OK, to start off, I had this old They Might Be Giants song stuck in my head for about 2/3 of this trip – just ask A, my travel companion, who got so sick of hearing it!
I couldn’t stop humming or singing it, what can I say. I might have even been humming it as we got off the plane!
We arrived and took a taxi to our hotel – the DoubleTree Istanbul (click here for my review of the hotel), where we checked in, stashed our stuff in the room and immediately headed up to the hotel’s Terrace restaurant, we had a lovely meal and listened to the Call to Worship from several different area mosques, blending together in a haunting and beautiful sound that welcomed us, and reminded us that we were truly in an Islamic country now.
Our first day in Istanbul, we used the hotel’s internet access to find out a bit about getting a hop-on hop-off bus, and set out to go find a nearby bus stop. We had a big breakfast at the hotel while we poured over our Lonely Planet: Turkey Guidebook (which looks to have bene updated since our trip), and strategized our visit. We headed out, and started walking towards the bus stop, looking at the shops and architecture along the way. There were so many burned out or abandoned homes that had clearly once been stunningly beautiful in this neighborhood that it was a bit melancholy, but still so impressive. The architecture was interesting and different, with some particularly pretty wood-front buildings.
Enjoying the new sights around us on the way to the bus stop in the sweltering heat, we marched along and planned for our introduction to the city to be by bus….. however that was not meant to be. After walking (and sweating) as we went, we arrived at the bus stop where we waited. And waited. And waited…. as it turned out, the bus didn’t stop at this location every day, as the schedule that we had seen online must have been out of date. Finally, we gave up and consulted our trusty travel guides & decided to set out in the direction of the Blue Mosque. With no real plan, we just wandered, figuring we would just see what there was to see.
A was interested in buying a carpet on some point during our journey and I was interested in some of the beautiful ceramics, so when we stumbled upon a shopping area, we started to look around a bit, and headed in the direction of an Artisan Market. What we quickly learned is that Turkish men are definitely not shy, and seemed just as interested in getting our attention and inviting us out for the evening as they were in selling us anything! One shop keeper even chased down A after we had left in order to give her a ceramic keepsake (a pomegranate, which I’ve since learned has become a symbol of fertility across many cultures in that region… hmmmm, was that just a coincidence, or was the creepy shopkeeper trying to send A a message??) as a gift, when she had not even purchased anything in his shop! Another gave me his business card and number, with promises to take me out to see Istanbul’s nightlife. Though he was friendly, spoke English well (he told me he had lived in the US for some time, in an area that actually is not far from where I live now), and didn’t actually say anything untoward, as women travelling on our own, A and I decided not to take anyone up on their offers on this visit, to avoid getting ourselves into unsafe situations. Given our limited knowledge of the local culture when it comes to relationships between the genders, we figured better safe than sorry. Sorry, boys, this will be a fling-free vacation for us!!
We found a great spot in the Artisan Market to get some lunch – a nice meze platter and some much-needed hydration. All that walking, man-dodging and shopping can leave a girl pretty parched!! With temperatures so high in the summer months, water is an essential part of any tourist’s Istanbul in July experience! Re-energized after our meal, we did a bit more shopping, and then we returned to the DoubleTree Hotel, and decided to stay local for dinner. I made plans to see a friend the following night while A had a Turkish bath at the hotel spa. After that, we wandered around trying to find a good dinner spot.
Unfortunately, our neighborhood was full of many clothing stores and not so many restaurants, other than little take-out spots and street vendors. We did see an interesting shop containing all kinds of mannequins of all shapes and sizes, leading me to wonder about society here…. are they maybe more open-minded about body image and what’s beautiful? I don’t know the answer, but it was certainly something I would keep my eye on!
Finally, we came across a hotel (I think it was the Mosaic Hotel) that had an attached restaurant, and a lovely outdoor seating area. We had a delicious dinner, complemented by some local beer. A and I made an effort to try a lot of the local delicacies and dishes in addition to the brews, and we enjoyed every bite. All in all, a lovely meal, at a nice place. A great night to end a great first day in Istanbul!!
On day 2, we actually managed to get the CitySightseeing Bus in the Hagia Sophia area, and were able to do the tour of the city. Unfortunately, we realized that the lines for the Basilica Cistern and the Topkapi Palace were far too long for us to wait in (especially in the heat), so we would have to pass on them until we can manage a return to Istanbul. I know I definitely want to go back and see more!!! Topkapi Palace is at the top of my list for a return trip!! Regardless, the tour of the city was great, giving us a better
idea of the layout and giving us a different perspective, riding in the top of the double-decker! I loved seeing the architecture and the various neighborhoods (though occasionally hideous traffic slowed us down in our trip), and I was particularly enthralled with the many ornate wood-front buildings like the one pictured here.
After the tour, it was time for lunch, and we found a restaurant between Hagia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar, where we could sit in the shade and listen to a daytime call to prayer, and watch as the poorly stored boxes of wine sat & sweltered in the mid-day sun. A lovely meal, at a lovely restaurant…. though we did pass on wine, after seeing the storage spot!
We spent the afternoon at the Grand Bazaar, yes, more shopping, but mostly just walking and browsing. That’ll be a separate post though. Too many pictures to share to put them all in here! Instead, I’ll share the story of the scariest cab ride of A or my lives! We were going across town to meet up with my friend E and her new husband near the Galata Tower for dinner. We hailed a cab by our hotel, and away we went….at a scary pace, when possible! When that wasn’t possible, and we got stuck in some traffic, our cab driver saw it as no obstacle….. he just went the wrong way down a narrow one way street, forcing the oncoming traffic (that had the right of way) to let him squeeze past very narrowly between them and the parked cars, just barely
getting through. A and I were white-knuckling the whole ride and actually had beads of sweat from nerves, not the heat, by the time we arrived! We were early, so the first thing we did was find a bar/restaurant that could serve us each a cool, crisp, refreshing glass of local rose wine! Now, the Turks are not known for their wine, but in that moment, it tasted quite delicious, and provided the necessary relaxation!! We met E and B for dinner, and they introduced us to Turkish Raki (which is different from Greek Raki, which we had enjoyed at our friend M’s wedding). Turkish Raki turns white when poured over ice or add water to it, and has more of an anisette taste to it. Catching up with E and meeting her husband was the perfect end to our evening, and then it was back to the hotel because the following morning we were scheduled to take off to Ephesus for the next stop on our Turkish tour!
More details about our Turkish Travels soon! In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a few more photos.