceful and cool spot, which is worth a quick visit, even if it is just to get out of the heat. A final ‘must see’ has to be the world famous Turkish Bazaars, (also featured in Skyfall). You can't visit Istanbul without going to the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar. Tons to buy and see; just be prepared to haggle.

Eat and drink?
As a vegetarian there wasn’t too much choice, but great restaurants none the less. Decent food and enough choice for those who like fish, kebabs and meat. Drink-wise, as I previously said not all of the bars serve alcohol but you won’t be stuck for finding a few that do. Just don’t expect too many reasonably priced clubs, or stag do’s here… Apart from alcohol it’s worth trying some of the flavoured teas which are found in most bars, which also usually provide shisha pipes. When in Turkey do as the Turkish do and be sure to try one! Overall Istanbul surprised me. It’s a beautiful city, and it has so much to offer. The people are nothing but friendly, even if you do offend them by bartering too hard in the bazaars, and you certainly won’t be stuck for things to do and places to see.