Today was our 6th full day in Istanbul and I haven't had a chance to write since day 2. We've been seeing and doing so much during the day, and so tired at night - there's not a lot of down time. I know some people go to a city like this for just 2-3 days, but I really enjoy being here longer. It gives me a chance to get to know the city better and see different parts of town - not just the touristy areas. Still, I want to make use of every minute here, exploring until I'm exhausted, then back out after a rest.
Since Tuesday, when we did our food tour and visited the Grand Bazaar, we've been all over Istanbul:
Hagia Sophia (pronounced Aya Sophia) - first a church, then a mosque, now a museum. Reminded me of the great churches of Italy. Tons of tourists.
Galata Bridge - hundreds of fishermen on the top level, dozens of restaurants on the lower level. The bridge connects the Old and New cities. Need to go back to try the fresh caught fish from the boats at the Old City side.
Istiklal Street in the New City - big major shopping street. Reminded me of the main shopping streets in Budapest and Amsterdam - very wide street, wide sidewalks, big commercial stores. Except that there are very few major brands here - I think we saw Gap, Nike, and a couple others. Most of the styles here seem to be stuck around 1990. Lots of acid washed jeans. We had lunch at a local lunch spot where workers go. Thanks to Google Translate we were able to figure out what to order. Everything was so so good.
Kadikoy - Suburb on Asian side of Istanbul. I loved Kadikoy - there's a neighborhood called Moda that felt like it could have been in NY. Boutiques, coffeeshops, skateboarders, hipsters with mustaches, etc. No one bothering me to buy perfume, jackets, jeans, etc.
We had lunch at Ciya (pronounced Chia) which is a famous restaurant with three locations on the same street. The food was amazing, especially the mezes (starters). There's a little meze buffet, all vegetarian, with about 20 items to choose from. You pay by weight (they give you a ticket that is added to your check). Main courses are ordered at the table from the menu. The starters were olive salad, dolmas, eggplant in tomato sauce, stuffed eggplant, stuffed red peppers, some green cooked salads (kale? spinach?), some kind of grain like couscous, and more. So good.
Turkish Bath - we visited the Cemberlitas Hammam, just a few minutes from our hotel. For about $30 you get time to relax in the sauna (laying on hot marble), a scrub from a hammam (mine was strong and slow, Rachel's was quick and hurried), and a rinse. It was a very interesting experience. I'm lucky the guy didn't break my back when he was stretching me out.
Uskudar - a suburb on the Asian part of the city. Uskudar is rarely visited by tourists, and I really enjoyed walking around with almost no other tourists in sight. This also meant that all the shops and restaurants were geared towards locals, so there were no Turkish Delight shops, gift shops, etc.
We visited a mosque during the largest weekly prayer time (Friday afternoon) and then returned later to go inside.
We had lunch at a pide place (like Turkish pizza) where no one spoke more than 2 words of English and google translate was failing us for some reason. Still had a great lunch though. Made some small talk with a few old guys sitting outside one of the smaller local mosques, thanks to Google Translate. One was shocked when I walked a few steps away from the mosque on the sidewalk in my socks - I had taken my shoes off to try to go inside the mosque (it was locked) and then there was no place to put them back on - so I was carrying them and walking over to the bench where Rachel was sitting. He motioned to me as if to say "what the hell!?". I realized that since one wears socks inside the mosque, it is unclean or disrespectful to walk around outside the mosque in only socks. I said thank you and put them back on.
Bospherous - we did not do a cruise but have taken the ferry twice across the Bospherous - once to each of the Asian parts of the city. The views were fantastic and the ferry only costs about $1 per person each way.
Indian - tonight we had Indian food for dinner in Sultanhamet. It was an overpriced, touristy, mediocre restaurant but it was nice to have something different for dinner other than doner sandwiches, rice and meat. The best part was watching the staff from the different restaurants try to talk to each tourist as they walk up the street, trying to get them to eat at their restaurant. This happens all over the touristy areas of the city, as well as in the spice market and grand bazaar. I find them really amusing - Rachel gets annoyed and angry. I think she's going to beat one of them up before we leave here.
It's really difficult to convey all that I've seen and learned about the culture here - I would have to stay up all night writing. My photos are really a much more complete way to share what I've experienced and learned here. I've only uploaded a few of the 1500 photos I've taken in the last week.
Tomorrow is our last full day in Istanbul. We plan to visit the Suleymani mosque, north of our hotel, and then work our way back to the Spice Market, visiting some shopping areas along the way. There's a rice pilaf cart somewhere I may want to find. And then there are the boats at the Galata Bridge where they sell grilled fish sandwiches - the fish fresh caught in the Bospherous. Oh - and the lamb doner place we visited on the food tour that I wanted to go back to. And the bean carts near Suleymani - beans cooked in a tomato sauce over rice. I want to hit those up too. How many meals are left?
I really enjoyed hearing the call to prayer from two mosques in Sultanhamet - they took turns with their chanting and it went back and forth for about 10 minutes. The mosque close by is the one next to the Sultanhamet tram stop (a small one). The one in the distance is the Blue Mosque, with an amazing singer. The video was taken from the tram station.
A few more random photos: