Three Months in Istanbul
"I have not told half of what I have seen."
March 31-Where My Peeps At?
March 18- The Empress of Konstantiniye
It was a good day. The sun is shining and we had good fortune in our wanderings. Well, one thing was not so great. Last trip, we were delighted to find Binbirdirek Cistern. It had a lovely tea room and some great models of ancient Constantinople that really were helpful. Now, there is just a modern bar, a few tables, and no models. I wouldn't have minded so much, but they still want 10 lira to get in! Don't bother.
Things turned around for us pretty quick, though. We were wandering in the area that we stayed in the first time we visited Istanbul and we found a place we had lost. There was a shop that featured therapeutic Turkish music. It dissapeared some years back and reappeared for us today in a new location. We sat and had tea and bought a book of Sufi music and a CD, we're going back next week to get a program on CD with many lessons on Turkish Music. Very exciting stuff; and very nice people.
Stopped for lunch. One waiter asked us where we were from. We then asked him where he was from. Good way to make friends. I went off to the restroom, and when I came back, he was sitting in my seat and he and Ted were chatting it up. Take just a little interest in people here, and they open up. It's very nice.
We wandered til we decided it was tea time and found a wonderful new place in an old building. Amazing desserts. Ted ordered aşure. We've never tried it before. It tasted like Christmas. Even though this was our first aşure, it was instantly obvious that this was a fine specimen. I can't imagine that there is better to be found in the city of Istanbul. What a nice place. It's on Divan Yolu and it's called "Hafiz Mustafa". I recommend it without the slightest hesitation.
Walking home, 3 guys walked past us carrying instruments; a darbuka, a beat up cumbuş, and a Turkish Gypsy clarinet. Sure sign of a good time, as they say in the beer commercial. We followed them a short ways, and I prodded Ted to ask them where they were playing. He asked. They pointed down the street. Ted asked them if they were playing at a restaurant. Yes. They walked on. Should we follow? We just ate. We sort of stalked them for a block. We stopped. Well, we could see where they were going and catch them tomorrow night. OK. We ran to catch up. They headed into an area full of tourist restaurants. They wandered. They were looking for a place that would hire them. They doubled back. We were busted. Yeah, we're stalking you. One of those guys who tries to drag you into their restaurant tried to drag us into his restaurant. We said, "are they playing here?" "Uh." "We'll come eat here tomorrow night if they are playing here." "OK, tomorrow night", then turning to the musicians, "tomorrow night? OK." We'll see. Maybe we got them a gig. Maybe we got tricked. No music, no dinner.
Headed towards home again, I see a manaquin wearing something I like. We go down a hall into a shop. It's run by Syrians. They have magnificent dresses. Of course, I fall in love with the most expensive one in the shop. It's about $250. Reasonable for the amount of work on it. It looks Byzantine. Really Byzantine. Empress Zoe Byzantine. It's too small. Where the hell am I going to wear it anyway? I still might get it. I can open up the sides and put in a little extra material.
March 16- Dinner and a Show
We like the area around Fatih Mosque. It's got a Wednesday market; in fact, the neighborhood is called Çarşamba, which means "Wednesday", because of the Wednesday market. It's got a sweet little area with fish, produce, cheeses and yogurts, honey, and natural foods. It has a charming block of hookah bars and coffee shops; and right next to that is the beginning of the aquaduct. It's only about 20 feet high there, and gets really high over Attaturk Blvd, where several lanes of traffic passes under it.
We intended to find an old Byzantine church that we knew was on a hill nearby. We were standing at this end of the aquaduct, when an older man and his daughter tried to ask us a question. As soon as they realized we were not locals (hey, that's a landmark. I thought we were pretty obviously not), they excused themselves and went on to ask someone else. Ted said, "they are asking about the market." Now, it wasn't Wednesday, and you can't miss the market when it is, it's the biggest in Istanbul. So we watched where they went. They followed the aquaduct down and turned left into a very sweet pedestrian area with many tea gardens, produce shops and butcher shops. We stopped and had tea and bought some fruit leather stuff that had walnuts but tasted peanuty.
We walked on through a neighborhood of butcher shops til we found the church.
I can't include a photo because it's undergoing restoration and it shrouded in scaffolding and canvas. It's gorgeous, though, and you can see many images here. There was a very nice cafe open on it's terrace. It was just a beautiful day, so we sat and had lunch. Quite a view from up there.
