Friday, November 29, 2013

Istanbul, Day Four

I may never be able to walk the same again, but if not it was so worth it. Topkapi Palace was such a magnificent experience. I kept waiting for the moment i would walk into a room and not gasp in awe, but it never happened. I can't even count how many Assassin's Creed jokes and references were made today...

We entered through the lower gate which is close to our hotel, so had to walk up the hill. About the time we reached the archaeology museum, which is about halfway up the hill, I realized there was a tram to take us back up. By the time we reached the top I felt like "Eye of the Tiger" should have played while I jumped around with my hands over my head.

We made our way through the Salutation Gate and headed for the Harem. With the cramped quarters it's better to get through there before the crowds get too heavy. There were so many beautifully tiled rooms, elaborately decorated domes and vibrant stain glass windows. Each room was marked with signs so there was no point where I couldn't figure out what i was looking at.

From the Harem we headed to the Museum of Holy Relics. We saw several pieces of the Prophet's beard, Moses's staff, a piece of St. John's skull and arm relic, Kabba keys and gutters, and the sword and bow of the prophet. We also headed through the treasury, filled with sparklies of every color and variety. After wandering through the many outdoor pavilions, we headed to the restaurant where we sat overlooking the Bosphorus and the Asian side of Istanbul. I had stuffed chicken which is my favorite meal here so far, which is saying a lot.

After lunch we wandered through the rest of Topkapi, including the throne room and the Divan, where all the ministers met, and a museum of clocks. There are not enough words to describe all the beautiful things we saw, so instead of trying to tell you, I'll just pic spam it....

Impressive tile and elaborate doorways

Sultan's bedroom

Beautiful stain glass windows adorned many of the rooms.

My husband tried to get an infinity mirror shot

Didn't notice the jewels on this until we saw the pictures

There seemed to be a lot of birds around

Ceiling detail inside one of the pavilions

One of my favorite shots my husband took of the library

Hagia Sophia from th epalace

Entrance to the Divan

Shaded veranda leading to the harem

Pathway details

Stained glass windows in the Harem

Love the window details here, both top and bottom

I swear I didn't see the no photos sign...

The cabinet doors to the left is mother of pearl and a dark wood

Stained glass window inside the library

Another window

Awed by the view, few looked down to see this lovely pond

Not that you could blame them

It was a spectacular view

Royal library... Yah, I need one of these....

Sultan's reception room entry

Fountain outside the library

Sultan's reception area

After we finished at the palace, we started to leave when I realized I had left my purse in the restaurant. I tried to ask the staff for help, but was informed we had to buy another ticket to go get it. Grumbling the whole way, hubby came to my rescue, leaving me to rest on a bench while he hurried back to get it. Thankfully the wait staff had found it and set it aside, so we got it back without any further incident.

We wandered down the hill to the archaeological museum where I was made aware for the first time that something has changed in my thoughts. Shawn is very in tune with the craftsmanship and detail of all the artifacts, while I am more focused on the humanity of them. I actually teared up at the thought that the sarcophagi once was the final resting place of someone's father, or son, or brother. It made the visit a little melancholy for me.

The museum is quite large, with three floors of artifacts, but after our time in Rome four years ago, I was not early as fascinated by each piece, and found honing into the more elaborate pieces. I was especially fascinated by the artifacts from the ships they found while building the new transcontinental subway, and all the amphora they found within them.

For dinner we headed to Kasap Osman, a kabob restaurant. I had the owners kabob wraps, and it was delicious.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Istanbul Day Three

Day three in Istanbul saw a shift in my thoughts from Wow, we still have so much time left to Ohmygod, time is RUNNING OUT!! I don't know what caused the shift, especielly since we still have seven days here.

So today we headed for the big sites, Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, as well as several sies near by. The plaza was beautiful, with designs laid out in the flower beds that we couldn't decided if it was writing or just symbols. The fountain mimics the domes of the buildings and the cobblestone square affords many spots for photos.

Our first tour was Hagia Sophia. The initial structure was the Great Cathedral of the Byzantine Empire, constructed near the Imperial Palace in 360. During riots following the removal of the ruling family, the church was burned and replaced in 415. This on also burned to the ground, only to be replaced in 532 with a grander building that still stands today. The structure is one of the greatest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture. A massive dome crowns a glorious cathedral covered in mosaics and marble pillars. When the Ottomans took over Constantinople, the church was ransacked and pillaged, leaving it in a dilapidated ruin. The sultan ordered immediate renovations, converting the remaining structure to a mosque. They constructed minarets and covered the early mosaics with plaster, unwittingly saving them. In 1935 the site was converted to a museum, and the plaster was removed to display the beautiful mosaics.

