Saturday, May 10, 2008

Istanbul Revisited

My flight from Bodrum got me to the Istanbul airport just in time to meet Jen, who flew in from Virginia, all according to plan. I knew enough not to fiddle around with trying to get to the hotel by train or bus, but just take a taxi. It's fast, easy, and fairly cheap... kinda like me.
The little hotel was back in the Sultanahmet (Blue Mosque) area, but on an even better block, just around the corner from my last place. The Zuegma Hotel is right in the middle of a tiny cobblestoned street that seems taken right out of a village in the countryside: quiet, and lined with sidewalk cafes and little shops.
I took Jen on a short walk to show her the views of the mosques, and then (having had less than two hours sleep on the flight) let her nap. She got up in time for dinner which we had on a rooftop restaurant across the street which had incredible views.
I have to admit she adjusted pretty fast; by next morning she was on Istanbul time. We got up too late to have the complimentary breakfast (which wasn't much anyway) so we got some juice and pastry in a shop and went to see the sights. First up was Aya Sofia (also spelled Hahgia Sophia), the mosque-turned cathedral-turned museum that should have been listed as one of the wonders of the ancient world, but I guess anything built in the sixth century A.D wasn't around to make Herodatus's list. Anyway it was a real pleasure to finally see first-hand the genius of the architecture. I'm no expert, but I believe the incredible domed ceiling covers an area much larger than St. Paul's in London, and that was built over a thousand years later. Jen mentioned that nobody she knew had ever heard of the Sofia, which is a shame, it really is a wonder of the ages. The Blue Mosque, also built a milennium later, is also a masterpiece of domed beauty, but inside had huge columns supporting the roof that the Sofia didn't need, yet another testament to that unknown genius of ancient Turkey. Still, being much newer, the Blue Mosque is in much better shape, and the inside is so beautiful it's still used for prayer in the afternoon-- and because of that Jen had to wear a temporary "skirt" to get inside!
We snacked on some of the local food, including "corn in a cup", a circular sesame bread thing, and of course baklava. Then we passed the mannikin-like guards and went thought the gate into Topkapi Palace. It was much better preserved than I hoped, and we spent all afternoon exploring the various chambers, exhibits and buildings. We finished on the Sultan's terrace which gave spectacular views of the bosporus. Dinner was at one of the cute little restaurants on our street.
The next day, sunday, I took Jen for breakfast at the wonderful Four Seasons (the former prison) just around the corner, and spent far too much on it, but it was something I just had to do. I also had planned to take her to the Grand Bazaar and on a bosporus cruise, but fate seemed to be against us. First we found out that all the bazaars were closed un sundays, not only the Grand but the Spice and the Egyptian bazaars as well. And it was drizzly and cold all day, too wet to enjoy a boat cruise. Instead we intrepid travelers walked to the Spice Bazaar area and found another open-air market that was open, with many shops that sold animals, so you can imagine how interested we were! Most of them actually seemed pretty well cared for, but some conditions weren't ideal, like some of the puppies in small dark cages, including a sweet Rottweiler that probably never sold as a pup and was now getting big. He licked my fingers and I wished I could have found him a home, but as usual I knew nowhere to take him in Istanbul. We couldn't imagine why anyone would want to buy a dog or cat there when the streets were full of friendly strays just begging to be taken home.
There were also restaurants in the area and we had some nice hot apple tea which is everywhere there, and visited a nearby mosque which was not as big as the Blue, but pretty impressive on its own, as many of them are. We also crossed the bridge to the other side, but there wasn't much to see there. In fact the bridge itself was the most interesting part, with guys fishing off the top, and the lower level had lots of shops and cafes, including some lined with colorful '70's-style beanbag chairs outside-- but it was too cold to sit there.

That night we ate again at another sidewalk restaurant on our street. I don't think there's a bad place in the whole area; with all the competition, it would soon go out of business, which was good for us; we had some memorable meals of shrimp casserole, mussels in rice pilaf, and all manner of delicious Turkish dishes. Our favorites are tomato and feta salads (with some black olives), drizzled with fresh, local olive oil--also great for bread-dipping afterwards. Jen also has a special fondness for the ztaztiki sauce (yogurt/cucumber dip) that comes wtih pita bread to dip. I was again sorely tempted to have a kebab (they have chicken, lamb, beef and gyro or donner types all over) but somehow managed to avoid it once more.
Next day we had an early flight to Mykonos, where we caught a ferry to Naxos. Mykonos is nice, and has a lot to offer, but I thought Jen would like quiet, less touristy Naxos better. I think I was right-- see the next blog soon. [Internet has been hard to get on the Greek Islands, but I'll try to catch up soon...]

1 comment:

dageekster29 said...

With so much culture and history in Europe and Asia I wish more Americans can see that when we close down parts of a city to build these giant glass and concrete behemoths that we are taking away from our past. People would rather go to big box stores rather than the local farmers market. I would rather spend the 20 cent more on getting something that was grown with LOVE on the mind rather than Corporate PROFITS. People laugh at our flea markets but if you look back in history it was a gathering of the people. I only hope that more people can experience what you and Jen are doing because it is a great way to live life.