The art of haggling in Obamastantinople
Trip Start Mar 23, 2009
12Trip End Apr 21, 2009
Map your own trip!
Show trip route
Where I stayed
Obama T-Minus Two Days (Sunday):
We arrived back at Ataturk Airport with our softest landing yet. We realized that this was the first time we actually flew a regular airline (Turkish, the national carrier) and thus that might have had something to do with it. We decided to brave the Metro to get to our hotel, The Turkuaz Guesthouse. With little hassle, other than the extremely full tram car and having to force our way out, we made it to our stop near the Grand Baazar and with Bianca's mad map skills we found our way down a (VERY) long hill to the edge of the Sea of Marmara and our 18th century Ottoman Mansion.
After settling into our attic room we decided to have our first real attempt at shopping and head to the Grand Bazaar
One of the things we had not done yet was a traditional Turkish Bath or Hamam and one of the most famous ones around, Cemberlitas was open so we went for it. We had been pre-warned that the bath's are definitely more geared towards men but Bianca was up for giving it a try, since we had nothing better to do because everything was closed, we headed inside.
Cemberlitas was built in 1584 by the famous Ottoman architect Sinan (previously mentioned). Turkish bath's are similar to other types of baths (my only experience with old style baths are the Hungarian bath's in Budapest) in that men and women are separate and you get some sort of soapy rub down by a big scary man or woman. Turkish baths are unique in that instead of having pools of hot and cold water to go in and out of, you lie on a huge heated stone slab and dump cold or warm water on yourself. It sounds odd and perhaps not the most pleasurable, but trust me, it was fantastic.
So Bianca and I had very different experiences with this place
For dinner we had delicious Doner Kebab in Beyoglu across the Golden Horn and had a nice relaxing evening at a cafe...
Obama T-minus One Day (Monday):
Since the other place we wanted to visit upon our return to Istanbul, The Dolmabahce Palace was closed on Monday's we opted to do the famous "Bosphorus Cruise." Unfortunately the Istanbul weather did not cooperate again as the overcast sky's ruled the day. For those who aren't aware, the Bosphorus is the relatively narrow channel that runs between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara (the the Sea of Marmara flows into another channel, the Dardanelles and then out to the Atlantic). On one side is Asia, the other Europe. The Bosphorus and Dardanelles are extremely important geographically (think Gallipoli in WWI or hundreds of oil freighters coming from Russia and the Caucasus daily that need to get out to the Atlantic). Anyways, the cruise is really just a ride on the public ferry, criss-crossing the channel, making a few stops along the way until you reach the last port, about 5 km from the Black Sea (the last 5 km are controlled by the Turkish Military). There are private cruises as well but they coast way more, don't go close to as far up the channel and take about 1/3 the time
The trip out towards the Black Sea takes about an hour and a half and ends at a port called Anadolu Kavagi on the Asian side. There isn't much to do here (the stop-over is a minimum of three hours) except walk about 2 km uphill to an old 14th century Genoese castle which has a beautiful view of the opening of the Bosphorus into the Black Sea. Although the weather was crappy, we decided to hike it up and take a look. I can only image what a beautiful sight it would have been had it not been gray and gloomy...but what can you do. Anadolu is also well known for it's pushy and sometimes obnoxious restaurant touts who come out and hassle you constantly about their menu and fish prices. It was aggravating and annoying...but we did finally settle on a little place on the harbor and had a few mezes before heading back on the boat of the hour and half trip back to Istanbul.
The trip back was uneventful save for a few pretty views of Yali's and some dolphin sightings
Upon our return to land we headed up to the Grand Bazaar for some shopping. Built shortly after the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman's in 1453, the Grand Bazaar is an unbelievable maze of indoor streets lined with shop after shop of anything you can possibly imagine from antiques and jewelry to carpets, leather and trinkets. It is a beautiful and overwhelming place and one must be prepared for the constant touting that occurs. We put our game faces on and headed in for some bargaining!
After an hour or so with some quality purchases made (hopefully for decent prices, or at least we think...) we braved the rain and headed to check e-mail at a cafe and then back over to Beyoglu for dinner. Beyoglu as previously mentioned is still on the European side of Istanbul but is across the Golden Horn (another waterway that branches off the Bosphorus and Sea of Marmara). It's a very cool area, with less touristy "stuff" and is more frequented by the normal Istanbul and Turkish population. It has the more expensive hotels and many many very cool, smaller restaurants and cafes. We opted for a change of place for dinner as we are tiring of kebabs and Turkish food (only one more night after this!). We searched the Internet and went and found a Thai place that seemed to get quality reviews. We somehow managed to easily find it, even in the pouring rain! While it was disgustingly overpriced, the food was pretty solid and our belly's were (we think) quite happy with some noodles and curry instead of yogurt and kebab
After our late dinner we headed back to the Turkuaz and couldn't help but notice that there were now police everywhere and barricades erected all along the streets of Sultanahmet...
Obamamania Arrives (Tuesday): Our last full day in Constantinople....
Today is our last day in the wonderful country of Turkey. It has been a wonderful two weeks here and we have enjoyed every minute of this amazing place. It is most definitely a place that both Bianca and I want to come back to and explore even more. Two weeks was enough to just skim the surface...
We spent our last day mostly wandering around Istanbul doing all the shopping that we had put off until the last day. As mentioned in the title, Obama was in town and thus we steered very clear of the Sultanahmet area as he was to visit the Hagia Sofia and some of the other sights. Even away from that area you could not escape as the police presence was ridiculous...everywhere, helicopters, riot police, closed roads...the works! I guess that is just the way it is when Obamania arrives
After Bianca had to head back down and up the big hill because she left her wallet at the Turkuaz, we headed back to the Grand Bazaar for a bit more haggle-friendly shopping. Bianca and I picked up a few more little trinkets before heading back over to Beyoglu to look for an old map shop we read about in Lonely Planet. The last few trips we have gone on I've started to purchase old maps and so for my birthday this year, Bianca was nice enough to offer to buy one for me. We had "great success" and found an awesome 18th century French map of the Ottoman Empire. The guy who owned the store was super interesting...he used to be a captain in the Turkish Navy, had been to 75 countries and talked to us forever about numerous American TV shows (favs are House and Grey's Anatomy). I am quite happy with my 28th birthday present!
We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets in and around Beyoglu (mostly on a mad search for Pajama pants, since I ripped mine, but sadly we were unsuccessful and I'll be sporting Galatasaray F.C. boxers for the rest of the trip). We are meeting Atacan's wife Paula for some coffee in a bit and plan to have an easy going afternoon before heading back to Hamdi for one last Turkish feast while overlooking the Golden Horn
We hope you all have enjoyed the Turkish part of our journey! Tomorrow we are off to Zurich for a few days before heading to Austria for Gruberfest 2009! We'll be in touch and still be blogging, although most likely not as frequently.
Until next time,
Bianca and Michael
ps - I was unable to watch the MSU game since the Turkuaz hasn't updated it's electronics since Edison and thus has no Internet. But from all I read it was unfortunately not a great way to go out for Sparty. It is still very exciting to have made it, especially in Detroit. I only wish I could have been around to have experienced their run. Alas, Turkey is much cooler :)