Friday, 6 April 2012

IATTOUR March 23-28, Istanbul Turkey

March 23 Istanbul Turkey


And now...Turkey!  What a great idea to start with Istanbul on a Friday night.  After an eye opening (or closing!) trip in from the airport, we were escorted to the apartment by our gracious hosts. Very shortly (about the time it takes to down 2 glasses of Raki), Janet had discovered "her people", Frank had made fast friends with the man at the table next to us (by asking him not to smoke his cigar during dinner) and Tony and I were given dancing lessons by the partying Turks in the roof-top restaurant above our apartment.  Yes, we felt right at home with this "ground zero" apartment in the tourist quarter on "Antiques Row".

Our first Raki toast.  Drinking Raki makes you funnier, smarter, more social and happier...until the next morning.  We didn't get the instructions, 1/hour along with a 1/2 litre of water.
How is it possible to top a dessert like this?  Baklava stuffed with pistachios with honey ladled over top.  We had to have some (and a few others for good measure).


 The Taksim Square area, with its tourist shops, food, tram and churches was home base in Istanbul.  We could entertain ourselves by just walking and people-watching.

 Candles of Remembrance.
 A musical shot for Bill Collins and a photo of Galata Tower (we didn't get to this--it was too closeby).
Saturday, on our first walk over Galata Bridge, we noticed hundreds of fishermen casting for anchovies, perch and ?? off the bridge.

I love this photo with its red Turkish banners and the blue-grey of the "new" mosque (400 years old).
The thing about visiting the Spice Market and Grand Bazaar on a Saturday is that everyone else is there.  Shoulder to shoulder, we checked out all the goodies (some absolutely "1001 nights" bed coverlets that looked like wedding dresses and one-of-a-kind evening dresses) and finally stopped at a Doner shop for lunch of chicken doners and first cups of sweet, dark Turkish tea.

Oh those Turkish Delights!  Yes, Nick, we will bring some back.
 And, now for B, "the outfit!"
 The ceramic dishes are beautiful and plentiful in the market, making it very difficult to choose.  Sadly, one of Janet's gorgeous golden bowls broke during our dash out of Ankara. 

More photos taken near our apartment which show the resident animal population and a little "fixer-upper" midst the regular buildings.  With so many tourist shops on the strips, Frank was able to pick up a little coin working as a head and hand model.

Turkey has incredibly talented craftspeople and it never ceased to amaze me how much time and skill went into the tourist goods.
 Do not try this at home, folks.  Each evening, these ladies sit rolling out tortilla-like breads that are baked into pancakes in front of them...with their legs folded underneath.  The pancakes (filled with cheese and meat) were delicious, but our legs hurt just watching them.

Some night-time scenery.  The strip was full of neon lights, gypsy music and strollers any time  of the week.
One of the first things on our list was a trip up the Bosporus.  Our host, Ayden, gave us a guide on how to do this using local ferries up and local buses back.  It worked beautifully (except for an unexpected bus change) and gave us spectacular views of the area by water.  At the start we confused the taxi driver by insisting he drive us to the other ferry , but then we ended up walking most of the way back to where he wanted to drop us. It was a chilly clear morning, to take in the maritime views. We chatted to a couple of food industry consultants from Arkansas on the ferry and passed the route information on to them to follow. 
fog from the Black Sea shrouding the shore
The final stop for the ferry dropped us in a town below the old castle.  We walked up to view it, but it was a bit of a bust.  Janet walked partway up and had a much better time.  As she rested outside a hillside home, the family inside was getting ready to visit with neighbours/go to church.  The father of the family insisted she have some of the lovely carrot cake dessert they were carrying with them. 
trying to get money out of Frank!
 I was amused to no end to find out that a beer and spirits company (EFES) has the same initials as I have.  This lead to much (pretend) defacement of Turkish property--see later photos.  We stopped at back near the ferry outlet/bus stop for lunch of delicious fish and salad and picked up some souvenirs.  

Our favorite story of the trip, though, involves the man shown in green coveralls.  When we made an unscheduled stop (the bus route had changed) in a town outside Istanbul, the bus driver wrote down bus 14M for us to catch.  This was wrong--as the friendly man in the photo tried to tell us--but as we were unable to speak Turkish, his  "inconsistent eye messages" (he would shake his eyes sideways to mean yes and up and down to mean No) had us very confused.  Luckily, an old Turkish woman directed us the same way (in Turkish) and we followed them both onto the bus.  Now just say "shifty-eyed guy" and we all laugh. 
Everywhere we went people were exceptionally helpful and friendly.

