“Power Through” – Istanbul, Turkey: Day 8 of Europe 2011

19 06 2011

June 18 –  and some of 19, 2011

Highlights: Galata Bridge, Galata Tower, Bosphorus Cruise, Pet Bazaar, Spice Bazaar

We woke up today and decided ‘We’ve had a busy couple of days, let’s just chill out today and take it easy. We slept in a little, went for a leisurely late breakfast in this great city that was at a perfectly warm temperature! ‘Why don’t we take the tram and take a walk down the Galata Bridge today?’ I said to f.  ‘Sure, we can have some ‘balik ekmek’ (fish sandwich) by the water and just relax’ he says.

So off we went, got our change for the tram and I even stopped to get some freshly squeezed orange juice at a stand close by. (Gawd I love being on vacation). We see one tram go by that wasn’t ours, which I was grateful for because it was packed with people who looked like sardines, and I am ever so slightly claustrophobic. Of course, the second train, which was ours, was no different. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting really.

Slowly but surely my heart started to race a little bit, knowing that I would have to stand close to a bunch of strangers and be enveloped by the pasino… have I mentioned that I have a very very delicate nose and I am extremely sensitive to smell? Now I know that I sound like a spoiled North American brat, and instead of being so silly and dramatic about it all, some of you may be thinking ‘suck it up princess, you’re in Turkey for Pete’s sake. Get over it and enjoy the view.’ And the truth is you’re right. I should have been more ‘breezy’ and ‘go with the flow’ about it all, and yes when I complain about body odour in other countries, I am aware of how I must sound. It’s not my intention to be disrespectful to anyone or any culture, ever, but I would be lying if I said that the entire time I was on the tram I wasn’t thinking ‘Please Jesus, Allah, and all of the other Gods out there. Please pool your powers together and get me off of this train before I die a very slow and painful death.’  But then I decided ‘No! I am not a princess, I can do this… I will power through’…and by golly, I did survive!

Emininou Station could not have come any sooner than it did! We walked out of the station and there was the beautiful Bosphorus! For those of you who plan on taking a little tour around the Bosphorus on a boat/ferry… you don’t really need to do a whole day affair if all you want is to sit on the boat for an hour. Just come to Emininou station and there will be a million boats waiting to take you around the sea for an hour or two. They run every hour so whenever you get there, chances are there will be one waiting for you.

The Galata bridge is just what we expected it to be… and a little more. This bridge was full of fisherman on both sides… there was barely any room for me to lean over the bridge and pretend I was the girl on the titanic… but I managed. What was cool about this scene was that the fisherman weren’t just men, they were more fisherpersons if we want to get technical. We saw kids, young people and even aunties wearing their traditional attire all fishing! Awesome right!! Moments after we started walking the bridge, we noticed a bunch of people huddled in one corner more than the other, so we peered over to see what the drama was all about. There were kids jumping off of the bridge into the water! When we saw this one bicharo standing up there just staring at the water beneath him, I whispered over to f  ‘Aw look at him, he’s so scared to jump but all of his friends just did and they’re cheering him on at the bottom, so he feels pressured.’ He did end up jumping in the end… I guess peer pressure is another one of those things that translates into every language and culture all the same.

Crossing the Galata Bridge led us to the other side of the city where the Galata Tower was waiting for us at the top of a very steep hill. I’m sure my gluteus maximus will thank me for making that trek one  day. The view from the top of the tower was definitely worth the walk to get there and the tight squeeze we had to endure being up there with so many people in such a small space. If you are really claustrophobic my advice: don’t jump and ‘power through! Believe me… it is worth it!

On our way back from the tower, our plan was to head towards the spice market, but before we could make our way to the tram, we were stopped by ‘Ali.’  ‘Come on my cruise. I take you one and half or two hours on Bosphorus. You see European side and Asian side. English speaking guide. 40 Turkish lira. Best price.’  We got him down to 25TL and but we both had conditions. F says ‘ Do you have Efes (beer) on boat, and I said ‘ Ice Cream or no?’ Lucky for F the beer was in stock but I had to buy my ice cream before we got on the boat. It was a really nice ride… we got to see some nice hotels on the water like the 4 Seasons and The Kipinski.  ‘Su Ada’ is also along the water… it seemed like it was in the middle of the water so I think you have to take a boat to get there. Anyhow… it turned out that the guide didn’t speak English at all. In fact, there was no guide really… just a guy handing out Efes and Cay. But it was still a nice and peaceful experience. I don’t think it’s a huge deal if you don’t do it… but if you do you’ll enjoy it.

So after the boat cruise, we started to make our way to the spice bazaar. I said to f ‘why are there so many animals in here. Do they really have birds, cats and dogs in the same space as all of these spices? And gawd it smells awful for a place that should be aromatic.” Of course, after taking a bit of a closer look, we realized that the ‘spices’ were actually different types of animal food! Who knew that there were so many different types and textures of bird food… not I!

In our defence, we did ask for directions to the Spice Bazaar and we were led right to the Pet Bazaar. Firstly the two are next door to each other, so they are easily mistakable… secondly, nobody told us there even was a pet bazaar so we didn’t know we should expect it there. Definitely a mistake anyone would have made. Don’t judge us!

