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Monthly Archives: July 2015

A Turkish delight! (part 1)

A Turkish delight! (part 1)

Monday, 29 June 2015

After our extended layover in Cairo, in which time we managed to do a tour to the Pyramids, we finally arrived in Istanbul at 5:30pm on the Monday afternoon. Getting through the airport didn’t take too long, and we decided to take the Metro and tram to our Airbnb accommodation in Beyoğlu, in the new part of Istanbul. The tram took us through the Sultanhamet area (old area) of Istanbul and we were literally craning our necks to try and spot the first glimpses of the Hagia Sophia and other attractions. By 7:30pm we checked into our accommodation after a very eventful taxi ride from the tram station. It was clear that drivIng a car in Istanbul requires a LOT of patience and preferably a verA Turkish delight! (part 1)y small car!

Our room was fairly small, but clean and comfortable, and since we were in time to catch the sunset, we decided to explore the view from the rooftop of our apartment block. And as promised, we were rewarded with a magnificent view over Istanbul.

View over Istanbul from the roof of our apartment

View over Istanbul from the roof of our apartment

The view of the Galata Tower from our rooftop

The view of the Galata Tower from our rooftop

After unpacking our suitcases, we took a walk to the Karaköy area to find a spot for dinner. We initially wanted to get a view over the Bosphorus, but there is a wall that extends from shortly after the Karaköy quay and we weren’t sure exactly how far it goes down. We ended up in a lively little street with chairs on the sidewalk and took a peek at the menu at Pim Karaköy, and were immediately told by some American visitors that it was the ‘best restaurant’ in Istanbul. That settled it. Anya had pasta and I had the sausage pita and I had my first cup of tea in Istanbul. We were exhausted and started making our way back to the apartment, which meant experiencing another first in Istanbul…walking up one one of the seven hills the city was built on!

The view of the streets where we had dinner

The view of the streets where we had dinner

Anya exhausted over dinner :-)

Anya exhausted over dinner 🙂

At least we could sleep in a bit the next day, as we had a walking tour booked for 10:00am and it seemed like a hop, skip and jump to get there. Our first day of our holiday came to a exhausted end!

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

As usual, I woke up quite some time before Anya and had to contain my excitement, and let her sleep in a bit after travelling most of the day before. Our scheduled walking tour was booked with Istanbul Food Walks and we had to meet our guide, Cammie, on the steps in front of the Yeni Cami Mosque, in Eminönü district, just across the Galata Bridge.

After a bit of regrouping (my instructions were old, and Cammie was waiting for us inside the courtyard of the mosque), we found each other and realised that this was going to be a bonus private tour, as it was just us and Cammie.

This tour was by far the best thing we planned upfront and we spent a delightful few hours with Cammie (an Australian born, Istanbul bred girl with a degree in architecture from a college in England) who has a passion for the history of Istanbul, especially the history that the predominantly Muslim population would rather not remember. Cammie told us that she is starting her own business doing walking tours in Istanbul, and that ‘starting a business as a woman in Istanbul’ is very difficult, quoting from “New York, New York”, saying if you can make it in Istanbul (as a woman), you can make it anywhere…

The walk started out at the entrance of the Spice Bazaar, the Mısır Çarşısı, or the Egyptian Bazaar, where we had a traditional Turkish breakfast, or kahvaltı. It consisted of a platter with dried meat (I think it was pastırma, a cured beef), tomatoes, cucumber, green and black olives, and three types of cheeses, tulum peynir, stringy kaşer and a cheese similar to an aged cheddar cheese. With this we had some fried pastries, sourdough bread and some simit that Cammie picked up on the way from one of the many stalls in Istanbul. With this we had Turkish tea, because the Turks do not drink coffee for breakfast! It was delicious and we could have spent a delightful few hours sipping tea and nibbling on snacks at this sidewalk cafe, but it was time to continue our tour.

A traditional Turkish breakfast

A traditional Turkish breakfast

Entering the bazaar is a sensory overload! The smell of spices and herbs mingle with the sweet smell of sweets and tea in the air and transports you to a different world…

Inside the Spice Bazaar (Egyptian bazaar) with Cammie

Inside the Spice Bazaar (Egyptian bazaar) with Cammie

Our first stop in the market was Ebcin Spice Centre (no 68) and we were treated with a platter of the most delightful Turkish delight rolls, dried fruits, nuts and of course, Turkish tea! Anya also had her first taste of apple tea which she instantly fell in love with. Of course we had to buy some Turkish delight which was carefully vacuum packed for us to take home.

