Having comfortably sat out the end of Ramazan in Istanbul, staying a week had served its purpose. I could have gone on for ever, this city had so much to offer, but by now I really did have an intense need to start putting miles behind me. After all, my original plan had been to start my trip here so it was almost like I hadnt even started yet. The change in the weather had been discernible just over the last few days and though Rhami stayed I elected to go. As if to make up a little lost time I had been strict with myself and resisted the temptation of splitting my journey at Bursa or Eskishehir as I might have liked to. I stepped on one of the still free trams with the intention of jumping on a boat and nipping over to the Asian side of the city for the first time. Here I would buy myself a ticket for the night train to Ankara. I had only gone a couple of stops though when upon passing the European rail terminus I thought it was at least worth a try and jumped off. I got my ticket at Sirkechi instead no problem and saved myself 2 hours just like that. With the unexpected time I now had on my hands I managed another chore, some photocopies from Rhami's guidebook which might come in handy later on, out of date and rudimentary though they were. They were for Iraq. Back to the hostel and we had quite a smorgasbord for lunch, that is me, Rhami the black American guy, Patricia the half caste black Ozzie girl and Irina, the full on half Russian, half Kazak girl who lived in San Diego and looked and sounded Hispanic. I felt almost ashamed of being boringly normal! We later visited the ancient Cistern, an underground reservoir built on the instruction of Greek Emperor Justinianus in the year 562AD. I'd never seen anything like it, a massive subterranean water store lined with supporting pillars to keep the roof up. It was lit up aesthetically in red and green. Custom had it that if you put your finger into a hole in one of the pillars and it came out wet you would have a long and happy life. What a lot of bollocks. There were also 2 giant pillar bases which had the head of Medusa carved into them, one upside down and the other on its side. Storyboards tried to sell you various theories as to why but to me it was pretty obvious. They had been robbed from an earlier temple and been positioned willy nilly as the only 2 blocks big enough they could find. More touristy crap.
For my last foray Rhami and I headed for the massive Aya Sophia, a Byzantine cathedral turned mosque completed incredibly in 537AD and one of the great landmarks of the city. It stared straight back as if in symmetry with the Blue Mosque opposite and reputedly supported the worlds largest dome. When we got to the gate though we only had to take one look, it was still absolutely mobbed with holiday crowds so we reluctantly had to let it pass. Another disappointment I also had was not getting to the Florence Nightingale Museum. It lay on the Asian shore actually inside a military base (yup, yet another) and you had to get prior permission to visit it. Due to the holiday, the fax I had sent no doubt lay unread and certainly no reply was forthcoming, another instance of bad timing, bad planning, bad luck. Suffice to say that Big Flo came here during the Crimean War and nursed the soldiers. By simply implementing basic standards of hygiene and care she reduced the original mortality rate of 70 per cent down to only 5. What a gal.
For my last night in Istanbul Irina introduced us to a local chay den. It seemed a little touristy to me but there were certainly plenty locals about as well and it was actually like a real slice of the culture. We sat round a low table where we drank chay, ate Gozleme (savoury pancakes), smoked Hookah for the first and last time and were entertained by music and a Dervish dancer. It was strange saying adios to Rhami after being with the guy for a week but cutting it fine I jumped on the tram one last time then took the last boat to Asia. We crossed in line abreast with another sleek lined ferry, dodging the supertankers and lapping up the beautiful light studded cityscape. I made it onto the night train for Ankara with only minutes to spare. What a way to go out.