The Many C's of Istanbul
by, 06-27-2014 at 08:26 AM (941 Views)
Culture, Cuisine, Character, Cacophony, Charisma, Confusion, Congestion...
We spent six days in Istanbul--barely enough time to scratch the surface. There is so much here. Hence, Confusion--where to stay, where to go, what to eat, etc. Congestion is normal in any major city; it's quite prevalent at the bazaars, sites and on transportation.
Traveling w/sister and niece, we dubbed this a chick trip. The chicks arrived hours after I had gotten settled. I waited at an open cafe until their van arrived. Once they got in they were ready to go. It was evening and with long flights from SFO and ATL, we opted for a local restaurant for meze (appetizer plate and split a kebab). We had lots to figure out the next day.
I had plans to take them to the Grand Bazaar and, yes, it is grand and very Congested and BUSY! I knew a merchant there (Jimmy @ silvercorner--a friend of airline crews) and we spent much of the morning shopping and visiting. He treated us to lunch, so he got us some stools to sit and enjoy the Cacophony of the bazaar. After visiting some of his merchant pals, we wandered some more, soaking up the Charm and Character of Istanbul. We moved back to our hotel, slightly spent ($$ spent, too!) to enjoy some dinner and a good night's rest.
We had a chance to hire a guide thru a recommendation from O--thank you so much! Starting w/a taxi, Suleyman took us to the spice bazaar (aka Egyptian B) and more $ went to the Turkish economy. He put us all on a ferry and guided us thru the sites w/his historical knowledge and we explored foods and products in the local markets on the Asian side. We rode another ferry, a small bus (that leaves when it fills ) and a tram to return to see a mosque and ended back at the hotel (in the same area where Suleyman lived with his wife and family. Somewhere in between we had lunch in Asia, a walk thru the main shopping street in the city (where protests have been brewing for weeks). We even managed to take funicular type tram thru a very short tunnel. Fascinating!
Tremendous amount of walking in Istanbul--maybe I should add callous to my list...Calves for sure since mine ached after the second day. To the rescue--Hammam!!
The Turkish bath houses are quite interesting. We chose one of the largest frequented by many tourists (we did see locals, as well). Cemberlitas (ch and sh sounds--Turkish is a beast to pronounce until you get some language guidance). Quite an experience to get a locker, change into bikini bottom (or swimsuit if preferred). Next step in to lay on a giant heated marble
slab w/30 or so other women, each w/our pestemal (small wrap) to sweat. When the attendant is ready for you, you move over to the edge of the slab and lay near it. She scrubs your skin to exfoliate and more--"turn, sit, down, over, sit <splash>) rinse and repeat w/massive piles of soap bubbles--same directions. Mine took my hand (very slippery!!) and guided me to the towel room. I wrapped up and waited for my optional oil massage. She was good but pretty hard on my "handbag" shoulder. All done and ready to do more stuff! It was quite an experience.
Return trips to both bazaars (why did I NOT buy shelled pistachios??).
We wound up our trip w/touring the Aya Sophia and Blue Mosque (caution--there are alternate closings for the major sights). Make sure you know when what is open! Both sites are quite amazing and if you have it guide they are best explained but w/a proper guidebook like Rick Steves' paying a guide is not necessary. Tickets (or passes) should be purchased in advance for some sites and can be delivered to your hotels.
We splurged our last night and walked down the lower area of Sultanahmet (home of our 3 hotels--long story). Niece found a prix fixe dinner (a bit steep at $75/pp) that included 20 different small mezes--yes, 20!! then 2 appetizers of octopus and squid (outstanding!) then a fish entree--all accompanied with wine, beer, raki http://www.raki.com/raki.asp and a homemade cherry liqueur) Followed by dessert--Turk LOVE their sweets!
Some of our meals were not so stellar but one w/worst food had a dervish performer--quite a hypnotic dance! The views from hotel and restaurant terraces were awesome--Blue Mosque, Sea of Marmara w/massive ships and ferries galore. Our favorite street food was kofte and least fave was a wet hamburger. Lamb is everywhere, beef is prevalent, but luckily for vegetarians, there is so much food at every level for them in Istanbul, too. In fact, there is something for everyone in this City
I'm already trying to figure out when I can return.