Back to the beginning - Leaving Istanbul

Trip Start Nov 05, 2008
Trip End Nov 25, 2008

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Here we are with just over 12 hours before we leave Istanbul and a fantastic journey. We are back at the Hotel Niles where we began our trip. The funny thing is, after all the just-better- than-flea-bag accommodations we have stayed in over the past few weeks, the Hotel Niles seems like luxury. The beds are comfortable, the sheets are soft and there is always lots of hot water. The TV in our room is already tuned to CNN International... in English! The hotel is also located in the heart of the garment district which goes ghostly quiet by 8PM. The only disturbance will come at 5:30 AM when the muezzin at the mosque next door breaks the night with his lousy singing. We have gotten a real lesson in prayer calls over the weeks. Some are beautiful. The guy next door needs to go back to selling rugs. Even the guys working in the hotel agree.
A fun fact about the prayer calls. The five times daily calls are not only loudly amplified, they are often phoned in. Actually, phoned in. It took a while to catch on, but in several, mostly smaller towns we visited, the singing was the same blasting out of distant minarets. Maybe a half second of delay to them but definitely the same. At the end, if you listen carefully, you can hear the telltale sound of a cell phone hanging up. Brilliant efficiency!
This morning Denis and I got up just after the lousy singer did his thing and headed up to the terrace for breakfast. Compared to the the usual cold boiled egg with crudities and cheese, we feasted on a huge and varied array of breads, (I'm sure you'll be hearing from Denis about his new love of Borek) scrambled eggs, sausages, cheeses, fruit salad with yogurt, cereal, dried fruit and... strong filter coffee. We mapped out our last day and headed out into the quiet morning streets of Istanbul not knowing that we would sample every type of public transportation the city had to offer.
Our first stop was the Basilica Cistern. When those Byzantines built things they really did it right. The Cistern was built in the 6th century AD by Justinian under the square for the storage of public water that was piped in from 17 miles away along towering aqueducts that are still present around the city. Over 200 stone columns with carved Corinthian capitals hold up the multi- arched ceiling. 4 m thick walls line the tanks. Beautiful up lighting at the base of the columns shows off the impressive architecture and engineering and casts a ghostly glow on the many fat, languid carp that patrol the water. Just breathtaking.
Next we hopped on a ferry (1) up river to a distant neighborhood called Eyup. Our new friend and morning waiter, Murat, had pleaded with us not to miss Pierre Loti restaurant located high on a hill overlooking the Golden Horn. I would tell you more about Pierre Loti but Eyup is far more fascinating than a story about a Frenchman in love. Eyup was incredible; narrow cobbled streets, beautiful fountains, palm tree lined squares filled with pigeons... The beautiful mosque there is dedicated to one of Mohamed's standard bearers who was killed in a siege. It is a popular and busy pilgrimage site for Muslim's, its streets lined with stalls and shops selling everything Islamic. It reminded me a lot of Fatima in Portugal. I couldn't help but think of how important the location of this mosque was to the economic well being of this neighborhood.
We next followed the signs for Pierre Loti through the town which took us up and up Eyup's steep cobbled streets. Sweating, hungry and out of breath, we arrived on a pleasant terrace overlooking the farthest end of the Golden Horn. Unfortunately and unexpectedly, Pierre Loti restaurant did not serve any food. We ordered a couple of bitter and sweet Turkish coffees that came with a sizable "beautiful view" tax and shared a simek, a sesame seed covered pretzel/bagel hybrid from a nearby cart.
Twenty feet away we spied the entrance to the funicular (2) or sky tram that would take us down the hill back to the ferry terminal for our trip back to the Sultanahmet. Back at the terminal we found that we had over 30 mins to wait for the next ferry. Feeling brave we jumped on the first bus (3) that had any words that we recognized in the direction of our next destination, Taksim Square.
One of the monikers of Istanbul is the City of Seven Hills. The long main corridor to Taksim Square, Iskilitlal, is about 2 km long and begins at the Galata Tower, high on the bluff above the Golden Horn. To get there however, you either have to have trained on Kilimanjaro or... you take the Tunel,(4) an underground funicular that will get you to the top while keeping your clothing dry. Aha! We arrived at the Galata Tower and bought tokens for a quaint, old fashioned trolley (5) which took us at walking speed along Iskiltlal to Taksim Square. We checked out a beautiful but closed to the public Orthodox Church, , had some more coffee, nosed around some the the amazing retail, then headed back to the funicular for the descent home. At the bottom, we bought yet more tokens for the light rail tram (6) that would take us across the Horn and back the our hotel on the other side of the Sultanahmet. What a day!
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Where I stayed
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