As we sat there, we noticed 2 boys on a nearby roof top, really high up. They kept pigeons.
Notice in the video how far down the cars are. Sorry it's a little dark. I had to film through the glass surrounding the patio; as you realize when the ghost of the waiter walks by.
This is most of the way up a very steep hill. They are exercising the birds, one is waving a stick to keep them from landing on the roof, the other is clapping his hands and throwing rocks. I don't want to think about where those rocks were landing. When a pigeon lands later, he jumps out and pounces on the bird and stuffs it back in the coup. Wow. Dinner and a show.
March 15-Cool Stuff
Getting behind on the blogging. Every other day or so, we say, "We did alot of adventuring yesterday, let's take it easy today; just a short stroll." Inevitably, we end up far afield. Yesterday was that sort of day. We walked so far the day before that Ted barely managed to get his shoes off before falling into bed. What started out as a short stroll yesterday found us so far out that we had to take a taxi back to our neighborhood.
We just kept finding such cool stuff! There was a duck that followed us down the street (I did not eat him). There was a dog on a roof. There was a little fish restaurant village called Samatya. It's just inside the walls beside the Kocamustafapaşa train stop. It's the poor man's Kumkapı. Suits us fine.
We walked up to a tiny corner restaurant with just 4 tables on the sidewalk. Silly us, we asked for a menu. The restauranteur goes running off down the street. We looked at each other and sat down. His wife comes out of the kitchen and asks, in Turkish, if we speak Turkish. I said that I spoke a little and asked, what they offered. She took us into the kitchen and showed us; we ordered and sat down. The owner came back from his search for an English speaker to find that we've already ordered. Some of the best fried mussels we've had this trip and wonderful sardines.
We hopped on the train to Yedikule and walked as far up the walls as we could before flagging down a taxicab. I just love the old Byzantine walls. They are punctuated with towers; some restored, some crumbling, some with earthquake damage that leave huge stone sections separating. On the other side of the walls is a completely different view. (Do not go upon or inside the walls). Outside the walls is a second lower wall, and in between, little Mom and Pop farms. Three times during that walk (twice before and once after the train ride), this gentleman passed us on his art bike.
The third time, he stopped to let us take his picture. I particularly like the pink and white Easter basket.
March 13- Playing Food Critic
We have friends coming from the U.S. to visit next week. They're excited to be making their first trip to Istanbul and have been doing some research online. They found an interesting restaurant and asked if we were familiar with it. We were not.
Asitane is located downstairs in a yellow boutique hotel right next to Kariye (Chora Church). It specializes in "Ottoman court cuisine". That's enough to lure us in.
We took a long, hard look at the menu and ordered two appetizers and 2 main dishes (and a couple beers). First they brought out some simple, but nice bread with 2 little bowls, one with olive oil and herbs for dipping, and another with some sort of tasty tapenade. Both, pretty good. The tapenade did have hints of some unidentifiable and exotic flavors. I think that is what we were hoping to find in the entire meal.
Ted ordered the cabbage rolls with mussel (1844). Most dishes had a date listed by it on the menu. I liked that. The cabbage leaves were very delicate, and stuffed with rice, mussel, and more exotic flavorings.
I ordered the grilled cheese with spicy oyster mushrooms.
Again, we found lovely, exotic flavors. It wasn't too heavy, though there was more cheese than we wanted to eat.
As we were finishing those, the waiter came out with a little surprise. It was a juice drink that he said had pomegranate flowers. It was just lovely after the cheese.
I love the little glasses. I've been seeing them for sale all over Istanbul.
Then, our main courses came. Ted ordered the 1539 goose.
It was a nice flaky pastry filled with shredded goose meat, pilav, almonds, spices, and some kind of little currant-type berries. It was well made, but did not have that exotic edge we were looking for.
I ordered the duck; because I cannot resist a duck.
It came in a deep terra cotta dish with a very good crust. Under the crust were bits of duck, carrots, onions and broth. The broth was a little onion heavy for me, but not too bad. A nice dish, but again, not very exotic.
Conclusion, if we go back with friends, I'll probably go for a variety of appetizers and skip the entrees. This is pretty normal in Istanbul anyway. There are restaurants here that specialize in appetizers, and ordering an entree is not expected.
