Friday, July 18, 2014

Istanbul for four

Another religious holiday and therefore office closure came at the end of May. When deciding on a destination, we knew this holiday would be after Alicia's graduation from Northeastern. We settled on Istanbul and asked Alicia is she wanted to join us. The timing worked perfectly and her  friend, Maura, met us in Istanbul. Hence, Istanbul for four.

A friend recommended our hotel which was perfectly located for touring. We could easily walk to all sites in the old town area or to the ferries to either the modern city or to the Asian side. 

Our first stop was the Blue Mosque - to make sure we avoided prayer times when we wouldn't be allowed inside. Having been to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi in October, I had an idea of what to expect here. The Blue Mosque is impressive, but in my opinion, not as beautiful as the other. 

As expected, all women had to cover their heads and shoulders. Everyone had to remove their shoes.
The Haghia Sophia dates from 537(!) and was originally built as a church. Minarets were added when it was transformed into a mosque in 1453 and since 1934 it has been  a museum. Both Christians and Muslims would like it returned to a place of worship.

Haghia Sophia

Not all evidence of Christianity was removed. (Madonna and child - top left and also in mosaic)

stained glass with Arabic text

looking from Haghia Sophia to Blue Mosque

As we walked between these historic sites, we were approached by many Turkish salesman. Most were trying to sell us carpets. I didn't even want to look at any for fear I'd never be allowed out of their shop. We did see plenty of colorful shops on our way.

delicious baklava

And of course, street vendors:

corn on the cob

mussels in foreground, plums in background

pay blind man to use scale

anyone want a flower halo?
Turkish style bagels

making cotton candy in the back of a car

I don't think they'll live long!
People sit in these little shelters to sell bird seed. It's not very lucrative in the rain - better when it's dry.


Sitting on cushions on the floor for our lunch break was fun for some, but not very comfortable for the one among us who has really long legs. Next time we opted for chairs. 

This woman was seated near the entrance continually making fresh tortilla type bread that could be ordered with many different fillings. 

Topkapi Palace and Harem - 1460's

entrance to palace complex


Looking out from the Topkapi Palace - from the old "town" to the modern city

We took a ferry across the Bosphorus to get to the more modern or "new" city.



Maiden Island

Galata Tower - in the new city

Views from Galata Tower:
view towards old town

how many mosques do you see?

View from Galata Tower with the new city on the bottom, old city to the right, and Asian side in the distance.

We found a church!

I like the crowns

Dolmabahce Palace (1856)

entrance to grounds

After wandering around the grounds and waiting in line, we were finally welcomed in for the English tour. But wait! Everyone has to put on booties over their shoes before entering.

Photo op while waiting taken by Alicia, our very own  "selfie queen!"



unique use of glass on stairway
the back!



It was fun having Maura along - she seemed right at home with silliness. Everyone knows that Tom and Alicia both have a good sense of humor!

Spice Market - which I will point our does not sell only spices. The spices are very colorful therefore the  displays are very pretty.


dates and baklava in many varieties

Alicia loved these

fun shoes

tea sets

sorry to disappoint - I did not come home with one of these outfits

Grand Bazaar - haggling is necessary for every purchase which isn't my idea of fun. Our strategy was to walk through and see what was available and after a lunch break go back in for any purchases. None of us bought much. Every vendor is pushy in their attempt to get you into their shop. If you glance towards their wares, they descend upon you. I think all of us were uncomfortable with that style, but we had to see it. 


pretty bowls

scarves in every color
The market was a bit like a maze and knowing how to find the exit is important. The exits were marked (here gate 5) so you could find the right one. 

Turks drink tea all day. The tea sellers bring tea around and any vendor can just take a glass. The glasses are left  with a pre-purchased token as payment to be collected later. 

Our purchase:  Ottoman Turks vs Crusaders chess set to add to Tom's collection

In my German class last Spring, I had a few Turkish colleagues. They all raved about Istanbul. I e-mailed the one who spoke English and asked for restaurant recommendations. He told me about a fish restaurant on the Asian side of Istanbul. We asked our concierge about getting a taxi to go there. "You don't want to take a taxi." Evidently, she lives over there and knew a taxi would take too long. What she recommended was taking a ferry across and then a taxi to the restaurant. There was quite a long line for the "taksi" and then the driver didn't want to take us where we wanted to go since it required him to make a U-turn in the middle of the road. There was a lot of stopped traffic so it really wasn't that horrible and we'd seen other cars do it. The person running the taxi stand convinced the driver to take us. We got to the restaurant and no one spoke English. This was a place for locals. They came around with a tray of sample small plate appetizers and we were able to figure out some things from the menu. After we'd eaten that, we were still confused.
fish case
Onur had said this was a fish restaurant. So far, we'd seen very little fish other than calamari. So I asked our waiter a one word question: fish? He pointed to his eyes and had me follow him to a case of fish on ice. He told me the names of the fish and was able to say "grill" or "fry" to let me know how it would be prepared. I went and collected the others so they could make their choices. Without that one word question, we would have missed out on the fish totally. Tom has labeled this experience "a hoot!"

restaurant view of Bosphorus Bridge

Basilica Cistern

Medusa head column. Why is she upside down? No idea.

We went on a Bosphorus dinner cruise complete with entertainment:

having fun!
Our last day in Istanbul we went on a Food Tour. Without a doubt, it was a highlight of the trip. Our guide, Korhan, is Turkish and married to an Australian woman. Together they started their own business earlier this year. They offer three different tours and we opted for The Taste of Two Continents. We were told to come hungry as the tour started with breakfast and we would be eating all day. (and we did!) So many interesting things to taste. Luckily, there was quite a bit of walking in between stops to give us a break from eating. Korhan sent us a list of the things we tasted afterwards because no one could possibly remember all of it.

breakfast spread

hazlenuts, clotted cream, chocolate and honey = decadent
Turkish coffee with Turkish delight
Korhan took a video of our coffee "dregs" and then sent us the fortunes later. Here's mine. Let me know what you think of it. 

You have been trying hard on something for a long time and you should definitely consider changing the way you try it. Being more polite and positive may work better than being aggressive. Soon you will be extremely proud of one of your family members success. The news you will receive in a time zone of 2 (2 days, weeks or months) will double up you and your families happiness. 
The wealthy guy that acts like a friend is very hypocritical towards you, be careful. Think twice about your decisions and your big steps nowadays. because of the decisions you will make, your senses will be alerted and sensitive. Around Fall, you will make 3 short trips. One will be with family and others look like with friends. Time to time you are feeling alone but these thoughts are useless as you have great friends and family members care and pray about you a lot. Your partner loves you so much.  There is a girl that I see in your coffee fortune. There are the letters "E" and "T" in her name. She is extremely skilled at a subject and she wants to build her life on this skill but she needs support. Your support.  (FYI from me - I have no clue who this could be so it all seems a bit far fetched.)

candied olive, tomatoes, eggplant = very weird

pickles of all sorts

Pictures on left become what you see on the right.

ice cream - not the best
soup including feet, head and tongue, but very tasty

our guide, Korhan
Phew! Finished just in time. We're heading to Russia for a river cruise from St. Petersburg to Moscow. Istanbul needed to be finished first. It was a great trip and we're looking forward to another one very soon.