Travels to Turkey

My incredible travels to Turkey in 2007

Back “home” again – Day 14 in Istanbul

Posted by Mardee on May 20, 2007

Street in Sultanachmet neighborhoodThe bus arrived in Istanbul around 6 am, shortly after serving everyone a quick breakfast of bread, honey and your choice of tea or coffee. Varan makes two stops in Istanbul so there were two options to choose from with regards to your destination. I had no idea where either of the places were, but luckily, a man sitting in front of me told me that the second destination was on the European side of Istanbul and therefore, closer to Sultanachmet Square (and my hotel).

There were taxis waiting at the bus stop and one was happy to take me to my hotel (although I had to direct him after we got to Sultanachmet, which made me feel pretty cool – like I was a native!). Since it was only 6:30 am, I had to wait to check in, but left my luggage there and was soon wandering through the early morning city. There’s nothing like watching a huge city like Istanbul wake up in the morning (if indeed it ever sleeps). The air was fresh and cool and there were no monstrous tour buses barreling down the street. I stopped for coffee and a pastry at a little cafe and sat and enjoyed the morning. Later, after a brief outing at my favorite internet cafe, the Otantik, which is the only one I’ve found that has an English keyboard, I headed back to the hotel to check in and take a shower.

Aya Sofya at nightThe plan was to just wander and shop the last 2 days. The first place I headed was the Beyoglu district near Taksim Square. This is the heart of the city and the crowds are enormous, but some of the best shopping is around here. I took the tram to the Kabatas stop, then got out and switched to the funicular, which takes you up to Taksim Square (which sits at the top of a very high hill). The funicular was extremely interesting – a huge piece of machinery sits at the top and uses cables to pull the cars up to the top. After I reached the square, I headed down Istiklal Caddesi (Caddesi means “street”), which is the main drag in this area, and wandered into the shops and restaurants that line the street. The main street is a huge bustling affair but it’s easy to head off into the narrow little alleys and side streets that connect to it.

I was getting hungry so I stopped at a small place that was cutting off chunks of juicy lamb for doner kebabs. Two women were in front of me, and I simply pointed to what they were eating and say, “For me, too!” The cook laughed and made me an incredible sandwich with lamb, fresh tomatoes and peppers and a sprinkling of salt and spices tucked inside a dense mound of fresh Turkish pita bread – but like no pita bread I’ve ever had in the states! I was in heaven – and floating even higher when I stopped to get some ice cream for dessert. The blackberry and blueberry combination was the perfect ending. I even got to watch a large truck try to maneuver through a tiny alley and send some scaffolding flying. There were about 8 men on the street all directing this driver and telling him exactly what to do to get out of the mess he was in. It took about 20 minutes and pedestrian traffic was blocked during the whole time.

I finally made it to the bottom of the hill (by the way, I just found out today that Istanbul has 7 hills – just like Cincinnati and Rome) and grabbed a tram. Rather than heading back, I took the tram going in the opposite direction and got off at the Grand Bazaar. I didn’t want to buy anything today, but just get an idea of where things were. However, one step in the bazaar and I realized that it would take months, if not years, to learn where everything is. The streets are fairly well marked but the visual sensation is just plain overwhelming. Gold and silver and rugs and jewelry and ceramics and dishes and food – the saying is that if you can’t find it here, it doesn’t exist. I believe it!

Detail of mosaic in Aya SofyaLeaving the bazaar, I wound my way back to the area behind the Blue Mosque that houses the Arasta Bazaar. This is a smaller area but the salespeople are a little more low-key and the quality of goods a bit higher. One shop held beautiful Iznik tiles and ceramics. Around the 16th century, Iznik was the foremost place for mosaic tiles and ceramics in Turkey, including the most beautiful mosques and Topkapi Palace. The tiles here were reproductions but were still beautiful. I also found a shop that had some beautiful textiles, hundreds of years old. The clerk was extremely enthusiastic and let his dinner grow cold while he unveiled dozens of beautiful wall hangings and garments. He knew there was no hope of me buying them – some costs thousands of dollars – but did it for the sheer love of these pieces. I haven’t had this much fun with textiles since I was working as a costumer!

By this time, my feet were killing me – after the walking I did in Izmir and today, I couldn’t face going too far to eat so I picked a restaurant close to the hotel. I generally tried to avoid this area as the food is geared more towards tourists. While eating my dinner, I met a couple from Canada who were visiting Turkey on their way to Cyprus. The man’s brother had recently retired there from England. We spent about half an hour chatting over wine and dessert then I headed back to my oh-so-comfy bed…

Tomorrow – my last full day in Turkey.

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