A fantastic spread...just for us

A fantastic spread…just for us

The next stop was a little dessert shop just outside the bazaar where we sat down and sampled the baklava and tulumba (it very similar to churros, but is crispy and soaked in a lemony syrup). Incidentally, we have a typical dessert in South Africa, called koeksisters, which is also fried and dipped in syrup, but the dough is normally plaited or rolled, so we immediately christened the tulumba as Turkish koeksisters

Tulumba and Baklava...sweet heaven!

Tulumba and Baklava…sweet heaven!

We briefly visited the Rüstem Pasha Mosque on the western side of the bazaar, a 16th century Ottoman Mosque, famous for its beautiful İznik tiles from Western Anatolia.

The Rastham

The Rüstem Pasha Mosque

The next stop on our tour was Altan Sekerleme, a traditional Ottoman era confectionary shop, which has been run as a family business for four generations. They claim to make the best Turkish delight (lokum) in Istanbul and they certainly make the most delicious hard boiled candies (akide), which can only be described as heaven in your mouth! Cammie also bought some halva, which she kept to have with afternoon coffee…

The shop window of Altam Sekerleme

The shop window of Altam Sekerleme

Around the corner was Mevlana Pide,another little family owned cafe where we sampled a yoghurt soup, yayla çorbası, spiced with mint, slow cooked beef in a broth and ayran, a very popular drink made with cold yoghurt and salt (it almost taste a bit like diluted buttermilk), with a head of froth. You can even find ayran at McDonalds in Turkey! We both agreed that it is probably an acquired taste, but certainly is quite refreshing…

Anya enjoying

Anya enjoying the yoghurt soup…

And the Aryan

And the Aryan

After climbing another one of the seven hills in Istanbul, past the Istanbul University, we stopped for lunch (as if we needed any more food!) at Ali Baba Kanaat Lokantası. A lokantası is a very traditional restaurant serving Turkish dishes and we were treated with a spread of butter beans, pickles, olives, bread and of course Turkish tea… The restaurant is in the vicinity of the Suleymaniye Mosque and was bustling at lunch time (despite the fact that it was Ramadan or Ramazan as it is called in Turkey). By now, we could hardly eat anymore, but the conversation was fantastic and we learned so much.

The Suleymaniye Mosque

The Suleymaniye Mosque

View over the Bosphorus from the Suleymaniye Mosque

View over the Bosphorus from the Suleymaniye Mosque

Our final stop of the tour was Darüzziyafe, a restaurant set in the most magnificent gardens just a short walk down the street. Cammie told us that she did a course to learn how to read someone’s fortune in their coffee cup and we were being treated to a complimentary reading, a Kahve Falı. We sat down in the garden and ordered our coffees.

I must admit that I was a bit scared of the coffee, which I have been told is very strong and is served in tiny cups. Cammie recommended adding a bit of sugar to it, and it wasn’t bad at all. It almost tasted chocolatey. It does take some getting used to as the coffee is unfiltered and the grounds are left in the bottom of the cup, which is then used for the fortune telling! We had the coffee with the halva that Cammie bought earlier, which was delicious. When you are done with your coffee, you put the saucer at the top of the cup, turn it around, and then turn the cup back to its normal position. My cup showed a dolphin (apparently a fish represents money, therefore a dolphin represents a lot of money?), an old cat lady, three men (that’s right!!) and a trip to a place with a volcano (maybe Ecuador??). All and all my cup was declared a peaceful cup with no rough storms, thank goodness! Anya’s cup was a bit more anxious and filled with lots of friends and some ball game or something. It was all very exciting.

Dar

Darüzziyafe cafe in the shadow of the Suleymaniye Mosque

Turkish coffee

Turkish coffee

The dolphin in my cup...

The dolphin in my cup…

We loved Cammie and had a fantastic day, and was very sad when it came to an end. I would definitely recommend a walking tour with Cammie, so if you are planning on travelling to Istanbul, be sure to check out her website, Cornucopia Walks. If we had more time in Istanbul, I would have loved to have done a Levantine History walk with her. She also gave us lots of tips for places to sea, to eat and visit.

After all that excitement, the sun was still high up in the sky and we still had several hours before sunset, so we decided to go to the Hagia Sophia, or the Ayasofya as the locals call it. The Hagia Sophia is a perfect example of where the Byzantine empire and the Ottoman empire merge and I was very excited to see it.

It was built in 537 AD by Byzantine Emperor Justinian and was once the seat of Constantinople. It was the largest cathedral in the world for almost a thousand years until the Seville Cathedral was built. After Constantinople was conquered by the Ottomans in 1453, it was converted to a mosque, removing the bells, altar and other relics, plastering over the golden mosaics and adding Islamic features such as the 4 minarets. It remained a mosque for many centuries until 1931, when it was secularised and converted to a museum. 

Inside the dome of the Hagia Sophia

Inside the dome of the Hagia Sophia, with the Virgin and child in the right mini dome

The vast inside of the Hagia Sophia

The vast inside of the Hagia Sophia

One of the many examples of early Christian mosaic depictions uncovered during restorations

One of the many examples of early Christian mosaic depictions uncovered during restorations

During a major restoration in the 19th century, the mosaics were uncovered and the plaster removed, however it was then painted over. The inside of the building has a strange feeling to it, with the Islamic features still playing the most significant role, but in places the restorations have uncovered complete sections with Christian iconography. It is quite extraordinary.

Unfortunately, major restorations are currently underway, so the left hand section of the dome was covered with scaffolding, but there was still enough to feast our eyes on. We hired a tour guide outside the building and he was very knowledgeable about the history.

After the visit, our tour guide offered to take us to his brother’s shop where we can see carpets and pottery. Actually, in hindsight, I am sure he promised to show us how they make pottery, but that never happened. It was still our first full day in Istanbul so we obliged…

Inside the shop, we were offered tea (and we’ve been told it is rude not to accept tea when offered). I was curious about the carpets (and since I have been dreaming about a new Persian rug for my lounge…), I left Anya downstairs and followed them upstairs to look at the carpets. What beauty. I was hesitant to show too much enthusiasm and had absolutely no idea what carpets costs, so after some to and fro he told me what the price was on a particular carpet. Which was way out of my budget! I told him I can’t afford that and that I can pay half a year’s school fees with that money and proceeded to move towards the stairs. And…bartering ensued…

In the end of the day, I did buy a carpet (I think that was what Cammie saw in my coffee cup – the money I was going to spend, not make..), but I am happy that I paid what I was willing to pay. With the carpet in a small bag, and promises that we will be able to take it on board as hand luggage (heavy hand luggage, I may add!), we left the shop and that brought an end to our sightseeing for the day.

We made our way back to the apartment, carrying the carpet up one of the seven hills, while I was all the way thinking about how we are going to get the carpet home! In the end, we managed to fit it into a small suitcase on roller wheels and it is now on proud display in my lounge!

The suitcase...

The suitcase…

And the carpet...in its rightful place!

And the carpet…in its rightful place! Definitely worth the effort!

That evening, we decided to take another stroll to the Bosphorus harbour and with a bit more orientation, a GPS and more light we made our way to the quay.

We had a lovely stroll down the quay, doing the touristy think and drinking Starbucks coffee with a view over the Bosphorus, and eventually had a late dinner at a little restaurant overlooking the river.

Sipping Starbucks coffee, overlooking the Bosphorus

Sipping Starbucks coffee, overlooking the Bosphorus

The view over the Bosphorus (Golden Horn) of the Hagia Sophia at night

The view over the Bosphorus (Golden Horn) of the Hagia Sophia at night

It was a magical day, and we have done so much already. We fell into bed utterly exhausted that evening, with much excitement about the days to follow. Istanbul was under our skins and I was already worrying about how we were going to fit all we wanted to do into the remaining days!

Until later!

Gertie x

(the next post for this trip can be found here)

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Posted by on July 31, 2015 in Family, Travel

 

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A layover visit to Cairo

A layover visit to Cairo

Sunday, 28 June 2015

I woke up a little nervous this morning, mainly because I had not started to pack at all. I also wanted to pack as light as possible on account of all the shopping we were planning to do in Istanbul! And that is always a difficult thing for someone with an inherent fear of running out of T-shirts, or underwear or not having my own hairdryer at hand!

But we managed! We used 1 medium sized suitcase and 1 small one for all our checked in luggage and a small roller bag and backpack for carry-on luggage. In the end, we were done long before we had to leave for the airport and ended up playing cards and Yahtzee to kill the time.

After losing my wallet to an opportune pickpocketer in Florence last year, I was adamant that I would make sure we don’t end up in a desperate situation again. But, despite the best intentions, I almost DID lose my phone! Just after we passed through the x-rays before passport control I all of the sudden realised with a fright that I did not have my phone with me… Luckily we found it at the check in counters, so after some excitement, we could relax and wait for our flight.

Monday, 28 June 2015

We arrived in Cairo at 5:30am in the morning, after an 8 hour flight. I had arranged a tour with a local agent, and lo and behold they were waiting for us just beyond the exit. However, it soon transpired that this would not be that easy and after some scramble, and lots of shaking heads, we were asked why we did not arrange a Visa. Huh? I did not think we needed a Visa for a stopover. The tour agent then went to the Egyptair desk which stated something like “Connection accommodation services” and after handing over our passports and onward boarding passes at the desk and some more discussions that we did not understand, we were finally told to sit down and wait.

