17 June 2009

Hey Columbus! We found the RIGHT way to get to Asia!

By taking a cruise down the Bosphorus Straight! Again we were woken up by the call to prayer, but didn’t get out of bed until 7:30ish just in time for some blog updates and some breakfast upstairs (with a guest appearance by our hotel’s resident cat)

Following the tram line from Sultanahmet to Eminonu, we bought tickets for the cruise at the Bogaz Iskelesi terminal and waited for our ferry. Once it arrived it was free for all to get the best seats. Having read ahead in the book, we secured some great seats on the boats upper deck on the left hand side that would allow us the best views.

The ride was very relaxing and a lot of fun. It took us 1 ½ hours to get to the last stop Anadolu Kavagi, right at the mouth of the Black Sea. We had 3 hours there before our ferry would head back to Eminonu, which would allowed us time to see the ruins of Yoro’s Castle and have a picnic. As we knew we were going to be travelling we made sure to pack a few snacks for the boat ride so we didn’t have to pay the inflated prices at the snack bar. But we needed a main dish, and the guide book recommended trying a Black Sea delicacy, hamsili ekmek (an anchovy cornbread with leeks, tomatoes & peppers), so we stopped at a bakery near the dock and picked up a loaf and made our way to the ruins. The hill to the castle was pretty steep, and it had gotten pretty warm out so we were out of breath by the time we got there…but it was worth it! The view was spectacular and allowed us to see down the Straight and the Black Sea. We found a shady spot near one of the walls and had our lunch watching the boats head to out to sea. After we hiked around the hilltop and Charlton climbed the castle tower. Then it was time to head back to the boat and we made our way back into town. Once again it was a mad dash to get seats, but we lucked out and got our same seats so we could see the other side of the Straight on the return trip.

Back in Eminonu, we headed to the Pet & Plant Market that is nestled near the Spice Bazaar. We saw all sorts of birds (parrots, peacocks, chickens & pheasants), bunnies, puppies and kittens. They also had all sorts of plant seeds and seedlings. It was really interesting. We had thought about getting a snack at the Spice Bazaar but we were both so full from the anchovy bread, so we headed back to our hotel for a nap.

We headed back out in search of dinner a few hours later determined to find some good kebabs that were cheap. We avoided the tourist areas near the center of Sultanahmet and went toward the DIA Supermarketi we frequent. We found a place we had passed the other day that had a few people inside and had some decent prices. Charlton and I both got kebabs (chicken for me, lamb for him) and they were delicious! Our favorite meal so far in Istanbul, we are planning to go back for dinner tomorrow! We then headed across the street to get some snacks (chocolate, ayran and leblebi sekeri) and then made our way to the park above the hippodrome to eat them. One the way back to the hotel past the Blue Mosque, we were treated to free Whirling Dervish show at the Dervish Café since the stage faced the sidewalk. Good way to say goodnight to Istanbul.

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Thoughts About Istanbul

Before Kristen and I arrived to Istanbul I wasn’t too sure what to expect. This is one of the few places on our trip I had decided to go based on the reputation I have heard from others. It seemed like those who had gone, had found the city captivating and amazing. Those who hadn’t wanted to go to see what the buzz was about.

Starting off I can see why the people who have been here enjoy it so much. After stepping off the plane I was slightly on guard. After being in India recently it was difficult not to be. I was still in the mindset that everyone was out to get my money. In a way it is true that there are people here who want you to come to their store, eat at their restaurant etc… however unlike India, its bearable and somewhat enjoyable. It doesn’t consume your experience, rather it adds to it.

Once we got our bearings the beauty of Istanbul began to show. Part of it may be that we came at the right time when the weather is fantastic (like San Diego) as well as all the great sights that Istanbul has to offer. There is also a good balance here. There are all the Western conveniences which can be expected from a modern city as well as little details that remind you that the past wasn’t really that far off. The past and the present intermingle well in this city, for instance in the Grand Bazaar one of the oldest and largest “shopping malls” in the world, there are shops selling antique jewelry and cell phones in the next.

Another pleasant aspect is the food. This is probably the Asia coming out in Istanbul, but there is food everywhere. Chestnuts, corn on the cob, nuts, grains, doner, kebaps you name it, you can get it. The best part is its all delicious. On top of that if you pay as much for a meal back in San Diego you can sit on the rooftop and get views that are unmatched by almost anywhere else.

