Yes Please

Trip Start Sep 21, 2010
Trip End Oct 07, 2010

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Flag of Turkey  ,
Friday, September 24, 2010

The morning started early for some of us.   Chris G woke up at 3:30am due to idiopathic travel insomnia. Luckily Turkish Coffee keeps you going all day.  Or, if you drink it every four hours anyway.  This is about how often it was offered, and we typically accepted.  The tea is amazing as well and the apple flavor is crazy good.

For breakfast we went  to Molly's Café across from out apartment.  Molly being a very unique Canadian who has been here for 8 years running a quaint little café that had a pretty large menu for one employee.  She gave us the scoop on the area as she prepared our food (for some reason we got our drinks at the end of the meal rather than the beginning) and let us know how to use the Tram.

Being pretty beat from the night before we took the Tramway into old town.  This is basically a modern streetcar that was jammed with passengers ranging from locals to tourists. Our first stop was Topkapi Palace that was a short walk from our stop (Guhale). This was the residence of Ottoman sultans since the 1600’s. While very beautiful, this is one of the most crowded sites in Istanbul.  We quickly learned we had made two errors.  One, don’t come on the weekend.  Two, allot a significant amount of time if you are interested in seeing things in detail.  We planned to do it quickly and found it frustrating as the space is gigantic and sprawling with something to see at every corner (and with 20 other tourists between you and that something to see). The most interesting part was the Harem where the sultan’s wives and concubines lived.   It requires a second ticket which is actually nice as this decreases the numbers of people in this section (still crowded though).  At one time there could be over 800 concubines.  We also learned that having a Harem isn’t all it is cracked up to be as the sultan’s mother was the one who actually picked out the sultan’s wives.  I think the other wives got to chime in too.  This sounds like a pretty poor set up.  There are great views of the Bosphorus and Sea of Marmara from Northeastern portion of Topkapi and we got some great group shots.

Next we walked through the park from Topkapi to the Blue Mosque while eating street food for lunch (Luckily, no repeat of Chris’s Cambodian food poisoning). We ate chestnuts, watermelon, pomegranate juice, sesame bread (simite), and, the best of all, Turkish ice cream. This is different than American ice cream and just as good.  Mainly thicker and stickier. The vendor can do many tricks with the ice cream and cones and can even put the cone in your pocket.  When ever anyone wants you to say hello, get your attention or invite you into a store they say "Yes please".  We say it all the time now.  The group ended lunch with a Doner wrap (which is thin slices of meat, mainly lamb, roasted on a vertical revolving spit).  Think super-thin-kabob-burrito-looking-wrap.   Highly recommended.

On to the Blue Mosque which is just about a half mile across the park from the Aya Sophia. This is an incredible structure and was constructed between 1609 through 1617 by Sultan Ahmet I to rival the Aya Sophia. It is named after the blue tiles that adorn the ceiling, over 21,000 tiles.  It didn’t jump out as that 'blue’ to us.   It was pretty impressive, but we all agreed that the Aya Sophia wins with its overall impressiveness and awe-inspiring inside, but that the Blue Mosque appears the most stylish and impressive from the outside.   Also the Aya Sophia has a pleasant smell contrasting to the bikram/gym/foot smell of The Blue Mosque.   Later in the day we were able to hear call to prayer while walking past a beautiful, deserted view of the Mosque

The Basilica Cistern was our next stop. This is a vast underground water cistern built by Justinian in 532.  It consists of a large open cave-like space to hold drinking water and is held up by a hodge podge of Roman columns .  The Ottoman’s did not know this existed for almost a 100 years after they conquered the city. This was some of the group’s favorite site.  It makes for a calm, dark and secretive ambience.  Make sure to check out the two Medusa heads at the end.   Fun fact: they had dinner here on the bachelorette this season. Beware sudden bursts of claustrophobia when large tour busses empty into this area.   Also, we found that candle light settings worked well for pictures.

We then headed to the Four Seasons Hotel for drinks. We made it up to the roof top bar which had amazing views of the Aya Sophia but for some reason was not serving drinks. They still let us hang out for awhile and take some pictures. This hotel was converted from an old prison and is the prison that is in the movie Midnight Express.  Since no drinks here, we stopped at another roof top bar, The Blue House.  Here we had more great views (best so far!), mainly of the Blue Mosque. We had our first Efes beer (can’t believe it’s been almost 2 days and this is our first beer, it has been great Turkish wine up until this point).

We then did a little shopping at small bazaar near the Blue Mosque while a thunder storm blew past.   At dinner we realized that you should ask if they have alcohol prior to ordering, but had a pleasant meal of shish (pronounced sheesh, as in shish kabob), and other meat and yogurt combos.

 Chris G has a friend in San Fran who knows a carpet salesman here that we should meet up with .  This ending up being a great move as Turkish culture calls for hospitality that surpasses even that of the Southern United States.  We saw it on our walk home last night and stopped in to say hi.  We were offered tea and sat around and chatted for awhile. He then asked us if it was "beer time" and we all went to a local bar simply called The Bar on a side street in Sultanhamet.  We had a great night and had our first Hooka (apple flavor) that even non-smokers partake in.  Our new friend (as are most of the Turks we have met) is very generous and hospitable and made sure we had a great evening.  We then experienced our first crazy Istanbul taxi ride. Remind us to tell you what his beverage of choice was when we get home.

Then to bed sometime after 2am. Sightseeing and partying make for a very little sleep! We are definitely not in college anymore.
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Alicia Gregory on

Happy to hear/see that you guys have kept up the cooking class and drinks-at-a-fancy-roof-top-bar traditions!

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