Back in Istanbul

Trip Start Nov 09, 2006
Trip End Nov 22, 2006

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Sunday, November 19, 2006

(This is our longest log entry, but it covers two days of amazing sight-seeing!)

We reentered İstanbul under the cover of darkness. On our first full day in the city, the two of us skipped the package tour of the Sultanahmet Camii (aka 'the Blue Mosque') and the Topkapı Palace and decided to hit those two landmarks on our own time. Everything was within walking distance of our hotel and what a beautiful city Istanbul is. Beautiful in history, not necessarily cleanliness.

The Blue Mosque was built in the early 1600's as the Ottoman empire's response to the Hagia Sophia. Although they could not surpass Hagia Sophia's sheer size, the Blue Mosque is a very ornate and awe-inspiring structure inside and out.

The Topkapı Palace is a sprawling complex full of the trappings of early Ottoman wealth. We perused the treasury displays, including the famous Topkapı dagger and Kaşıkı diamond.

We also walked along the old city walls facing the Sea of Marmara and paid our first visit to the Spice Bazaar, which is a tourist attraction but is also used by the locals for their cooking needs. The sights and smells of it were intense as we shopped for some spices for ourselves and some of our fellow cooking enthusiasts. We didn't try to haggle here, which turned out to be a good thing. We found out later that this could have been seen as insulting because Turks don't negotiate prices for food, even though everything else seems negotiable. Kılı at the Develi Baharat Spice Center hooked us up with some good deals anyway. He showed us all of the marked prices, but the final tally seemed to be rounded way down, which we were told later was normal practice. If you are a good customer, they will treat you well!

The afternoon included a private cruise for our group along the Bosphorus, the strait connecting the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea and splitting İstanbul into European and Asian parts. We started in the Golden Horn (a gulf off the Bosphorus that separates old and new İstanbul) near the Galata Bridge. Once in the Bosphorus, we headed north along the European side of the Bosphorus. We went under the two bridges spanning the Bosphorus and then returned south along the Asian coast. It was cold, windy, and overcast, but still a beautiful cruise. There were mosques and palaces lining the water's edge along with 'summer' homes for the wealthy. We were told that houses along this area were in the high multi-millions. Cash only!

Later that night, a few of us headed to Taksim Square in new İstanbul, an especially modern area. We had some tasty food and Nathan got some good night shots of the Golden Horn and the Church of St. Anthony.

On our last full day in İstanbul, we went on the tour package option that took us back to the Spice Bazaar, to Hagia Sophia (aka Ayasofya or even St. Sophia), and to the Grand Bazaar. It was nice to get bussed around and to get the guided tour of Hagia Sophia so we could learn a little more.

Hagia Sophia is a fantastically immense and beautiful building. It was impossible to capture even a fraction of the full scope of it in pictures, but it was fun trying. It was built in the 6th century A.D. (imagine that!) as a Christian church, then converted to a mosque when the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople, and today it is a museum.

Finally, we shopped in the Grand Bazaar for a couple hours. There are 4000 shops spattered in a maze of winding alleys and side streets, all with about the same stuff. You are expected to barter in this place, which isn't easy when it's already cheap. But, Amy got the hang of it including the "walking away" when your final price is not accepted. Of course, then it was suddenly good enough. Amy purchased a kilim and leather purse before we left and as we were getting our certificate for it, we got herded into the shop across the street. It was a Kilim shop. And, we bought one. We didn't think we needed anything else but they are quite beautiful rugs and who can say no to a Kurd!

Our final afternoon was spent packing most of our purchases, rearranging clothes and suitcases since we had a 3am pick-up scheduled (along with 9 other people from the group) to make our 6am flight. We were taken to a 'local' fish restaurant for a farewell dinner, and it was back to the hotel to finish packing and get a little sleep before the arduous journey home. Most of the meal was quite good, except for the fish. Amy and a friend diligently wrapped their fish in their napkins (or in Amy's case, the Yeni Rakı glass Nathan had given her to take home!) and as we left the alley way, left it for the cats of which there was a never-ending supply.

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