Walking through the site, I was awed at the symbols of two of the great Western religions side by side. everywhere I looked there was something beautiful, whether it was colorful tile, intricate stone work or massive structures. The sense of history and significance left me wonderstruck. My husband reffered to the site as "engineer porn."

Once we passed through the baptismal and the courtyard, we exited and made our way over to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. More popularly known as the Blue Mosque, it was built early in the seventeenth century during the reign of Ahmed I and now houses his tomb. The blue tile that gives the structure it's name isn't as vibrant as the ones in the mosque built by Rustem Pasa, the sheer enormity of the structure, elaborate stain glass windows and beautifully carved pillars made up for any sense of lack. More than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles feature over fifty different tuli designs. While Holland is now known as the nation of tulips, they only claimed the title through clever marketing after some bulbs were taken from Turkey. The Turks view the plant as the flower of the god, since the word for tulip looks very similar to the word for Allah. At gallery level, the tiles are modest and traditional, but as they climb higher they grow more elaborate. On the center chandelier, a sharp eyed American pointed out some ostrich eggs, used to repel spiders and avoid cobwebs.

After the mosque, we wandered through the nearby Arasta Bazaar for a scarf, since the weather was rainy and cold and I was freezing. I preferred this market for scarves over the Grand Bazaar. From there we wandered down the exit street, ending up in a plaza that used to be the Hippodrome featuring an Egyptian Obelisk, Constantine's Column, and Column of the Serpent from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. We wandered over to check out the Golden Milestone, which used to mark the start of the Roman Road, measuring out all distances.

We had lunch at Sultan Ahmed Kofteci, which is famous for it's meatballs. The reputation is entirely earned. From there we wandered to the Basillica Cistern, featuring a 400 yard underground cistern that could hold 27 million gallons of water. You could seriously fit Soldiers Field down there! The lighting was beautifull and the structure awe inspiring.

By the time we finished there, I headed back to our hotel for a nap while Hubby headed to the waterfront, taking in some sites around Galata bridge, including the new mosque. When he returned, our room had no power, and we had to call the front desk to get it repaired.

For dinner we caught the ferry over to the Asian side of Istanbul and headed to Ciya Sofresi for dinner. This started off as a horrible experience, two introverted English speakers in a non-traditional ordering system restaurant. The place had no menus, and orders were placed at the counter before sitting. The chef is from Gaziantep in southeastern Turkey, so the meals are different from what you find in the rest of the city. Finally one of the staff came to our rescue and explained the ordering system, as well as describing the dishes. We had sweet potatoes and mince meat as well as bulgur with rice and spinach. It was very good and worth all of the confusion.

Next we headed a few steps down the aisle to a cafe where we were able to get a hookah. We chose red apple, which was a good choice. After we had smoked our fill, we made it back to the ferry just in time, nabbing a seat just as we shoved off from the dock. A short tram ride later, our hotel was in sight when hubby spotted the Packer game airing through the window of The Port Shield, a little pub down the road from our hotel. He happily watched a bit of the game while drinking an over priced Guinness.

Tomorrow we will be heading into Topkapi Palace, so I fully expect to walk my poor feet right off.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Istanbul eats

Istanbul Eats guidebook is a must!
IsToday was our Istanbul Eats tour, so we walked from nine this morning until nearly three this afternoon trying all kinds of different Turkish foods and drinks. After taking the scenic route and only getting slightly lost, we found our guide, Senem, in front of Hamdi restaurant, along with another American couple from St. Louis.

We started with a traditional Turkish breakfast, each piece gathered from little shops outside the spice market. From a street cart, we picked up simit, a pretzel-like bread coated with sesame seeds held in place by grape molasses. Next we were led to a spice stand, where we were given samples of many different types. From there we headed to a cheese stand where we got goat and sheep cheese (which is much tangier than the cheeses I've had, and hubby is from Wisconsin). The man  in the shop tells you what kind of cheese you are getting, instead of picking it out yourself. We also grabbed pickles, which is all kinds of different vegetables here, not just cucumber. Finally we headed into a small "secret place" with a little table. The tour guide set out some water buffalo clotted cream (which was delicious),  olives, and figs. Hubby had Turkish coffee and I had tea, which I was looking forward to coming here. It was so delicious, and the tour was just starting. With where we were eating, all leftovers were used to workers in the building above who couldn't afford food, as well as homeless people and cats.

The next stop was a little stall where we had sweet meats, which is sheep intestines. While I was a little leery of this-- it's made with intestines, after all--I was pleasantly surprised with how good it was. The bread it was served on was soft and flaky and the meat was blended with tomatos, onions and peppers and was very savory. From there we went next door to a meatball, wrapped in lintels and fried. That had some kick to it, but was really good.

