We left Paris mid day on Tuesday, landing in Istanbul at 6:30 p.m. Passport control, Visa purchase and Immigration were a breeze, and we easily found an ATM to get some Turkish Lira. Sabiha Gocken airport is several miles from Istanbul, so we took a bus into town, and then a taxi to our apartment. It was 9 p.m. when we pulled up to our apartment.
We were met by the manager Marco, he showed us the apartment, explained how everything works, and gave us a few sightseeing and shopping tips. We really like the apartment, it's in a great location just around the corner from the Blue Mosque. In fact, you can see the mosque right from our bedroom window!
As soon has he left, we quickly unpacked a little, and decided to walk a block or two to see if we could find a restaurant for a small late dinner. We chose a restaurant around the corner, and settled in for a beer and a pide, a Turkish pizza. After he brought our beers he brought us a huge puffy bread--about the size of a football. It's called lavash, and it's like a huge puffed up pita bread. Really good! Soon our pide was served--it was like a small flat bread pizza and was topped with interesting cheese and Turkish salami, which was delicious. I must have been hungry, because I forgot to take a picture!
A quick walk back to our apartment, and we hit the sack early. It had been a loooong travel day, and we were really looking forward to a good night's sleep. We agreed--no alarm clock on Wednesday!
The apartment listing mentioned there was a loud call to prayer each morning, and I had imagined waking up to a gentle, soft call. What they neglected to mention was that the call was at 5:45 each morning, and that it was broadcast over loudspeakers about the size of a mini-van, AND THAT THOSE SPEAKERS WERE RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER FROM OUR BEDROOM WINDOW!
HOLY COW!! It scared the living daylights out of me! What a rude awakening--and we have two more weeks of that to look forward to.
There was no going back to sleep after that scary awakening, so we got up and made coffee, had a small breakfast, and planned our day. First order of business--find a grocery store to buy a few basics for the next couple of weeks. We had been given general directions, so off we went, trusty map in hand. We got as far as Sultanahmet Square, and decided to consult our map. A nice Turkish gentleman asked us what we were looking for, and he kindly pointed the way. So far, we have found the Turkish people to be very friendly and helpful.
As we walked through the park and square, I spotted this lion statue, complete with feline friend:
We walked 4-5 blocks to the grocery store, passing interesting shops along the way. I see some fun shopping in my future!
There were also many pastry and sweet shops. Lots of baklava and pistachio goodies:
The pastries were almost a pretty as in Paris.
I know I said I might be over my dessert fixation, but maybe NOT--look at these pretties:
We easily found the grocery store and stocked up on a few essentials, including a big bottle of drinking water. Drinking the tap water in Turkey is not advised, so we needed a big jug of water to get us through a couple of days. We headed straight back to our apartment to drop off our heavy load.
Here's our street:
And David in front our the door to our apartment. The window on the left is to our bedroom.
We quickly put away our groceries, and went right back out to explore. Here's our first view of the Blue Mosque:
I thought this stone pillar was interesting:
Detail of the brick arches and top of columns:
A "long view"
The water wasn't very deep, maybe two feet deep at the most. But there were fish in there! Here's a pic just for you, Matt!
The most interesting part was the base of these two columns, the Head of Medusa. One is upside down:
And the other is on it's side. It is not known why these two heads are placed this way, but it is widely believed that they were "recycled" elements leftover from an ancient Roman ruin. I thought they were very interesting!
Here we are:
David buying a simet from a street vendor. A simet is a Turkish bread like a big sesame bagel. When David asked him how much, he clearly said one Lira, but when we got ready to pay, he said 1.50 Lira Nothing doing!! I gently told the vendor that he had said 1 Lira, he said "No--1.5 Lira". I told David "Just give him back the bread"--and suddenly the price was 1 Lira again! Sheeesh!
The street view from our table:
Here we are:
There were a few restaurants around the perimeter, and many interesting shops along this central hall. We looked in a few shops, made many new best friends wanting to sell us "best carpets for cheap prices". No Genuine Turkish Kilims for us!
The drains in the middle of the pavement all had pretty inset tiles, along with glass "evil eyes"
As we were walking out of the bazaar, a young man commented on David's Alaska Ace's Kelly Cup hat. He had a shop with a big window display of hats from all over the world. After a long, friendly conversation he got around to asking David for his hat to add to his collection. David politely declined to part with his Ace's hat! You can see that young man admiring that Ace's logo:
Just before the steps out of the bazaar, we found a WC. We've seen several signs for them in this area, which is nice. We had to pay 1 Lira each, but that's OK.
