I arrived in Istanbul after a 23 hour train ride from Belgrade, Serbia. In Belgrade I asked the conductor where I could put my bike and he said just put it in your sleeping compartment. The sleeper had room for 6 people but my bike would have blocked them out so I suggested I move it to the back of the train so that it's out of the way but he said "it's not possible" so I kept it with me. As it turned out, I had the compartment to myself the entire way. This area is definitely getting out of the smooth country to country transitions from Europe, I was asked to show my passport by armed guards on at least a dozen different occasions between Belgrade and Turkey.
I had a bit of a scare at the border between Bulgaria and Turkey. I knew that a visa is required to enter and that it would be about 45 euros but anticipated that they would have a cash machine. I had been in Bosnia and then Serbia and neither use the Euro and the only money I could get was the local currency. At 4:30 am we were told to get in line for the visa and then go to the passport office for a stamp. I asked where a bank machine was located and they said there wasn't one and that you have to have the cash or you cannot get a visa. The town was very small and that day (Friday) was a national holiday so all the banks would have been closed until Monday. I have no idea what I would have done but asked people in the line if I could borrow some Euros and a guy from Vancouver came to my rescue. I repaid Mitch Crowe as soon as I arrived in Istanbul, thanks a million to Mitch.
Istanbul is a city of 15 million people and seems to stretch forever as you enter from Europe. It is not the Capital City (Ankara) but it is the financial center and the destination of millions of tourists flocking to see the abundance of historical and cultural sites. I found a hostel in the Old City within a few hundred meters of the main sites. I was tired after the long train ride so on Friday I just strolled around and had dinner. The haunting call to prayer of the muezzin reverberated through the City from the Blue Mosque in mid-afternoon and again in the evening reminding me that I was now firmly in a Muslim country.
The Blue Mosque dominates the skyline and is distinguishable with its cascading roof and 6 minarets. The Sultan responsible for building the Mosque was criticized for being pretentious because it had the same number of Minarets as the Kaaba Mosque so the issue was resolved by adding a seventh Minaret to the Mosque in Mecca.