We were wishing we had room for dessert, but we were stuffed. Still, they gave us a couple bites of Turkish Delight and some tiny cookies with our tea before calling a taxi for us.
For those thinking of visiting, the most expensive entree was around $24. We had a pretty fair sized bill, because we ordered alot of extras, but I think it's reasonably priced for what you get.
March 9- Eyüp
The weather was good today, so we took a ferry to Eyüp. We could have taken a taxi much quicker; but like I said, it was a nice day. It wasn't easy to find the ferry stop in Eminönü. You have to ignore all the obvious stops, go under or over Galata Bridge, past the fish sandwich boats, through the bus terminal, around the fence, up the coast about a block; then you ask someone who tells you to go back you passed it. Can't miss it.
We waited for about 10 minutes on the dock, watching the seagulls trying to take the cormorants' fishes. Sitting upstairs, we got a fine view of the coast. The ferry bounces back and forth at stops along the Golden Horn (or Haliç) til it gets to Eyüp.
We had, on a previous trip, gotten off a bit earlier at the walls, and walked along them to Chora. There is also an old palace between the Haliç and Chora. This time, we went on to that last stop. We were very impressed. We were sorry we only had a half day to spend there as soon as we dove into the neighborhood. Definitely going back.
We grabbed some lunch, because we could see that once we got in it, we would not want to stop. The restauranteur seemed very happy to have some Americans come in. He practically followed us down the street when we left, wishing us well.
Eyüp is a large neighborhood, but the area past the ferry stop is an enormous cemetary. It is named after the standard bearer of Muhammad, who, when he died, asked to be buried here. Now, apparently, everyone wants to be buried here. The entire hillside is covered with graves and tombs. It's just beautiful.
Really, I can't do this place justice. I'm not a poet. I'll just post some photos and tell you to make a whole sunny day of it.
In other news, I ate some sheep's intestines. In the street. They were delicious.
It took me 8 trips to Istanbul to try this. But we passed this guy's stand and decided to go for it. He had newspaper clippings posted from as far away as NYC. He was so neatly dressed in his whitewhitewhite apron, and obviously very proud of his intestines. As you can see, kokoreç is wound around a spit. When it's done, he fine chops it up with hot pepper and spices. He toastes your bread a minute, then slaps that mess on there. Worth it.
March 6- long long walk
We made an interesting discovery today. We've walked by this unusual pavilion on the walls of Gülhane Park below Topkapı Palace many times. It gorgeous, but didn't seem to have anything in it. Today, the gate was open, and no one stopped us from walking up to the door. Then no one stopped us from going inside. (That's our usual policy. If you're not supposed to be there, someone will come out and scold you. We walk til we get scolded.) There was a sign. It's a library and it's free entry.
What a great place to spend a rainy day. We'll definitely be back. They have many of those types of books we've been salivating over, but are soooo heavy. We always bring one or two home and cry when we have to leave the rest behind. This softens the blow. There is one glorious room with giant books of Old Istanbul. It's worth walking up to just to see the rooms.
It was a lovely day to walk through the park. There are the small green parrots with red bills all in the trees. There is a Byzantine ruin. We walked to the end, then sat in a tea garden overlooking the sea. We had decided to walk between the walls and the sea today. After fortifying ourselves with tea, we crossed the big road and started walking. The walls are fascinating. In this area, the sea once came right up to the walls. Now, the road has been built up and up, til the huge gates in the wall are only a few feet high.
We stopped for lunch at a cafe that had been built up on the walls. Just a little travel tip; if you're phobic about cats, don't eat at an open air fish restaurant in Istanbul. There was a lady at the next table with this malady, and Lordy, was she in the wrong place. The poor waiter was running around hissing, trying to chase them off for her, but he was outnumbered.
We walked on through the fish market. They had sharks and some fishes I'd never heard of. Up the hill from that is the famous neighborhood of Kumkapi, with a million fish restaurants, each with it's own competing band. Further still, we realized we were in a Greek neighborhood. We found a gorgeous church and got there just in time to see it before they locked it up for the evening.
Finally we trudged to the top of the hill and ended up at the Grand Bazaar. We had made one enormous loop, walking for miles. We had dinner at an Indian restaurant, just for a change from kebap. The tikka was pretty good, but don't bother with the korma.
March 5- What to do?
