Istanbul is wonderful, and my sad lack of notes in my travel journal is a sign that I was savoring every moment and didn’t want to stop for too long to write it down. I loved being in Istanbul. I wanted to try living there. It’s beautiful, everywhere we went the people were friendly, the culture and history is fascinating, the food is delicious. And lest you worry about the lack of content in this, my final post on our Europe 2006 trek, I surely made up for the dearth of words in photographs.
We stayed at the wonderful Dersaadet Hotel, a reconstructed 19th century Ottoman Mansion, in the center of Istanbul (Sultanahmet). The owner and staff were extremely friendly and helpful — in fact, on our last night there (we stayed five nights) they upgraded us to a larger room. My favorite part of the hotel was the rooftop terrace where we had breakfast every morning and often returned to in the afternoon for tea. The views from the terrace were amazing. We slept with our window cracked the first night and the sound of the early morning call from one of the nearby minarets is something I will never forget. I took this first set of photos from the rooftop terrace.
A driver from the hotel met us at the airport and drove us to the hotel. We arrived around 8 or 9 in the evening. We were hungry for dinner but also a little tired out from our day of flying (we flew on Olympic Airlines from Rome to Istanbul with a long layover in Athens…but hey, my first “trip” to Greece! I made a point of ordering Greek airport food…I will say this. It definitely beats a lot of American airport food I’ve tried…) so we asked the hotel owner to recommend someplace close by where we could find dinner. We ended up at Doy Doy across the street. You have to walk up several flights of stairs, first through the ground floor (I’m not even sure this was part of the same restaurant), then through the smoking lounge, then you arrive at the rooftop where the restaurant is located. We shared lamb kebabs and flatbread, lentil soup, and a hearty farmer’s salad of diced cucumbers, diced tomatoes, cubed cheese, fresh herbs, and a light lemon and oil dressing. It was great…and filling!
We did a lot of walking in Istanbul. On our first full day, we went to the Blue Mosque…
…and Topkapi Palace, built by Mehmet II between 1459 and 1465.
Our first night, we ate at a restaurant called Develi, also recommended by our hotel. They even arranged a ride to and from the restaurant for us. In some ways it reminded me of going for dim sum, as waiters would bring dishes by and you would just say yes or no (I said yes a LOT). We loved the little bowls of cheese, onions, and herbs on the table. We also ate quite a lot of meat. I remember everything being great and the rooftop terrace was very pleasant.
The next day we saw the Hagia Sofia, a structure more than 1400 years old. It was built over two earlier churches and inaugurated by Emperor Justinian in 537. In the 15th century the Ottomans converted it into a mosque. Inside it is a truly amazing and beautiful sight to see…
Afterwards we went to the Basilica Cistern. The cistern was built under Justinian in 532. The Ottomans did not even know the cistern existed for a century after the conquest, and only rediscovered it after people were found collecting water, and even fish, by lowering buckets through holes in their basements. The Medusa head bases are in a back corner of the vault, and are evidence of Byzantine plundering. They are also really cool.
We walked around afterwards until we found good spot for a Turkish coffee and kunefe, the delicious sweet cheese pastry. In fact, I very much enjoyed the sweets in Turkey and sampled them often.
We spent the next day shopping. We walked around the Sultanahmet some, then over to the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar. While I found the two bazaars to be a visually stunning and beautiful, exciting place, I somehow did not take any photographs. I also did very little shopping and left that up to Chris. I am simply not good at negotiating and, quite frankly, I can’t stand it. Chris, on the other hand, thrived on it and we found all kinds of goodies to bring home.
That night we had dinner on another rooftop terrace above a hotel, and for the life of me I cannot remember the name. I remember that I had grilled fish and Chris had lamb, but I don’t remember it being especially great. I will never forget our waiter, however…he was so cute! You could tell he really enjoyed speaking English with us (even though I had really been trying hard to pick up more than just a few Turkish words!) and after every other sentence, it seemed, he’d exclaim “High five!” and hold out his hand for a slap from each of us. It was great! The funniest part of the meal came at the end. We both ordered Turkish coffees with our dessert, and the waiter set one down in front of Chris, and one in front of me. Mine, however, was completely wrapped in a paper napkin (saucer, cup, and all) that was twisted at the top. He looked at me and said “a bomb!” He then proceeded to pull out a lighter and light the little twist on fire so that the napkin flamed out revealing my coffee. He was very proud. It was really too funny.
On our last day in Istanbul we walked along the Eminönü — the port area where ferries depart for trips along the Bosphorus. Here we found some fantastic fish sandwiches.
We left Istanbul on a 5am flight, which meant leaving our hotel around 3am or so. Another couple at the hotel was also headed to the airport, so there were four of us in the car plus the driver. The one odd thing we experienced occurred on this drive. We were on what felt a little like a highway (at least it was a multi-lane fast-moving roadway) and we encountered a roadblock. At this roadblock, officials (soldiers?) looked in the car and appeared to ask the driver for papers. The discussion became quite heated between the driver and the officials. Or course I had no idea what was going on. They let us through, though, and we made it to the airport in plenty of time. And thus began our journey home. Three and a half weeks, five countries, more photographs than I know what to do with, and memories to last me a lifetime. But really, this trip only whetted my appetite for travel. I am hungry for more.