Istanbul: The Finale
Day 2 of Istanbul began with a ferry ride to the European side and a stop for some Burek. Burek is a pastry made with filo and with various fillings such as potato, cheese, spinach, or ground meat. Perry and I have come to love these and will definitely miss them! We then continued on towards Hagia Sophia. We walked through the grounds of Topkapi Palace but decided we weren't interested in going inside. It then started to POUR! My new umbrella lasted approximately 1.5 minutes before it was turned inside out and the metal bent like a super flexible yoga instructor! So we decided to go into the Hagia Sofia...with a stop for some extremely overpriced freshly squeezed pomegranate juice just prior...those that know me know how much I love pomegranates so I couldn't resist.
Into the Hagia Sofia we went. It's so crazy to think that the most recent version of this building was completed in 500something AD and it is still standing. They don't even make buildings nowadays that last 60 years before they need to be knocked down and rebuilt. The interior of this now museum is very beautiful and intricate and I really liked that we could go to the upper floor and view it from above. I of course could not stop taking photos!!
Upon exiting the museum, we heard another call to prayer but this was unreal because it was coming from the Blue Mosque and about three other surrounding mosques so the sounds were all echoing and mixing with each other. I find myself always recording these call to prayers as I just find them so fascinating and know I will want to listen back to them when we finish our trip.
Unfortunately the rain did not stop so we decided to head to the Grand Bazaar as it is covered. This place is definitely a labyrinth of Jewelers, souvenirs, trinkets, clothes, shoes and so on. Apparently there are sometimes 250,000-500,000 people that visit it daily! There were little tea stands throughout and an employee would carry trays of tea throughout the market to offer to the merchants. There were also the tiniest little food stalls that did the same- carry trays of food to all the merchants. We decided to sit at one of these as the food looked delicious and very homemade. We observed that all the patrons would sit, wolf their food down in two minutes and go. There must have been four waves of people that came and went while we ate. It was all locals and we really stood out sat amongst them (everybody shares the tables as there are only two!). One young man even put his arm around perry, patted him in the belly and said "I finish but you still eating!!" Because he arrived after us but finished before us. It was very comical.
We didn't buy anything at the bazaar but I was very close to buying some of the tiny glasses they use for tea here. As we left, we ended up on a shopping street that had tons of wedding shops amongst shoe stores and clothing stores, all catering to the locals. We couldn't believe how many people were on this street. I found a man selling the tea glasses that I love so much on the side of the road and they were a price I couldn't pass up on so I ended up buying a set. Can't wait to use them when we get back!
We then walked across the bridge with all the fisherman (mentioned in the previous post) and ended up in the area of Karikoy where we found a fish market and plenty of roosters roaming around. All the streets surrounding this area were filled with merchants selling tools and hardware type things. It seemed like 20 streets of Home Hardware/B &Q. Nothing interested us here so we climbed up some steep streets and ended up at Galata Tower. We decided not to climb up as it was not that high and the weather was not the greatest. This area had lots of cute shops and cafes but we decided to head back to our hosts and make him and his fiancé some dinner.
It was difficult to find ingredients that we needed so we made a simple dinner of potatoes and chicken with a salad (and grilled haloumi cheese...mmmm). We needed the evening with some nice conversations with Khalid and Burcu (pronounced Burju- the 'c' in Turkey is pronounced like a 'j' unless the c has a little squiggly under it then it sounds like a 'ch'). The next morning they made us a lovely breakfast and then we departed for the Sulthanamet area where we visited the Basilica Cistern.
The Basilica Cistern was built in the 6th century and was used to store water. It has 336 marble columns and looks really mysterious. It is very damp and we found water constantly dripping on our heads and clothes....it seemed like this was the case in all of Istanbul as it rained constantly (except for day one) so we decided to head back and call it an evening.
Today is our last day in Istanbul as our flight for Dubai leaves at around 10pm. Luckily, I've received my visa after some hassles from the agency I went through to obtain it. All the trouble we've gone through to obtain this visa makes us really negative about the UAE and we really just want to skip right over it and avoid contributing tourist dollars (or dirhams) to their economy BUT as I said, we've had three days of rain and I'm sure the sunshine will make us feel better about it once we are there. Plus our host seems really awesome and he's also got a pool so it shouldn't be all that bad!
