Trip Start Mar 23, 2009
12Trip End Apr 21, 2009
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Where I stayed
After a semi-long and uneventful Air France flight to Istanbul (via Paris) (during which Bianca has now become obsessed with Twilight and I enjoyed Quantum of Solace) we arrived unscathed at Ataturk International Airport. We are staying in Sultanahmet (or "old town" I guess) at a little hotel called Apricot run by a nice former guide named Hakan. Our room was super small but had a nice balcony view of the blue mosque. We didn't waste much time and headed out for a nice stroll around the area taking in our first glimpses of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Hippodrome and Topkapi palace before meeting Atakan, a local tour guide and good friend of my parents, for dinner. He took us too an amazing little fish restaurant in Beyoglu ("new town") called BaBalik (father of fish). We enjoyed our first taste of Raki, the Turkish national liquor (think Uzo mixed with water but with raisin undertones, sounds gross but I liked it, Bianca was not a fan) and some tasty Anatolian red wine
It was tough to get up this morning after the muezzin wake up call at 5 AM from the Blue Mosque but we managed. Our day was immediately off to a good start with a fantastic Turkish breakfast consisting of an array of yogurts, breads, olives, cheeses, honey, spreads of all sorts and tea. Atakan had been nice enough to set us up with one of his best friends, Saba, for a day long tour of Istanbul. He met us at 9 AM and we immediately headed off to the must see sights
Afterwards we moved across the street to the ancient Hagia Sophia built around 1500 years ago and is the largest of the ancient Byzantine (eastern orthodox) churches. The opposition of the two buildings across from one another is quite a site. Hagia Sophia was initially built as a church and served in this capacity until the Ottoman's took over, who promptly converted it into a mosque. It remained as a mosque until 1932 after the Turkish revolution when it became a museum to avoid conflict between the Christians and Muslims who both laid historical claim to the building
From Hagia Sophia we moved underground to the ancient Roman Basilica Cistern. It was designed by the Emperor Justinian to house the water reserves for the growing capital of Constantinople. It is ridiculously huge and seriously way to beautiful to remain underground. Most of what you can actually see today is only about one-fifth of the actual size. It's hard to imagine the Roman's building something so glorious just to hold water. Also of note it was the location of the massacre of the entire Janissaries Corps after a coup attempt on the sultan (wiki Janissaries if interested...).
Before lunch we also managed to squeeze in a visit to Topkapi Palace, which was built by the Sultan Mehmet II in 1465. The grounds are massive to say the least. The palace is basically an entirely self-contained living quarters for the Sultan, his family, his concubines, his staff and his 3000 Janissaries. The kitchen alone had 10 huge stoves and was capable of cooking for thousands daily. We were most impressed by the Treasury and the Ancient Relics
At this point we were starving. Lucky for us there was a delicious meatball (think more like kafta) place close by called Sultanahmet Koftesi that has been serving these delicious little balls for nearly 100 years. It was fantastic.
From here we walked through the sprawling Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar...both were amazing and we will be visiting them again in more detail later so check back on these two
Saba was nice enough to take us across the Galata Bridge into Beyoglu ("new town" but still European side) and show us around a bit. We checked out the Galata tower, one of the few synagogues remaining in the city and a wonderful stroll along the pedestrian walkway, Istiklal Caddesi. We ended in Taksim Sq where we bid farewell to our wonderful guide. After some Turkish tea and cappuccino We made our way to Haci Abdullah, an authentic Turkish/Ottoman restaurant that has been operating since 1888, for dinner. Our delicious feast included lamb wrapped in crepes, lamb goulash with mashed potatoes, eggplant wrapped lamb (I guess we had a lot of lamb), salad and homemade bread. We finished off with Turkish coffee (Bianca had hers "man style" again) and Kadayif, a baklava type pastry with pistachio's and honey.
With full minds and bellies we headed home through the rain for some sleep (and to edit 200 pictures, thanks Bianca)...
Until next time...
~ Bianca and Michael