The one thing I am always told is that you DO NOT hand over your passport to someone, so I have to admit I was waiting very anxiously. Eventually after probably 20 minutes, someone came out of a room with a stack of passports wrapped in yellow sheets and called our surname. Since his pronunciation was a bit off, he had to repeat it before I realised we were being called. We promptly followed the guy with our passports, together with about 10 other fellow passengers. At a checkpoint we were called again and asked if we need a double room. I explained with some confusion that we wanted to do a tour, not book into a hotel. We were told to wait (again) and after a few more minutes a guy from Karnak tours came to meet us. It appears they work with Egyptair and would be able to offer us the same tour for half the price, and get us back to the airport on time for our onward flight. We quickly agreed and after a bit more of a wait for our transport we were finally on our way!

The drive from the Cairo airport to Giza, where the pyramids are situated is about 45 minutes. The driver was quite friendly and pointed out many sites. I have forgotten a bit what a dreary and dusty city Cairo was. From my previous trip (a few years ago on a tax conference), I remembered the many unfinished buildings and sky scrapers in Cairo, as well as the multitude of satellite dishes on all the buildings. It was however quite something to see Anya’s reaction to these! Similar to Lagos, you pay more taxes in Cairo once a building is complete, therefore a lot of buildings are never finished and people live in the incomplete buildings.

We crossed the Nile and entered the Giza area. We had to wait a little bit for our guide, Yahia (pronounced Ya-ya) to join us. Yahia took us to the Giza pyramids and was very knowledgeable and helpful and not too shabby a photographer either! We loved the pyramids. Yahia even bout Anya a little statue of Nefertiti, the wife of Akhenaten, the infamous Pharoah of Egypt who upset the nation by changing his name and religion to only worship the sun god, Aten, instead of the many gods that the Egyptians used to worship.

Anya and I in front of the Pyramid of Kefra

Anya and I in front of the Pyramid of Khufu

The well known pyramids of Giza consist of the 3 large pyramids (Pyramids of Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure) but also another 4 smaller pyramids (known as the Queens’ pyramids) as well as the Sphinx. We were very lucky and because it was still early in the morning, the complex was not too busy and we managed to get good views of the pyramids and were able to go inside one of the Queen’s pyramids.

In front of the pyramids in Giza

In front of the pyramids in Giza

 

A few camels around the pyramids

A few camels around the pyramids

 

It really is quite breathtaking!

It really is quite breathtaking!

 

Anya inside the Queen's pyramid

Anya inside the Queen’s pyramid

 

Some of the rocks cut stones around the pyramids

Some of the rocks cut stones around the pyramids

After the visit to the pyramids, we went to see the Sphinx, which is still the largest monolith statue in the world and still manages to take your breath away!

In front of the Sphinx - courtesy of our tour guide Yahia

In front of the Sphinx – courtesy of our tour guide Yahia

 

The Sphinx

The Sphinx

After the visit to the pyramids, Yahia took us through Giza and stopped over at a perfume seller, where we were offered some tea of coffee and had to sample some of the perfumes. Anya had some tea, but I decided to have the Hibiscus tea, which was absolutely delicious. Egypt is of course famous for their perfumes which are made with natural oils an do not contain alcohol. They are quick to tell you that they sell their perfumed oils to the famous perfume house like Chanel No 5, where they add alcohol in different quantities to make Eau de Parfume or Eau de Toilette. We bought a couple of small bottles, including the famous Lotus perfumed oil. The Lotus flower represented creation and rebirth in Ancient Egypt and you can find the flower depicted in many ancient Egyptian drawings. I will be dabbing some Lotus perfume on my wrists to tests its magical properties and get back to you on that!

In the perfume shop

In the perfume shop

After the perfume stop, we stopped briefly at the Papyrus Museum where Moses showed us how they make paper from papyrus. It was very informative and the papyrus art was quite something to behold. Of course we were offered some more tea and a mini tour of the artworks (clearly in the hope that we will buy something!).

The making of paper from Papyrus at the Papyrus museum

The making of paper from Papyrus at the Papyrus museum

After this, we were taken back to the airport where I was very relieved to be able to get our passports and boarding tickets back! At 2:30pm, we were seated in our aeroplane (smelling very fragrant, I may add), and ready for the final leg of our journey to get to our final destination, Istanbul!

Next up…Istanbul!

 

 
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Posted by on July 8, 2015 in Family, Travel

 

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