Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Istanbul (not Constantinople)

*Get ready for an overload of pictures (90 to be exact). You've been warned. 

Our first of three stops was Istanbul - a city both ancient and modern, overflowing with exquisite architecture, colorfully packed (and immaculately swept) cobblestone streets and deliciously delightful confections (Baklava! Turkish delight!). Iznik tiles lined not only the grandest of palaces and mosques, but also the local bazaars and sidewalks at almost every turn. 

With the words of "Istanbul (not Constantinople)" as our theme song, we dove head first into the sites...

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Now it's Turkish delight on a moonlit night...
So take me back to Constantinople
No, you can't go back to Constantinople
Been a long time gone, Constantinople
Why did Constantinople get the works?
That's nobody's business but the Turks.

After a non-eventful flight (other than those swollen feet), we made our way through the ops nightmare that was the customs line and found our ride to the hotel (we took the liberty of assuming the sign "Brayam Pyfer" was for us). We got settled into "Ekim Apart," the second story of a three-story apartment we would call home for the next three nights. It was about two blocks from the main Sultanahmet sites. Other than blowing the fuse on my flat iron and Ryan's adaptor, and continually having to ask for more toilet paper, it was a perfect place to stay. 

We simply had to step out our door, walk a block through a residential area and then through the local bazaar and we were in the middle of it all! And that's exactly what we did the first night. We saw the sites all lit up for the evening sky and Brayam, I mean Bryan, even learned how to throw a Turkish carpet! 

In addition to Turkish delight, we stuffed our faces with all things Turkish. I was actually a little worried about the food because hummus, olives, etc. are probably my least favorite foods. I still don't like olives (I keep trying!), but their hummus was better than any I've ever tasted. We couldn't get enough of the chicken shish, Turkish yogurt, bagels smeared with nutella, doner kababs, manti, pitas, shepherd's salad and soft cheeses (all with zero guilt after training for and running a marathon!). My favorite was chicken shish at the Meat House and the plateful of chicken legs pictured below...found on the random street also pictured below. Catherine was so happy to have her ice cream, quickly followed by a bathroom for her 5-month-pregnant belly. She was a trooper. 

Cat and I wrapped our heads with scarves and we all removed our shoes as we reverently walked through the Blue Mosque, worshipers washing their own feet at the ablutions faucets just outside, its six minarets towering above us. 

Another favorite was the New Mosque, still beautiful on the outside, but even more magnificent (in my opinion) on the interior. So many hand painted tiles.

We took an audio tour through Hagia Sofia, its 1600 years of history showing themselves at every turn. We saw partially uncovered but previously whitewashed Christian frescoes, stained glass mosaics glistening in the sunlight and giant Muslim medallions all nestled next to one another. I even twisted my thumb in the Column of St. Gregory, or the wishing column, said to weep holy water and cure your afflictions. 

We braved the drizzle and spent half a day (translate: not nearly enough time) winding our way through the hallways of the Topkapi Palace Harem - a labarynth of rooms built for the Sultan, Queen Mother, concubines, eunuchs, princes and more. 

We took time to file through the treasury, lined with golden candlesticks taller than me, clothes to adorn sultans large and small, bejeweled cradles for royal infants, a bow and arrows in a more-than-elaborate quiver, weapons of war, and jewels that seemed to never end - jade, emeralds, rubies, ivory, turquoise, sapphire, pearls and more, not to mention an 87 carat diamond once found in rubble and traded for three spoons. 

We enjoyed the Topkapi gardens of endless tulips, planted in their motherland. 

We wandered down Divanyolu Caddesi (multiple times), crowding thousands of locals and tourists alike, admiring the tidy stacks of sweets and colorful array of spices. Ryan and Bryan got just as excited for their Turkish delight on the first night as they did on the last. 

Nearby, we saw remnants of the ancient Hippodrome and admired the Brazen Column, Obelisk and Serpent's Column.

We slowly made our way through the maze that is the Grand Bazaar and the much more manageable Spice Market where we bargained for colorful Iznik tiles for what felt like hours (to no avail). In the meantime, we tasted more than our share of endless flavors of Turkish delight (are you seeing a theme here? - if we ever couldn't find the boys, they were ALWAYS in a Turkish delight store) and picked up some Turkish bath towels and bejeweled slippers for the girls. 

We also learned the blue all-seeing eye we saw everywhere (hanging in stores and homes, paved into streets and sidewalks, and hanging as a charm on jewelry) was used to ward off the evil eye, a general symbol of a watchful and protective power from a supreme being.  

We floated up and down the Bosphorous on a chilly afternoon, resting our feet while admiring the palaces and homes - and arguing about our future Global Vacation Home Co-op. 

We tiptoed around the Million Stone, the zero point once used to measure the distance to Constantinople from all other cities in the Byzantine Empire. We were a long way from home... 

Cat and I got more than personal at the not-to-be-missed Turkish bath (thank goodness men and women are separated!). We opted for Cemberlitas as we were told it catered more toward foreigners (i.e. they would explain the process and not think you were totally crazy if you didn't know what to do or where to go). I have to admit I giggled through the entire thing as I don't normally even get undressed in public locker rooms. But I would do it again no question. That olive oil soap (combined with brute Turkish strength) is no joke.

We thought we might need to brush up on our Jason Bourne skills when our local friend Aladdin took a little longer than anticipated guiding Catherine to a bathroom behind a local street restaurant. Looking back, maybe we should have taken his joke about holding her ransom for 5,000 camels more seriously? 

We crossed the windy Galata Bridge and climbed the hilly cobblestone streets with blistered feet where we bullied Bryan into ascending to the top of Galata Tower for a well-worth-it view of the city. 

Our final night we stayed in Asian Istanbul to be closer to the other airport for a very early morning flight to Cappadocia. Our apartment had a shuttle to the airport, then we took a relatively sketchy cab ride to our hotel, Sahil Butik. We got in late, played some cards while Bryan finished his paper (he brought HOMEWORK on vacation!), watched a little Late Night and then went to bed for a 4am wake up call.

We left Istanbul with a love of their culture (and modesty!), an appreciation for their kindness and clean streets and our bellies full of their delicious eats. 

Next stop: Cappadocia. 

1 comment:

Bryan Pyfer said...
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