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