This only had to happen to me twice before I figured it out. On one of our first trips to Istanbul, we were walking along behind one of those shoe shine guys you see everywhere. I didn't think anything of it the first time it happened; but he dropped a brush in our path. We picked it up and handed it back to him. He then tried to sell us a shoe shine. Years later, we're walking along behind another shoe shine guy in another area, when he drops a brush. Same thing, here's your brush, how 'bout a shoe shine? I got to thinking I was having some deja vu. I then remembered the first incident. So, it's a trick to engage you. Suspicions confirmed yesterday. Walking along, dropped brush. Ted picks it up. I told him, "it's a trick". Ted calls to the guy, then sets the brush in the guy's reach and we walk on while the guy tries to sell us a shoe shine.
I've got to figure out how to deal with this. It's too cruel! Many merchants will play on your politeness. I got past that quick enough. But this guy's lugging all that stuff, I can't seem to ignore that brush!
I gave alot of thought to whether I should bring the big Nikon camera with me. After all, I take few enough pictures with my handy phone. If I brought the Nikon, I'd just want to take it out for trips where all I did was take photos. Here in Istanbul, I tend to just want to "be". There is also the luggage space to be considered; and when you're here for 3 months, you need more stuff. Now that I've wandered for over a month, often alone, I'm starting to crave that camera. I'd like to catch some of those little details that the tourists miss. They are caught up in gawking at the obvious; the Blue Mosque, the dazzling shops, the tram headed for you. Guess I'll just have to see what I can manage with my phone. I'll take it today as we head for the walls by the sea.
March 2- Gay Dolphin
We found Istanbul's version of the Gay Dolphin today. Just in case you didn't grow up in the Carolinas, I'll tell you that the Gay Dolphin Gift Cove is a tacky tourist trap wonderland of plastic nonsense. It's been an icon in Myrtle Beach SC since 1946 and has it's own closet somewhere in the back of my brain. Guess you had to be there. So here's a link. I could not tell you exactly how to get to the Istanbul version. You'll just have to get lost behind the Grand Bazaar til you find it, just like we did today. It's not worth any great effort; but I found it weirdly interesting.
As we went down the hill and turned right before the Spice Bazaar, we found a really great place. It's a handicraft shop, very large, run by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Apparently, it has several shops. I very much recommend it to anyone who is thinking of buying a rug here. I am no expert, but I thought their prices were pretty good. They had me wishing that I had room in my luggage for one. There are many examples that are hanging on the wall. So they are easy to see and they have PRICE TAGS! So, it's a great place to do a little research and get an idea of what Turkish made kilim are available.
Locations are listed on their website.
I stopped by a large branch of the post office today to get stamps. It's Saturday, so I was glad they were open. I couldn't understand most of what the lady said, but I did gather that she DIDN'T HAVE ANY STAMPS and that I should come back Monday. Welcome to Turkey. Sorry. Just needed to fuss.
Ted went Bobbing for sazes in Asia the other day, so i wandered up to the biggest street market in Istanbul alone. partway up the hill, i walked by an old lady sitting in a chair on the sidewalk. a few steps on, i saw a kitty that looked like it needed a pet, so i stopped. The old lady started talking a mile a minute in Turkish. I have trouble enough understanding Turks that have all their teeth. I was not in an area tourists go, so she assumed I spoke the language. When she finally stopped for air, i said in halting Turkish, "I'm sorry. I didn't understand. My Turkish is not good." She thought that was pretty funny, and after we finished laughing at me, she started up again. I just pet the kitty and let her go on. Now I have two new friends.
The Fatih market is supposed to be the biggest street market in Istanbul. It was so big, I gave up trying to see all of it, though I saw most of it. I bought 1 pair of socks. Not much of a haul.
Here's Mr Fancycart and me.
This cute old guy had a little pistachio cart that he had decorated with all kinds of shiny and colorful objects. While Ted was taking pix of the cart, he ran over and dropped a scoopful of pistachios into my hand and said, "arkadaş" (friend). I'm going to find a new shiny object to give him to add to his cart next time I see him. I really don't know why he ran over to me like that. He was in the process of selling a bag of pistachios to some other tourist when he stopped and walked over to me. We tried to pay him, we tried to buy some. He refused and said, "arkadaş" again. Then he said, "photo" and Ted took one of us together. He was too cute.
Note: The background for this page was taken from a group of tiles at the Topkapı Palace.