When we finally did make it to the spice bazaar, we found a lot of kiosks selling Turkish delight, pashminas, jewellery, children’s clothing and tons of other knick-knacks. F was pretty tired by this point since it was almost 8pm and we had a pretty intense day considering it was supposed to be ‘relaxing.’ But he was a trooper and I was happy because every other store had Turkish delight samples! I love Turkish delight and I love samples… it’s like going to Costco, we all know the real reason we go to Costco… it’s not for the deals, or the ‘bulk’ products. It’s all about the samples! Thanks for making Costco such a big part of my childhood dad…  gawd I love ya!

We spent our last night in Istanbul having dinner in the Kumpkapi square. It was a great dinner but unnecessarily expensive. I mean come on people… you get your seafood from your backyard, don’t even tell me these fish are a ‘rare’ and ‘exotic’ find. And if I order a ‘roasted red pepper dip’ obviously I would assume it comes with bread. Even the waiter assumes I would eat it with bread because he is the one who brings the bread without me asking. So naturally I would be wondering ‘ummm why is there a charge for the bread?’ I hate it when restaurants are sneaky like that. I mean why not just increase the price and include the bread in the dish? It’s fine, I will still order it for the extra 4TL! I’m just not a fan of people trying to pull a fast one on me… ah well it was a good meal nonetheless and we had even had some live entertainment as well!!

On our final day in Istanbul we finally found a restaurant that sells Efes and Nargileh!! Hooray, now we know what to do when we come back here in two weeks before heading to Portugal.

Istanbul finally done for now. On route down south to Antalya!!!


“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!

Istanbul Turkey, Day 5 of Europe 2011

15 06 2011

Teşekkür Ederim!                                                                            Day 5- June 15                                                                           Highlights: Hotel location, Beyazit Square, Ahmed, Zeinub

Teşekkür ederim means ‘Thank you very much’ in Turkish. If you ever go to Turkey, learn how to say these words and say them right… Theh-Sheh-Koor   Eh-Dheh-Rim. You can do it!!

Istanbul is everything that everyone has said it is… full of culture and history, east meets west, blend of old and new and it is HUGE! We have dedicated a total of 6 days to this city (4 at the beginning, 2 at the end) and for good reason too. There is just so much to do… and when there is that much to do, you have to balance it with blocks of having nothing to do which means smoking a lot of nargile (Sheeha/Hookah/Water-Pipe) and drinking a lot of Efes, the local beer.

We are staying in Sultanamet which is considered the ‘old city’ of Istanbul. It’s a great location to be based at because a lot of the major sites like the Aya Sofia, Blue Mosque, Museum of Turkish and Islamic Art, Mosaic Museum, Grand Bazaar and the Basilica Cistern are all close to each other and were walking distance from where we were – The Barceló Hotel. Oh yes… and the Topkapi Palace was minutes away as well.

By the time we arrived and got settled in Istanbul on Wednesday the 15th, it was sometime in the early evening so we decided to explore the area. While we were walking, we discovered somewhat of a common theme amongst other Muslim countries we have been to before…  most area’s have themes to them as opposed to what we see in North America where there are plazas and strip malls all over the place. In Istanbul, while we were walking, we noticed that all of a sudden we were in the ‘children’s’ area. Stores upon stores of children’s clothes, children’s toys, mini bikes and mini shoes everywhere. Then we turned the corner and we saw tires, car parts and handy services all over the place, then came the women’s clothing section. And the entire time all I could think about was ‘For the love of Jesus, please tell me there is a ‘Food’ section coming up because these corn  and ‘ekmek’ (bread) stands that I’m seeing on every other corner are not going to cut it for me right now.

It’s true when they say ‘Ask and you shall receive’ because moments after I had that thought, F and I stumbled upon an entire intersection full of restaurants. Of course since we were never told about it, we assumed that this little area was a secret gem that nobody knew about. Seeing as every restaurant had ‘Kumpkapi’ written beside it, I investigated a bit further and discovered that we were in the ‘Kumpkapi/Beyazit’ square… a very popular and well known area in Sultanamet.

One of the best parts of travelling is the people you get to meet and interact with along the way. While I tend to be a bit shy sometimes, Farhan is the opposite. Any opportunity he has to say ‘What’s your name? I am Ferrrhaaan and this is my wife, Farrahhh’ he will take it. I really am thankful for that because if he wasn’t as friendly as he is, we wouldn’t have learned that our waiter’s name is ‘Ahmed’, and learning to say ‘Teşekkür Ederim’ or ‘Hesap’ (bill) would have taken a lot longer than it did. I have to tell you about the cutie little peanut we saw at this restaurant we were at. Ahmed told us that she was the owner’s granddaughter… Zeinub, and she was the cutest, chubbiest little thing ever. I couldn’t help but take a million photos of her just sitting and pouting at one of the tables. Poor thing was probably bored out of her skull watching a bunch of adults around her smoking nargile and drinking Turkish cay (chai), but for us adults… it couldn’t have been more perfect. We had people to the left of us playing backgammon,  people to the right smoking away, Zeinub running around trying to entertain herself and the entire street just singing, dancing and laughing the whole night. I swear it felt like Christmas in the summer. Even the way this entire intersection was lit up… Christmas lights and Icicles everywhere… just no snow. It was perfect!! As Farhan said while we were walking along the water in the dark at 930pm, watching tons and tons of fishermen at work ‘Wow, Turks definitely know how to do maja (party).’ That they do dear husband… that they do!