After our food tour of Istanbul, we were both pretty tired and came back to the hotel to rest for a while. Rachel eventually took a nap and I went out and walked the 2-3 blocks to the Grand Bazaar to explore for an hour. It seems like most of the shops are gift shops for tourists, but I only wandered around for a little while and saw small sections. It's like a maze of streets inside, and I think there are sections that are for certain types of shops. What I found most interesting was how the vendors all try to get tourists to come over to their stall (hello, jeans, good price - where you from?) and the tiny tea shops and mini restaurants hidden here and there for the workers. I definitely want to have lunch at one of those places before we leave.
I came back and picked up Rachel to go out to a nargile (hookah) bar. I've never done hookahs before, but it seems to be a big thing here so I figured I'd try it. We learned about a place nearby, just a few blocks away, and headed out. A shopkeeper told us to go to the end of the alley, turn right at the bathrooms, and make another right. We expected to find a tiny place with a few tables... but we turn the corner and walk into an enormous den of smoke. It was a huge indoor/outdoor space filled with sofas, tables, smoke and probably 200 people, all smoking hookas and drinking tea. We were both pretty shocked. We got a spot on a center sofa, right in front of a giant fish tank, next to a guy that seemed pretty zoned out. Or stoned.
I ordered us a couple teas and Rachel ordered an apple nargile. This place is something else - they have servers who all wear these matching jackets and each have different jobs. A couple bring around the pipes. A couple others come around with a hot pot of coals to refill water pipes. Another couple clear the tables. Another one sells bottles of water. Then there's a random guy in an apron who will take your shoes and shine them for you.
I expected that the place would be full of old men playing backgammon - but instead it was mostly young people, all types. Tourists, locals, girls with their heads covered, older guys, groups of friends, etc. I would say it was about 80% Turkish and 75% men. There was no food, alcohol or pot - just beverages and the nargilas.
Now this only is my first time, but I have to admit I just don't get the hookah. I didn't taste much and I don't see the point. My theory is that it's just an excuse to hang out with friends and have something to do. I'd rather have eat or drink! I did enjoy the atmosphere though (I just wish they had whiskey).
Tending the coals at the Nargile Bar:
Afterwards we stopped at a casual cafe outside the Grand Bazaar. I ordered a cheese pide (Turkish pizza) and a beef doner sandwich on lavash (like pita). The meat was dry and stringy, and only when they brought the check did I realize they charged $9 for it. So overpriced - it should have been about $2. The pizza was ok. This was like Turkish fast food and not very good, but it was fun to sit outside and people watch.
Back at the hotel room I finished up the Turkish Delight (gotta get more tomorrow!). The plan for tomorrow is the Hagia Sophia (former mosque, now a museum) and then a walk across the Galata Bridge. Then we'll spend most of the day exploring the New City - we've only been in the Old City so far. If we have time and energy we may go for a Turkish Bath tomorrow, but I have a feeling we may just need to rest.
By the way - did I mention the stray cats everywhere?