“I Am Alice” – Istanbul, Turkey: Day 6-7 of Europe 2011

18 06 2011

June 16 – 17, 2011                                                                           Highlights: Topkapi Palace, Taksim Square, Basilica Cistern, Ramazan, Corulu Ali Pasa Mederessi, Ortakoy the cat, Kumpir!!

*Apologies in advance… this entry is super long – two days in one post, and it was a busy two days! *

So now that the playoffs of all sports are finally done with, we can finally focus on what we flew across the world to do, explore Turkey, starting with Istanbul. Because we had such a late night during our first night in the city, clearly the next day we slept in a little, but managed to be up by 930am… not bad considering I wanted to be up at 7am. Ha!

As I said in my earlier post, many of the major sites in the city are quite close to each other so we were able to go from one place to the next with ease. We managed to see Topkapi Palace and the Grand-Bazaar in one day, and then saw the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia, Mosaic Museum, Museum of Turkish & Islamic Art, Basilica Cistern the next day…. as well as stop for lunch at Doy Doy and smoke some Nargileh!!

The Topkapi Palace (the Sultan’s residence during the Ottoman Empire) is really big and we weren’t able to do much else in the day because it took quite a while to get through all of it, especially because we used the audio guide to walk us through the entire palace. It was actually quite useful to have it, but make a mental note that you should bring your own headphones because using the same ones that tons and tons of people have used in the crazy heat…well that’s just nasty. Having said that of course, Farhan and I did just that since we didn’t have any headphones and we are happy to report, no ear fungus!

Seeing the Topkapi Palace and all of the artifacts in it was beyond amazing. We saw baby cradles made of diamonds and gold, thrones presented to the Sultans as gifts, Daggers made with emerald stones the size of a small child’s fist… and though it’s authenticity may be questionable, we can now cross seeing Hazrat Ali’s (pbuh) sword and strands of Prophet Mohamed’s (pbuh) beard hair’s off of our bucket list.  If you do get a chance to see Topkapi Palace, make sure you pay the extra 15TL to see the Harem, known as the ‘forbidden’ quarters where all of the women of the palace, including the wives, mistresses, educators, concubines and even the mother of the sultan, who was essentially the queen bee of the harem, resided. Can you believe that there were sometimes as many as 400 concubines living in one area of the harem at one time! They say that once a woman entered through the doors of the Harem, she never left. That Sultan was a busy man J.  

I’m not going to explain every Mosque and museum we saw in detail because that would take forever, and really… that is what Google is for. What I will tell you is seeing firsthand how people used to live and understanding the meaning behind all of these sites is so incredibly fascinating…. like the Basilica Cistern. It’s a city underground! The Basilica is where the water is stored and provided for the Topkapi Palace and a lot of the other sites nearby and it was built in the 500s by Emperor Justinian. Two of the 336 pillars were actually Medusa heads. If you google this, you will see the various myths there are as to why one of the medusa heads is upside down and one is sideways. It’s kind of hilarious to hear some of the things people come up with to make a good story. When we walked down there, I decided it was the coolest site I’ve ever seen. Firstly, it was pitch dark and damp so make sure watch out for those sneaky little water droplets that accumulate on ceilings and land on your head and then in your eye when you look up to see what landed on your head! And though it was pitch dark, we were still able to see with all of the lighting and lanterns that were sparsely located around the walkways. There were also rows and rows of pillars immersed in water, filled with HUGE fish just hanging out, waiting for people to throw coins at them and make a wish.

In between seeing the sites, we took some time to try and see as much of Sultanamet Square as we could. No matter how many mosques and museums you visit, you have to always make time to just walk around and take in the fact that you are exactly where you are. As surreal as it was to see the Muslim relics and walk the grounds of the royals, seeing the cobble stone streets and quaint cafes, and the cutie little aunties in their traditional Turkish dress sipping cay and complaining about their sore feet was what made us feel ‘wow, we are in Turkey!’

On our second night in Istanbul, after seeing Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar during the day, we went to see the ‘other side’ of the city… Taksim Square. Firstly, we took a taxi there which I will advise against if you are doing it in rush hour. Trying to manoeuvre a car through the tiny little inside streets of Istanbul is not a fun experience. Even our cab driver looked like he was about to pull his hair out…and the poor guy was practically bald already. Note to self – no taxis during rush hour, and always negotiate your price before you get in the car… meter or no meter. Second… Taksim Square is crazy! Walking down Istikal Cadessi (the main street in Taksim) F says to me ‘OMG look at all of these people…you’d think that the Canucks just won the cup!’ This area was so different from the ‘old city’ that we were just in. So many restaurants and stores all along the streets… the paved streets that were filled with young people ready to go out and have a good time. 

 We loved seeing the crowds of tourists and locals alike huddled around the ridiculously talented street performers who looked like they were in it for the company and attention more than they were for the money being thrown into their guitar cases. Hopefully they will end up signing big contracts and records deals and I will be able to say ‘ I remember when these guys first started out , Kind of like when Lady Gaga first entered the scene opened up for NKOTB’s come back tour… and look at her now! (Yes I did go to NKOTB’s come back concert in 2008 and it was bloody fantastic. Jordan Knight still rocks my world).