I forgot to take a picture, so this is from TripAdivsor
After that, we headed to a shop that made pide, which is kind of a cross between pizza and flat bread cooked in a wood oven. Ours had Turkish salami, tomatoes, cheddar (which is white here), and peppers, wrapped in dough and cooked. The peppers had no spice to them and it was very good.

The gorgeous mosque was covered in brilliant blue tile
After the pide, we visited the mosque built by Rustem Pasa, voted the coziest mosque by Newsweek, according to our guide, Senem. In Muslim belief, if you get rich or powerful, you need to build a mosque to give back to a community. He was so cheap he didn't want to spend his own money, so his architect designed the mosque on the second floor and shop stalls on the first. We headed into the mosque, which is covered with exquisite blue tiles. The lighting fixture was very low, which she explained is because the mosque is a meeting place where people came to pray, sleep and read. So people would be able to read easily, the lights are kept low. The carpet was a lot springier than anything I've felt before, but I suppose if you get on your knees to pray it should be.

A counter full of delicious
From there we headed to a shop where we tried baclava, as well as Nightengale's Nest and some other treats I can't remember the names of. Then we visited a candy shop for Turkish Delight as well as some contract candy, used after the sultan made deals. We then had lamb kabob in one shop, which is unique because he cooks it with the tomatoe and peppers instead of adding them after.

The aged bar that has been used since the 1800's
From there we headed to an aged shop for some boza, made from fermented bulgheur. It tasted quite a bit like applesauce.
Finally we passed the Crown Prince's mosque on our way to the Underground Lamb for lunch. We had a delicious chicken pilaf and lamb served on flatbread. For desert there was a dish of cheese, covered with fine noodles cooked with sugar. It was very different, but very good.

The Grand Bazaar from just inside Gate 1
Thus ended our tour, where we said goodbye to Senem and headed to the Grand Bazaar. Oh. My. God. Talk about overstimulating. The raccoon in my DNA was very happy,, my eyes flitting from sparkling jewelry to vibrant lamps to colorful Pashminas. I didn't know where to look. We grabbed a couple things for our families and headed back to our hotel for a rest.

For dinner we ate at the small restaurant across from our hotel, which is far more touristy and not nearly as good, but not unpleasant either. My knee and ankle were still hurting from my fall the night before, so we called it an early night.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Istanbul~Day One

Swiss villages wrapping around the mountains
We have officially arrived in Istanbul after what might be our smoothest transit to date. All flights were on time, the food was good and my husband actually managed to sleep a little on the plane. We flew Swiss Air, and the service was spectacular and the service amazing. I am very proud of myself because for the first time ever I worked up the nerve to get up out of my seat and pee. Little victories...

Once we arrived and gathered our bags, we headed to the exit where we were told someone would be waiting with a sign with our name on it. Great idea in theory, bt in reality there is a crush of bodies standing, each holding handwritten signs we then have to read. We split up and found our ride. There was a wait while our shuttle arrived, but after 24 hours of recycled airport/airplane air, and temperatures in the teens at home, it wasn't terrible. We arrived and checked into our hotel, Hotel Erboy, where we got a complimentary dinner for booking direct and a refreshing welcome drink that was a sort of lemony tea that felt good on my overly dry throat.

Hagia Sophia
Once we got cleaned up in our rooms and Skyped with our eighteen month old son, we headed to the restaurant, Pasazade Ottoman Cuisine for our free welcome dinner. Our meal included an appetizer, entree and desert. My husband ordered a cheese plate and I went with Arap Tava -- fried minced lamb and veal with green peppers and onions served over hummus. It was delicious. For our entrees, I went with Mutancene, lamb stew with apples, apricots, honey, almond, walnut, cardamom, and fresh herbs served on Antonian grain pilaf. Shawn ordered the Sultan's Favorite, Beef entrecote stew with sun dried apricots, apple, and almonds, seasoned with cardamom, fresh thyme, basil and rosemary, served with roast eggplant mush. Though we tried each other's dishes, a consensus was not reached on who ordered better, as we each preferred our own entree. A sampler platter for dessert was lackluster, aside from the star, a delicious balaclava. With the check, the waiter brought us a dish of Turkish delight. I didn't care for the mint ones, but the others tasted like a gummy lemon drop to me and I loved it. So on our first day, all my food goals are already filled, save for a genuine Turkish kabob which will come soon.

Blue Mosque
After dinner we wandered a little, finding our way to the plaza in front of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, where we snapped some pictures. After a long day of traveling and poor sleep on the plane, we decided to call it a night. On the way back o the hotel, I took a bit of a spill when I twisted my ankle on a raised cobblestone, skinning my knee and getting road rash on my hands. But I'll survive.