Today we were meant to go to one of the Princess islands but the rain made us lazy and we just stayed at home and packed and started our journey to the airport. We tried to find a restaurant that had wifi so I could check up on my UAE visa and we found some of the waiters in the restaurants to be quite cold and unwelcoming. I don't know if this is because we had out backpacks or because they didnt speak English or we didn't speak Turkish but nonetheless we found a nice welcoming restaurant with wifi. Only problem is, they did not have a menu that we understood or any vegetarian options. I am quite surprised at the lack of vegetarian options in many restaurants in a country that is predominantly Muslim. This restaurant said they will make me something special. We ordered this weird frothy yogurt drink mixed with water that we keep seeing. My reaction when I tried it was "wow that is nasty" and Perry thought that as well but for some reason we kept sipping away at it as there was something about it and surprisingly we got through the whole thing! Perry ordered a kebab burger and they brought me a plate of potatoes in a sauce that evidently had meat in it once upon a time. It was still tasty. But I was still starving and we were getting ready to go pay when out comes two giant dishes of grilled vegetables, a giant plate of fries and two side plates of rice. I guess the potatoes in sauce was a starter?? It was lovely and so tasty and they treated us really well, bringing us tea on the house and a very tasty desert called Kunefe (no idea how that is spelled) which was syrupy and cheesy and just delicious. We were worried at what this would cost us as we didn't have too many lyras left but we were completely shocked at how inexpensive it was! We are now absolutely stuffed but this should tie us over until we get to Dubai.
All in all, Istanbul has been great. We had fantastic hosts, fantastic foods and plenty of culture to witness. It was a great first stop of this honeymoon adventure. We would like to return one day, but would prefer to do it in warmer months. What is nice to know is that this will be (err SHOULD be) the worst of the weather during this trip so it's all looking up from here.
Teshekular Istanbul and see you again sometime!
Istanbul: Day 1
Well we arrived in Istanbul (with a shocking 10.8kg backpack on my back--how did I manage to pack so light??) and day one of our current adventure has come and gone...and what a day it was!
We arrived in Istanbul just after 5am but because of the time difference, this only allowed us to sleep on the plane for about 3 hours so needless to say, we were pretty exhausted!! We made our way to the Kodakoy area (pronounced KodaCUEy--there is an accent above the "o" which I can't input) which is on the Asia side of Istanbul and we met with our host for some breakfast. We tried the traditional tea (called chai) which to me tastes like regular black tea (maybe a touch stronger) and is served in these lovely glasses that look like a large shot glass or mini tulip glass! I couldn't believe my eyes at the sight of this tea everywhere we went today. Believe it or not-it seems more of a tea culture than in England! But I will talk more about that later!
Following breakfast and tea we rode a little shuttle bus to our host's apartment. These shuttle busses are something else, very rickety and they pick you up and drop you off wherever you want along the route--no need for bus stops! You just flag it down when you see one and when you want to get off just tell or yell at the bus driver and he will pull over and let you off. They are very small, maybe with ten seats and some standing space. The drivers honk like crazy cause they try to get as many people as they can on these buses (apparently the name for them translates to something like "pack them in") because this means more money for them. So although the honking may give you a headache after a while, the advantage to these shuttles is that they wait for you even if you are a block or two away and running for it because it means more Turkish Lyra in their pocket! So that is nice to know that they won't drive away because they are not on schedule like the drivers do in some cities (ahemVancouver).
Our host Khalid's place is very nice! With a massive pool! But unfortunately the weather is not right for it at the moment. The thing Perry and I love most though is that it is in what seems like the least touristy place of Istanbul! There are NO tourists here. The neighborhood/area is called Unalan, in the municipality of Uskadar and when Perry and I took the shuttle back into Kodakoy after a power nap, the lack of tourists became very evident when all eyes were on us!
We came from below zero temperatures in the UK to around 15 degrees and sunny in Istanbul so it really felt like summer to us. We were HOT, so I wore sandals and a light cardigan! Well when we got on the bus I noticed all eyes on my light cardigan and sandals and I looked around and realized that every passenger had a winter coat on and many even boots!! The man sitting next to me said "As soon as you get on bus I think to myself 'she English, she English!" Everybody on the shuttle was smiling and/or laughing. I explained that it felt like summer to us and we were very warm. It seemed like every new passenger that climbed on the shuttle, he would point out my shoes to them! Needless to say, I felt like an Australian in Vancouver (you know, the ones that wear their thong sandals in December which always makes me ask if they are crazyyyy). I felt the stares all.day.looooong! I would catch people's eyes drift directly to my feet. I almost bought a new pair of shoes cause I was standing out so much. And no I wasn't being paranoid, Perry noticed it too!!! I asked some girls to take a photo of us and they were even pointing and laughing at my feet! I guess it's karma for thinking that Australians are crazy for wearing thong sandals in winter weather in Vancouver!!
We took a ferry to the European side and as soon as we got off (well actually even from the ferry ride), I was snap happy with my camera.
