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!