Thursday February 13th.
For some reason, the internet here at the hotel is not allowing me to upload pictures or provide links to show you what we are doing. So until I can get somewhere that allows uploads, I will have to be happy with telling you about our day. Hopefully this will get remedied soon as I took several pictures I am anxious to share!
We have been in Istanbul for just over 29 hours now. Our day started early. Our internal clocks are still not on board with being on the dividing line of Europe and Asia. Tim was wide awake and on the computer when I opened my eyes at 5:00 this morning.
I followed suite, checked my emails, played a couple of word games, then got dressed and went outside to see what the city looks like in the daylight. The area we are staying in is a prime location. One block from the water and Galata Bridge, next to the Spice Market and a block from the New Mosque.
Following breakfast our 1/2 day city tour started. We have 34 in our group. Most of us are from the USA, but there are also a few Canadians to round us out.
Our scheduled stops included the Hippodrome, Blue Mosque, and St. Sophia.
The Hippodrome today is simply an area that centuries ago was the home of racing and stadiums for the locals to watch and cheer them on. Today all that remains are two obelisks and a partial tower constructed from smelted metal left over from a long-ago battle.
The Blue Mosque is still in use and is the largest and most important mosque in the area. We were all required to remove our shoes before entering and women must cover their heads with a scarf. Plastic bags are provided to put your shoes in so you can carry them with you. If a lady needs a head scarf, the staff will provide you with one while you are there.
St. Sophia has a colorful history. Originally a Christian church, it was later taken over and converted into a mosque. Today it is neither, having been taken over by the state and turned into a museum.
From there some of the group took the optional afternoon tour. Instead of joining the group, Tim, plus Jan and Mark (my sister and brother-in-law) and I decided to head off on our own. First stop was lunch. The Pudding Shop had been recommended to us by our tour guide. Just a block from St Sophia, it was OK, but I felt it was more a tourist stop then where the locals would have eaten.
We managed to attract the attention of a chatty local fella that wanted to show us where the entrance to the Cistern was, then show us his carpet factory right next door. Being aware of the drill we went along, after letting him know we were not in the market for a rug. He did manage to obtain free admission for us at the Cistern, which of course added a (tiny) bit to our guilt at not buying a carpet from him. After a friendly cup of tea with him, we said our goodbyes. All just part of the Istanbul experience!
A ten to fifteen minute walk brought us to the Grand Bazar which goes on for blocks. That place has both inside and outside stalls and small shops filled with just about anything and everything one could possible buy in Turkey. It can overwhelm you as each shop keeper competes with the next to entice you into their shop.
The hawkers started to wear thin after a while and we headed back toward the hotel for a short break. After getting refreshed, Tim and I decided to explore areas right near the hotel. This included the New Mosque, a walk on Galata Bridge, and evidently we had not had enough attention from shop owners, so went roaming through the Spice Market.
As prearranged, we met back up with Jan and Mark for dinner plans. Jan wanted some Meze (small bites similar to tapas), I wanted something casual that was where the locals ate. None of us were overly hungry. Getting a recommendation from our hotel front desk clerk, which included us turning down his first suggestion as being in a tourist area again, he came up with a winner.
After writing down the name of the restaurant and several dishes in Turkish for us, he called us a cab, gave the driver directions and sent us on our way. The name of the restaurant was Sidika and I can highly recommend it. We showed the list of small dishes that had been recommended to our waitress. She asked if she could choose a couple more for us to round out the meal which we willingly agreed to.
Here is what we asked for: Fistikli Peynir Ezme, Kozlenmis Patlican, Raki (potent drink) and Ahtapot (I think this was the octopus). I’m hoping the spelling is at least somewhat close on these items. The small dishes we received included a cheese and pistachio combo, a roasted red pepper dish, eggplant, a bean dish (I think fava beans), plus a plate with four different kinds of greens (spinach, kale, ?, ?). The octopus was tender and flavorful, I think perhaps cooked in a tandoori oven. The Raki had a licorice taste to it and if I had consumed the entire drink would have had me dancing on the tables. Yes, I fully admit to being a light-weight when it comes to alcohol.
I felt like we got an authentic Turkish meal and it was delicious.
Our ride back to the hotel completed the adventures for the day. Our driver spoke no English and after heading off, we realized he had no idea where our hotel was. We showed him the hotel key with the name and address, but that meant nothing to him. Finally after several failed attempts by Tim and Mark, Jan managed to communicate Galata Bridge to him, he responded affirmative and headed in that direction. We knew we could easily walk from there. Somehow after crossing the bridge, he miraculously knew the way and dropped us off right at our door.
The funny thing was that our trip back to the hotel took 1/2 as long as going and also cost 1/2 as much. I guess our speaking no Turkish, worked out just fine after all.
Gratitude Moment: Today I am grateful for being able to “go with the flow” and that I can both appreciate and learn from cultural differences.