 Pretty much everyday that we were in Istanbul we would always carve out a couple of hours to smoke some narglieh. In Taksim Square we managed to find a cute little restaurant on one of the side streets where our waiter ‘Tookai’ was more than happy to be our host. On our third day, after seeing all of those museums and mosques, and grabbing a bite at Doy Doy, we set out to find a place where we could smoke some narglieh and have a pint of Efes. Now one would think that most places will offer both of these things on the menu… smoking and drinking, however – it was generally either one or the other. I still don’t completely understand why most narglieh cafes won’t serve alcohol, but I guess I just have a lot to learn.

Anyway… I can’t tell you how many streets and cafes we must have walked by to try and find both…with no luck of course. Finally as we were walking, we came across Ramazan the Carpet seller. Ramazan has been living in Turkey for most of his life and has a brother who lives in Canada! New Brunswick to be exact. Ramazan saw how lost the two geeks from Canada looked, so he stopped us and gave us directions to ‘Corlulu Alipasa Mederessi’ (pronounced: Choro-Loo Alipasha Medres… I think) where he said we would find a good place for narglieh. He said ‘just walk past the mosque and you will see it on the corner to the right. You can’t miss it.’ So we walked… and we walked – still no sign of it. Then I looked up and saw a sign that was actually more than miss-able. It was camouflaged into the wall which gave us the impression that this was just another entrance into the mosque. When I looked a little closer and read the words out loud, I said to F ‘This is it! This is the place Ramazan was talking about!!’ He says ‘Really? Are you sure?’ I said ‘Yep. Hullo busi. (Let’s go)’ we walked in and I swear I felt like how Alice In Wonderland felt when she opened the door to the tree and there was a whole new world on the other side. ‘Omg, I am Alice right now’ is exactly what was going through my mind.

We walked through the doors of Corlulu…, and all you could see were tables upon tables of people sitting and smoking nargileh. That’s all this place was… a big ass nargileh city! Of course, no Efes, but whatever – I was Alice! We sat and smoked some yummy apple nargileh, met our new waiter/coal maintenance person –Aidan, and just sat and appreciated that there is always life inside the tree!

After hanging out in what I re-named ‘smokers paradise’ , we went home, had a much needed nap for a few hours and then got ready to go out and mill about the town. I had told F that I didn’t want to go out and party like rock stars, I just wanted to go somewhere with a cool vibe where we could listen to some good music and have a drink. My cutie hubby did some research, pooled all of the info we had received from past Turkey travellers, and decided to go to the ‘W’ lounge, obviously in the “W Hotel’, about a 20 minute taxi right, which was okay because by the time we left our hotel it was about 11:00pm.

After our taxi driver drove us in a few circles, stopped and asked other taxi drivers where to go because he was clearly lost, we finally got to the W Hotel, only to discover that this very cool looking lounge which was exactly what we were in the mood for, was completely lifeless. Not a soul in sight at this place. The concierge told us that most indoor places are not busy during this time of year because everyone just wants to be outside. Turks and tourists wait so long for the summer to come, that when it is finally here, they just want to enjoy it. The concierge was helpful in that he suggested we go to Ortakoy square where the atmosphere is quite lively and enjoyable. “Just walk outside, turn left and walk straight for a few blocks. Maybe 10 minutes and you will see’ he says. Okay, I can handle walking a few feet, no problem. So we walk and walk… not entirely sure what direction we are going in, so we stop and ask someone where to go. A nice girl says to us ‘just straight. 10 more minutes.’ Okay, sure, I can handle 10 minutes… no problem.

45 Minutes later!!!! Finally we find Ortakoy square… facing the Bosphorus Sea, surrounded by cute little cafes and restaurant and some great R&B – a rare find in Europe from my experience.  We walked into ‘The House’ cafe, which is where we would have stayed (very cool vibe and great music), but they weren’t serving food and I was STARVING! So we went next door to ‘Cafe Caydaniik’ and had the most amazing meal of our entire turkey experience to date. If you are ever in Istanbul, go to this restaurant and order the ‘Caydaniik Kebap’… so so yummy and oily… mmmmm!! If the night had ended right here, it still would have been a perfect evening, sitting along the water, lively atmosphere, great food, Efes and ‘happy juice’ at our disposal. What more could a person want. This area was so fab that our waiter had told us that even the cat that was meandering through the tables and in front of the restaurant has been hanging around the area for the last 7 years… they have named the cat Ortakoy!  

After Ortakoy Square we decided to go to ‘Istanbul360’ in Taksim Square since we had heard so much about it. It’s a great club on the 6th floor of some random building on Istikal Cadessi with a ‘360degree’ view of the entire city. Not much else I can say about this place except I couldn’t help but watch the dj spinning for most of the night because he just looked like he was having so much fun. It’s nice to see people who really enjoy their job.

This night finally ended with us getting some ‘Kumpir’ at corner cafe down the street from the club. I like to think of Kumpir as subway on a potato. You start out with your baked potato and then load it up with the toppings of your choice that are in front of you… cheese, corn, pickled cabbage, olives, hot sauce. You get the picture. Very fitting 4:30am type of food!!!  Good night!

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