Two Week Vacation: Stop #4 - Istanbul, Turkey

Trip Start Mar 29, 2007
Trip End Sep 30, 2009

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Saturday, June 7, 2008

Good morning from Istanbul!  Woke up from my Ambien haze to realize we should have gotten off at the first stop in Istanbul (which we just left from) and not the last stop (which we're headed to now and is on the outskirts of town).  Of course, on the way there, our bus breaks down and we have to wait for a new bus.  The new bus takes us to the main bus station where we catch a train into the city center...from there we catch a tram to about three blocks from our hotel.  Our hotel was in a great location in an area of town called Sultanahmet which is close to all the major tourist spots in Istanbul....The Blue Mosque, Ayasofya, Topkapi Palace, Basicilica Systern and the Hippodrome.  We check in, get cleaned up and start walking around the Sultanahmet section of town.  It's pretty impressive to walk inbetween two of the most beautiful buildings in the world...the Blue Mosque and Ayasofya...the pictures of them individually don't do them justice when you're literally inbetween the two of them.  After walking around a bit and getting our bearings, we took the tram up to Taksim square which is in the "new part" of the city and is a major shopping, tourist and leisure district famed for its restaurants, shops and hotels.  We walked down the Ýstiklal Caddesi which is a long pedestrian road and one of the most famous avenues in all of Istanbul....jam packed full of tourists and locals alike.  We wandered off into a side street and actually ended up tiny narrow road called Nevizade which was actually packed with good local restaurants and side walk tables.  Lunch was expensive but good and back on the main street, we continued down Istikal Caddesi to the famous Galata Tower.  The tower is 70 meters tall (200 feet) and has an observation deck which gives you some great panoramic views of the old and new city.  Walking back down towards the old town we reached the Galata Bridge which spans the Golden Horn and connects the old and new city.  The bridge has two decks...the upper deck holds the traffic, train and some sidewalks which are full of fisherman.  The lower deck contains sea food restaurants and lounges offerings great views of the Golden Horn.  The fisherman were catching some really, really small fish...not sure what the point of that was, but there were hundreds of fisherman pulling thousands of tiny fish out of the water.  The water also was surprisingly full of jellyfish...again, not sure why.  Walking back onto the old part of Istanbul we saw that we were very close to the Spice Bazaar (also called the Egyptian Bazaar) so we took a stroll through it.  Definitely wanted to buy some stuff here...but it's close enough to the hotel that we can come back.  At night we decided against our better judgment to stay in Sultanahment and not make the trip up to Taksim where the better nightlife was.  It was a Monday and we heard we may end up making a trip up there for nothing.  At dinner we ran into Baylor who we saw on the ferry from Mykonos to Samos in the Greek Isles...but the rest of the night pretty much sucked.  Nothing was going on.
Day 2 was a big day...the Blue Mosque, Ayasofya, the Hippodrome and the Basilica Systern, where all on the daytime agenda.  First off Ayasofya...also known as Hagia Sophia.  The Ayasofya was formely  basilica, later a mosque, and now a museum. It's most famous for its massive dome, it is considered the epitome of Byzantine architecture. It was the largest cathedral in the world for nearly a thousand years, until the completion of the Medieval Seville Cathedral in 1520.  The inside is truly a hodge-podge of Christian and Muslim decorations and art.  It also houses some amazing mosaics in the world which you can read more about at the link above.  The Blue Mosque is also called the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and is a must see in Istanbul.  It was built between 1609 and 1616 and is one of the largest mosques in Istanbul.  You can click on the link above to read about it...but it was impressive, especially during the call-to-prayer which could be heard all over the city.  Exiting the Ayasofya we rant right into the Hippodrome.  It used to be a horse racing track back in the day (3rd century) and not it contacts three rather unusually partnered monuments...the Serpent Column, the Obelisk of Thutmose III which was erected in Egypt in 1490 BC and then stolen and moved to Istanbul in 390...and finally the Walled Obelisk which was built in the 10th century and looks like crap compared to the even older Egyptian obelisk.  After we headed over to the famous Basilica Cistern which is the largest of several cisterns lying underneath Istanbul.  It's basically an underground chamber of 500 by 200 feet wide, capable of holding 80,000 cubic meters of water in a forest of 336 marble columns each 9 meters high.  