Monday, October 14, 2013

Istanbul (or is it Constantinople? or maybe Byzantium?)

It's been awhile since our last posting. Partly because we've been struggling to encapsulate Istanbul into a posting but also because we've been busy trying to take advantage of the many opportunities that Turkey has to offer.  

Attempting to provide some context, things that come to mind are:
- It has millenniums of history with three relatively well known names. Founded around 660 BC as Byzantium, it was renamed Constantinople in 330 AD.
- It is a BIG city, about 14 million population.
- It is both very western and very Muslim. BUT again, as in Bosnia & Herzegovina, many Muslims dress in western clothes.
- It spans two continents making it amazingly easy to get photos that also span two continents.

Europe (on left), Asia (on right)
- It spans eras. While surrounded by the ancient buildings of the Sultanahmet, you can't miss the more modern neighborhoods of Galata/Beyoglu across the Golden Horn or Asian Istanbul across the Sea of Marmara
- There is constant boat traffic ferries, freighters, fishing boats and cruse ships on the waterways surrounding the city…the Bosphorous Strait (connecting to the Black Sea), the the 
Sea of Mamara (connecting via the Daranelles to the Agean Sea) and the Golden Horn that separates European Istanbul into two parts.
- Ancient mosques with their minarets dominate the skyline of the Sultanahmet district (the number 1 tourist area. Hagia Sophia from 537 AD has a century on the other two biggies: Blue Mosque (built 1609-16), Süelmaniye (built 1550-57)
A few minarets
Hagia Sophia
Blue Mosque (To distinguish the Hagia Sophia from the Blue Mosque,
study the minarets & the number of domes.)
- It is hilly. We don't know if the hills have names, but we do know there was a lot of up and down in our daily touring.  (Pat decided to make it more challenging by missing that last, shorter step on our apartment staircase thereby spraining her ankle badly on day 2 of 11. It slowed us down but with 11 days, we didn't mind so much.)
- The noted markets (Grand Bazaar & Spice Market) are both touristy but the Spice Market which features spices (duh), foods, herbal products, etc is for locals as well. The streets (make that alleys) between them are markets as well. And in the Asian tradition, there are blocks featuring toys, others featuring kitchen goods or tools or sewing supplies, etc. And then, just go a little further afield and you can find streets with high fashions and world renowned brands.

Spice Bazaar 
Grand Bazaar
- It served as the capital of four empires: the Roman Empire (330–395), the Byzantine Empire (395–1204 and 1261–1453), the Latin Empire (1204–1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453–1922). (details thanks to wikipedia) We can't explain more here, for instance we hadn't even heard to the Latin Empire until our Guides kept mentioning it.

We launched our stay with a culinary tour that introduced us to Turkish tea, Turkish coffee, & Turkish Delight (candy) along with the best of pide (boat shaped Turkish pizza), simit (Turkish bagels), kebaps (locally spelled with a "p"), local spices, local fish, "deli" foods (dried meats, cheeses, marinated veggies, …). At the market we met the masters who make cooking utensils such as long-handled wooden pide/pizza oven spatulas, hand-cranked coffee grinders, rolling pins, knives and skewers for kebabs. After all that we toured the Spice Market. There were stops along the way to try out our guides favorite stands and cafes.  It turns out that our guide, Tuba Santana met our friend Kirsten West in Copenhagen this summer.  

Baking Pide
Handmade wooden kitchen utensils (& toys/tops)

Köfte (meatballs)
Our touring took us to Hagia Sophia Mosque, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace (extensive grounds, too many separate buildings to count, built 1459-65) in the Sultanahmet area. These are three major attractions within 5 minutes walk of each other. One of our favorites though was the 5th century Underground Cistern built to supply water for the growing city. The roof is supported by 336 pillars, each about 26 feet hight.  This is a peaceful place to visit both because it gets fewer visitors but there is something very meditative about being surrounded by a simple repeating pattern, in this case the columns. Nearby was an updated Roman mile marker and directional sign...
Pillars supporting the top of the underground cistern
Updated sign post
The Grand Bazaar was just a little too much for us. Still it was interesting to explore the winding alleys. Although the Grand Bazaar is officially in Europe it has the Asian organization with areas specializing in related  products. You want jewelry, go to the jewelry area. You want a rug, go to the rug area. Got it? We suspect so.

On the day after Pat sprained her ankle (she was suffering from having spent a little too much time exploring Istanbul), we decided to give the ankle a rest and took the cruise up the Bosphorus. We passed under two bridges that cross between Europe and Asia. We continued to Anadolu Kavagi, a local favorite destination for fish restaurants. Pat loved her deep-fried mussels. After eating we explored the small town and then boarded the ferry for the return trip to Istanbul.  

Fried Mussels 
Meze / Starter / Tapa Selection
We stayed in Istanbul for 11 days and chose a lovely apartment near the Galata Tower (a 6C round structure made of stone and topped with a conical roof. It provides great views of Sultanamet, especially at sunset). The apartment was well-equipped for cooking and we took some advantage of that although we didn't get carried away.  We did enjoy buying wine at the local tasting room. They were very knowledgeable but it was odd because they are only licensed as a tasting room, so if you want to buy a bottle, they need to open it first.
Galata Tower
Our apartment was also near Istiklal Avenue which is a long street with a combination of upscale and international brands combined with some local markets.  There is a cute trolley, reminiscent of the cable cars in San Francisco,  that runs between the Galata area and Taksim Square.  Pat likes the clothes in Mavi, sportswear all made in Turkey. We were also happy to find wool gloves once the weather turned cold.  We didn't need them so much for Istanbul, but we were preparing for an early AM ballon flight in Cappadocia…where the weather had also turned cold…more on that later.

One day we took the ferry across to the Asian side to explore Bagdat Street in Kadikoy. This is also one of those could be anywhere places with boutiques, cafes & restaurants mixed together along 5-6 kilometers of street with spacious sidewalks. This trip entailed our firs Dolmus experience.  A Dolmus is a van seating may 15 people that operates as a shared taxi.  They follow a set route. You can get in or out anywhere along the route. And they run frequently. Very convenient.  

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