Guess what? Yup--TURKISH toilets! But they were very clean, and not as scary as the ones in Thailand! Good for the thigh muscles, too.........
By now it was raining HARD again, so we walked back to our apartment to dry off a little, and decided what to do next. Obviously, an indoor activity was in order! We decided to see the interior of the Blue Mosque--a short walk in the pouring rain.
We lined up at the special "visitor entrance", read the rules--no shoes allowed, no photos during prayer times, and headscarves for women. Here I am, all scarved up for my mosque visit, certainly NOT my best look! We did see a few women tourists without headscarves, but I wanted to be respectful:
The large dome:
David in front of one of the HUGE pillars. I think these are the largest pillars I've ever seen:
The tile work was amazing, just beautiful. A few close shots of the tile designs:
I noticed this "striped" detail right away. It's a design we have seen in Italian churches and French gothic cathedrals, and now in Mosques--interesting!
There were a few stained glass windows, although they are very plain in design:
Guess what? Still raining! Right across the square from The Blue Mosque is the Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia was built in 36o AD, and was used as an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral until 1453, except for between 1204 & 1261, when it was converted to a Roman Catholic cathedral under the Latin Empire. It was converted to a mosque in 1453, and then secularized in 1931 and opened as a museum, as it remains today. It was beautiful through the misty rain:
Well, NOT so misty rain! It was pouring again when we came out of the Blue Mosque, so we walked the short couple of blocks to our apartment to wait out the rain. We are enjoying having our apartment so close by!
We relaxed for an hour or so, and the rain and almost stopped. We headed out to look for a restaurant for dinner. We past the Blue Mosque--it's especially beautiful at night:
We enjoyed wandering the winding streets and passageways, stopping to look at a few menus. Again, we met many "new best friends" along the way! We have found the Turkish people to be lovely, friendly and helpful, and have had great conversations with many. Some of the vendors, however, are a tad bit aggressive. I do realize this is their culture, and they are just trying to make a living, but it does get tiresome. David seems to be handling it better than I am; I just need to learn to ignore them, but I don't want to be rude!
In one of the small alleys we found a tiny, "hole in the wall" Turkish restaurant. No "hawker" standing outside--that was promising! It looked interesting, so we popped inside to look at the menu. The menu was very small, featuring combination plates of home made food. The young man behind the counter was smiling and helpful, and eager to have our business. We selected an indoor table (only 3 inside and 3 outside tables in this tiny place!). He carefully explained each combo plate to us, in his cute "Turklish" (a word I just made up--a funny combo of Turkish and English!). We each ordered the meat combo plate, and I watched as he dished them up. He soooo precisely placed each food, then painstakingly sprinkled spices and parsley around the rim of the plate--just so. He proudly brought my dish to our table, and was tickled when I took a picture of it!
While we were eating, a nice gentleman at the next table started up a conversation with us, asking us where we were from. He told us he was an attorney, had his office nearby, and ate here every day. He told us the lentil soup was his favorite, we just might have to go back to try it! He also gave us a restaurant recommendation, some helpful taxi hints so as to not get ripped off, and kindly wrote down the name of the restaurant for us. He explained what kind of fish was in season now, and that it was best to order the bluefish right now! What a kind man, and very interesting to talk to. With a chuckle, he mentioned that his wife was a divorce attorney, and we both said at about the same time that we wouldn't be needing to visit her! What a fun, delightful experience with that nice man!
By now we were finished with our meals, and the nice young waiter brought us a dessert to share as a gift! It was a small pudding, with bread on the bottom that had been soaked in some sort of syrup--really good flavor. The top was a milk based pudding with a delicate cinnamon taste. When we asked him what the flavor was, his "Turklish" failed him, so he ran to get the cinnamon shaker so we could smell it. What a sweetie.
What a fun evening we'd had! I'd rate that combo plate about a 6 on a scale of 1-10, but the whole experience was priceless, and just warmed my (wet and soggy) heart!
It was a nice long walk in the drizzly rain back to our apartment. Another early to bed night for the Travelin' Lundburys--I know our local "alarm clock" (aka: morning call to prayer) won't be letting us sleep in tomorrow!
Keep your fingers cross for the rain to stop, please!