The area where the ferry dropped us off, I believe it is called Eminonu, had so much going on, and again, barely any tourists so it provided a glimpse into the life of the locals. There were these little boats along the waterfront and on each of these boats were 2-6 men making fish sandwiches and in front of the boats was ample seating space that had tons of people sitting and eating these fish sandwiches (called Balik Ekmek). There were also stands that were making these little donut balls and corn on the cob and chestnuts, and then there were these drinks that everybody had in their hands that had pickles and onions sticking out of them. The color of the liquid was a pinkish red and we had no idea what it was. I am determined to find out though and may even try one today. We loved seeing all the locals sitting on these very low stools (which looked like mini barrels) and eating their fish sandwiches and drinking their red drink with pickles. It seemed like a real local thing to do so we said we would give it a try later.
Right around the corner there was a bridge with all these men (we even saw a women) fishing. There must have been 30-50 of them on both sides of the bridge and they were catching anything from small smelt-like fishes to some bigger trout size ones. They all had a bucket or bowl with water that they were putting their catches in and a lot of the fishes were still alive and breathing and some even swimming around. The fisherman were all socializing, children running around, and there was an older woman with a garbage bag full of water that was going up and down the bridge selling it to the fisherman. It seemed like a real social thing for them as well as a money maker. Perry and I looked in the water and there seemed to be tons of jelly fish in there too!!
Just accross the street, there was a beautiful mosque right next to a spice bazaar. We wandered through the bazaar where we tried Turkish Delight and I snapped so many photos because the colors of the spices and teas were so beautiful! Some of the cafes in the market would carry trays of the traditional tea through the market and sell it to the merchants. Again, what I loved about this market is that we barely saw any tourists, unless they were Turkish tourists. I guess it is not high season but we really seemed to stand out. We then wandered through the neighboring streets and alleyways with merchants selling anything from pots and pans, to tobacco, to cheese, to scarves and linens...pretty much anything and everything. There were also tons of foodie stalls and all we wanted to do was try all the different foods but we managed to resist the delicacies as we weren't even hungry.
This area of Eminonu was such a great place to people watch and catch a glimpse of the rich culture of the local people. We could have walked around for hours but it was time to find some touristy attractions!
We made our way to what was evidently the tourist area: where Haghia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are. We only viewed the Haghia Sophia from the outside because it was half an hour til closing time (we will return though) but we were fortunate enough to go inside the Blue Mosque. Now let me tell you, this place is unbelievable. Such beautiful architecture and the designs on the walls inside are just something else. Again, I couldn't help but snap snap snap snap away! We were in there for quite some time and it was running into one of the call to prayers. One of the security guards welcomed us to sit down if we liked and to observe it. Of course we didn't pass up on this. It was such an amazing experience! The men are all at the front of the mosque and the women all at the back. It seemed like the worshippers came and went as they pleased and some mobile phones went off a few times! Luckily it wasn't any of ours, but it seemed quite informal in regards to the atmosphere of it (people talking, mobiles going off, kids running around, even the fact that they allowed tourists to sit and watch) but I guess its because it is such a famous mosque. I believe some mosques don't allow visitors at all during the call to prayer so those may seem a bit more formal/strict. But formal or informal, the chanting is just so hauntingly beautiful in each of the mosques. Perry and I even agreed that we would put something like that on our iPods!
When we left the Blue Mosque it was dark out and it was great to see this mosque all lit up. Stunning architecture as mentioned. We made our way back to the area where the ferry departs and treated ourselves to one of the fish sandwiches we observed all the locals eating earlier. Perry loved his but unfortunately mine was full of bones and some grissle and wasn't too pleasant to eat. I still managed to eat most of it but most of the time was spent picking the bones out of my mouth!
We then got back on the ferry towards Kadikoy. As soon as you get on the ferry, a waiter goes around with a tray of tea and offers it to the passengers. It seems like everybody, and I mean everybody that gets on the ferry buys one of these teas so we did as the locals do and bought us some tea. As mentioned, the tea culture seems really big here. We saw people drinking this tea everywhere, from the merchants in the bazaar and alleyways to the passengers in the ferry. And it is always served in what looks like a mini tulip style glass (or extra large shot glass). I would love a set of these to have in our future home but the downside is we are backpacking and can't fit trinkets like these in our luggage. I am still tempted to purchase some though and post them back.
Following the ferry, we had a shuttle ride back to Unalan to our host's apartment. As soon as we got off the shuttle by his building, there were locals having a celebration in the street with a sound system set up and lots of dancing going on. We watched for a bit, and thought about how lucky we are to have the opportunity to stay in a neighborhood with no tourists and be witnessing this rich culture.
We returned to Khalid's apartment, had a nice conversation with him, while observing fireworks from the area that the celebration was going on and then we retired to bed to get some rest and prepare ourselves for a day of sightseeing the following day.
And that brings us to now, day 2, on a ferry heading back to Eminonu and ready to witness some more of the rich culture and stunning architecture that is so prominent here in Istanbul. And ready to try some more delicacies! Maybe I will be lucky to find a fish sandwich without bones in it!