The last thought that strikes me is the location. Istanbul has the Bosphorous Strait running right through it. Very similarly to Hong Kong you have one city split by a huge body of water with hills on each side. This waterway means that the city has been around a while (as a port, invaders coming through, etc…), plus seafood, plus amazing views from one side to the next.

All in all, I understand now why everyone who comes to Istanbul loves it. It’s a great vacation spot and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone. I just need to plan for the next time I can explore more of Turkey.

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Spice, Spice Baby!

Bright and early, we were awoken by the call to prayer from Aya Sofya. Luckily, we could fall back asleep and get a couple more hours in. When we finally got up, we headed back to the hotel’s terrace to enjoy another yummy Turkish breakfast. This time with Turkish coffee, SCORE! Then we headed out to explore the rest of the old town portion of Istanbul.

First up, Aya Sofya. It looked like we were going to have to wait a long time, but there was a bottle neck at the security point and then we could go at our own pace. Armed with our guidebook from the hotel’s book exchange, we were able to get a lot more out of our tour. Making sure to hit special spots in the nave like the Miracle Column of St. Gregory (the column supposedly sweats!) While very beautiful, its hard to take in all of the church/mosque/museum completely when there is scaffolding in the middle.

Next, we headed across the street to the Basilica Cistern. The giant underground reservoir was quite interesting. We walked all the way to the back to make sure we saw the famous Medusa columns. Once at street level, we made out way to Divan Yolu to grab some Donner pitas for lunch (meat for Charlton, chicken for me).

We then headed back to street level to tackle Rick Steves’ Old Town Back Streets Walk. We poked our heads into a cemetery and then made our way to the Grand Bazaar. Now that we had a map it was a little easier to get around and see some of the major spots in the Bazaar. After hitting all the landmarks, we wandered for awhile and was able to do a little shopping (and when I say little, I mean little) Then we wandered out the Beyazit Gate to the Old Book Market.

After reading the guidebook we were really looking forward to our next stop, the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent. Supposedly it gives the Blue Mosque a run for its money. So I got all gussied up in my borrowed pashmina and skirt to find out most of the mosque is closed and we couldn’t see the inner courtyard. At least Charlton got a good laugh at me playing Islamic dress-up.

We then wandered down Uzun Carzi, a local shopping alley. Lots of things to see and great people watching. Once we made it to the end we stopped at Rustem Pasa Mosque, for more Islamic dress-up for me and a really pretty mosque.

We were starting to get close to the Spice Bazaar, and I was excited! Along Hasicilar Alley, we began to see some dried fruits, spices, coffee and tea. At the corner of the Eminonu Square we grabbed some sucuk (nuts dipped in molasses) and sat down to watch the pigeons. We then headed inside the bazaar, where we got to sample Turkish delight and had merchants calling after us in Spanish. We saw stall after stall of beautiful spices and teas. Following Rick’s advice again we stopped at Gulluoglu Baklava to have some baklava and kadayif. They did not disappoint (although we both liked the baklava best).

We then walked back towards Sultanahmet, making sure we stopped for some snacks at a grocery store. We picked up some ayran (salted yogurt drink), some candy and chips and spread out our towels in a grassy patch over looking Aya Sofya. Then it was time to scoop out some dinner locations. We walked toward the Blue Mosque and checked out two places and fell in love with Doy Doy’s menu and vowed to come back at dinner time.

We wandered through Arasta Bazaar on the way back to our hotel for a nap and some blog updates. Once the sun was beginning to set, we headed straight to Doy Doy’s rooftop terrace, with a gorgeous view of the sunset over the Blue Mosque. We had a delicious dinner of the Doy Doy Mixed Kebab, that gave us a sampler of different kebabs, pides and lavas (puffed flat bread). The restaurant began to fill up halfway through our meal, so we got there at the perfect time for seats right in the corner.

Then we headed out looking for dessert. We got some Turkish pistachio ice cream and had it while overlooking the hippodrome and obelisks. We set off again to look for some more ayran and then headed back to the hotel to end the night.

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German Food (to Date)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, each of these meals is worth a thousand calories.

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