There is always something to see in Taksim Square--footballers on their way home from the game, ever-present protesters and the jovial riot police.  We thought about having our photos taken with these guys.

morning cay
 Many, many steps later, we were in this magical place--the Basilica Cistern.  It is located just near the Blue Mosque and was used as a water reservoir.  The lighting and silence makes it an eerie and beautiful place to visit; for us that equals lots of photos.
 Did we mention that Janet has been traveling with a hip that is due for repair?  I cannot believe how much ground she covered during this trip or how fast she can move when it counts.  Tony really liked that Jane was able to get us through security quickly and is hoping that he can borrow her cane when she is through with it.  We spent one whole day looking through Topkapi Palace, home of Turkish Sultans and some very exotic treasures (no photos as cameras were forbidden).  The spectacular "Spoonmakers Diamond" and other opulent objects as well as the "Staff of Moses", the "Sword of David, the "Cooking Pot of Abraham", the bejeweled "Arm of John the Baptist" and many, many parts of Mohammed's beard can be found at the front of long line-ups of tourists.  The view of the Bosporus from the castle is great, and is worth seeing along with the castle's many ornate rooms including the tiled "Circumcision Room".

 One of our favorite pastimes was talking to the ever-present school children at tourist sites.  Answers to: "How are you?"; "What is your name?" "Where are you from?" brought on waves of giggles as they tried out their English skills.

The Blue Mosque (not really looking very blue) was part of our whirlwind, three site visit.  We were very cheered to find that the staff provided head scarves free of charge and then surprised to find there were masses of tourist less appropriately dressed than ourselves.  We did feel pretty styling in matching blue.


Top to bottom, the Blue Mosque is covered with design.  Not a square inch is left bare of mosaic or filigree.

Hagia Sophia from the Blue Mosque
Yes, that is Tony, Frank and Janet rocking the fez (singular and plural).  A better bargainer than we, the young man who sold us these started at 15 E/fez.  When Tony got him down to 2/5 TL, we gave him 20 TL and expected change of 5 TL, however , he gave us 8 fez instead and smilingly ran off with the 20 TL.  It was such a good story that we are still smiling--2 Fez in change.

Oh Hagia Sophia, what would a trip to Istanbul be without a visit to this amazing church/mosque.  Such a gigantic place, full of history and mystery.  There are the stunning gold mosaics, the graffiti "Halvdan" from a Scandinavian mercenary, and, our favorite--the "Sweating Wall" (or Weeping Wall).  If you look below, you will find Janet working hard to get some liquid on her finger and thus have her wish granted.  I really wanted her to cast off her cane and say "I am healed" in front of the rest of the tourists, but alas--no wet finger.

Our last site of the day, the Chora Church (Kariye Mosque) was our favorite.  The church was built outside the city walls and is so much smaller than Hagia Sophia.  Its more human proportions, place outside the tourist district and fantastic intact mosaics make it a place not to miss.  We wandered through this building, marveling at the skill of its builders.  How did they create works that looked so life-like from pieces of tile?  Many, many photos later, we found our way back to the tourist shop and picked up some souvenirs so that we will have mementos from this visit.

One of the many biblical scenes created from tiny mosaics
amazing marble tablets

Leaving the Chora Church still enthralled, we met our "Waterloo" in the guise of a cabbie. The taxi driver had us pegged.  He scammed us not only on the meter, but palmed a 50 TL note saying we only gave a 5. Luckily, the lady who climbed into the back as soon as we jumped out, found our camera which had dropped out of a pocket or it would have been worse.  Needless to say, we are now a bit more vigilant.
Attaturk Tony contemplating the cab ripoff!

The Hippodrome area, near the place Elaine learned that she needs remedial bargaining lessons.  After deciding how the bargaining process would go, we reduced the amount we wanted to buy.  However, I stuck to the original number and offered the owner more than he was asking for our souvenirs (hopefully a Freudian slip).  He quickly calculated that that would be 2 TL OVER the asking price and said, "Yes!".  Luckily, he was honest, gave the correct change and then jokingly said that he had a carpet to sell me.

Elaine defacing public property!
Scheherazade Jan just out of the Harem

Protest in Taksim Sqaure on leaving Istanbul.

We had a spectacular time in Istanbul and saw all we could during the short time we were there.  As has been said before--you need to leave something for next time--we would love to return to this fascinating city.   Next stop--Goreme, Turkey.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Elaine.
    I just got a reminder email from Simon "We could send an email for EE's birthday which is today" so I am wishing you a very happy birthday from both myself and Simon! He is having a party tomorrow for his 19th and Jody, Nancy, George and I are going. love all your blogging! The pictures are amazing. Miss you and can't wait to see you when you make it back home! Happy Birthday!