It was opened up as a museum many years ago complete with piers set out over the water so you can explore the entire thing.  The mood in side was enhanced by some cool music and freaky white carp which you'd catch a glimpse from once in a while in the darkness.  As if the day wasn't busy enough, we then decided to head up to the Grand Bazaar.  The Grand Bazaar is  is one of the largest covered markets in the world with more than 58 streets and 6,000 shops, and has between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors daily. It is well known for its jewelry, pottery, spice, and carpet shops. Many of the stalls in the bazaar are grouped by type of goods, with special areas for leather coats, gold jewelry and the like.  It was a bit crazy with every vendor vying for your attention...but I've been in crazy markets in Egypt and I knew how to handle myself.  I bought some evil eyes and some other gifts before heading out.  Next trip was the spice market again where I wanted to try and find some place I read about online...Orhans place.  We finally found it after asking around and I met Mr. Orhan.  He's famous for mixing different scents together and making a customer perfume or cologne for someone.  I had him make Tanya a custom perfume and then he made me something as well.  Very cool guy.  That night we me up at a local bar with some great people including a young couple form D.C. and a girl from Houston. 
Day 3 started off with breakfast at the hotel roof top cafe overlooking the Blue Mosque.  It was another big sight seeing day with Topkapi Palace being the big thing to see today.  Topkapi Palace was the official residence of the Ottoman Sultans from 1465 to 1853.  It's massive...and to get a full history of it, click the link on the name above.  The two must-see's in the palace are the Harem and the Imperial Treasury.  The treasury is pretty self-explanatory...lot's of jewels and diamonds.  The Harem was located in the private apartment of the sultan and was home to the Sultan's mother; the concubines and wives of the Sultan; and the rest of his family, including children; and their servants...basically it was the most ornate part of the entire palace.  Anyway...the link I attached above has a whole write up on the Harem...check it out.  That night we had plans to grab some great seafood on the Galata bridge, but first, we had Whirling Dervishes to check out.  What's a Whirling Dervish you may ask?  Technically they're called the Mevlevi Order...but they're known for whirling which is a form of prayer to Allah.  We had tickets for a performance at a nearby train station and while the performance was a bit slow to start, it was cool to see and definitely something you can only see in Turkey.  Click here for a video at the same place we saw them.  Dinner was great and then we were off to Taksim square.  Walking down the main street we were looking for a place to go out and were just about to give up when Step noticed a line outside a door.  We pushed our way in and up an elevator to the 4th floor, then a small staircase up to the 5th floor...and bingo...we found a great spot.  The bar/club was called Araf and it was packed and hopping.  The band was a local band that was taking traditional Turkish song and turning them into rock/pop dance music...great stuff.  Best of all, the drinks were cheap!  It twas a good  night.
Day last full day on vacation.  Today was cruise we were going for a boat ride up the Bosphorous river to the Black Sea.  The cruise was basically on a public ferry boat but the tickets were round trip which gave you a stop at the final port (before the Black Sea) to climb to the top of a hill, check out an old castle and enjoy the great views of the Black Sea.  There are many cool things to check out along the journey including some amazing forts, homes and even one town that is famous for it's yogurt.  I'm not the biggest yogurt fan...but it was damn fine yogurt!  We actually met a friend of mine on the boat from India...shocking because even though I knew she was in Istanbul, we didn't make plans to meet up on the boat.  The cruise was nice and seeing the Black Sea was something else I can check off the list.  The last night I really wanted to hit this club called Reina which is supposed to be one of the best bars in the world.  Got dressed up in my best duds and headed up north to right under the Boshporous bridge.  The club was huge and it was gorgeous...but EXPENSIVE!  A rum and coke cost $30...each!  So we went in, savored our expensive drink, checked out the scene and then left.  It was a great bar with amazing views and beautiful people...but come on...higher prices than Turkey?  No Thanks.  We prefer Araf bar and went back to dance and chat up the locals and tourists.
It's Friday and my last day on vaca...slept in late and packed.  Hopped aboard a shared taxi to the airport to catch my Qatar Air flight back to Hyderabad via Doha where I needed all weekend to recover.

Good trip...enjoy the pics!
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