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A Taste of Istanbul

... the pita platter of tiny meat.

sunny 15 °C
View London to Istanbul on StephenJen's travel map.

Istanbul was the perfect city for our first Eastern experience. We saw some amazing architecture, met some great people, met some very weird people, survived an exciting but terrifying Galatasaray football match, encountered a fortune telling rabbit, indulged ourselves in great food and smoked some very tasty nagileh. Add a traditional Turkish bath into the bargain and you have a recipe for a fantastic birthday.

This trip, for the first time, we flew out of London City Airport. It was a breeze and far preferrable to the Mad taxi dash to Luton. We flew Swissair to Attaturk Airport in Istanbul via Zurich.

We arrived late on Friday afternoon and met our transfer to the hotel. We had a reasonable run through peak hour traffic and had a good view of the city and its prominent sights. We checked in without any problems. The room was small but more than adequate and the constant noise of the toilet cistern was easily fixed by turning off the main tap. We received email instructions from Adam as to where we would meet he and Megs. They had done some recon the previous week and so we were provided with very detailed steps.

Go out of your hotel. Turn right. Follow the road to the tram tracks. Follow the tracks uphill to the tram station. Take a tram to the bottom of the hill. Get off at Eminonu station. Cross the road to the Ferry terminal. Get on the ferry to a place called Kadikoy. We had been given a map when we checked in. We followed the instructions out of the hotel and up the hill. We took a quick pit stop and had a Turkish coffee and some very tasty pastries. We located Kadikoy on our map. So we knew where we were going. We jumped on a tram and headed down to the ferry terminal. We looked across the river towards Kadikoy. It was hardly any distance at all. We assumed that the ferry instruction was there because of cultural aspects or something but it seemed a bit lazy so we decided to stay on the tram and simply get off at the stop where we were to meet A & M. We got off and took a short walk through the underground path network before finding ourselves at the riverside.

We called Adam, excited to see them again. He asked us what we could see. None of the things he described, it turned out. Oooops... slight typographical error on our part. As we would find out along the trip, many places have only one letter differing them. This was the case for us. The 'lazy' ferry trip should have taken about 45 mins to 1 hour and was across a totally different part of the river system. Disappointed, we resolved to catching up the next day instead.

Jen and I walked along under the Galata bridge. There are a variety of restaraunts there and we were feeling pretty hungry. We settled on a place with tables outside, a nice view of the water and a backgammon set into the bargain. We enjoyed local beer and a very good curry.

The kid who served us was very attentive. He spent much of his time standing near us and grinning. He was very nice and keen to offer his services. In fact, when the band inside started playing, he even asked me if I wanted to dance. I'm still not sure if he meant with him or on my own. I spared Istanbul the embarrassment of seeing me dance.

After dinner we walked back across the bridge towards our hotel. The bridge was lined with fishermen pulling large numbers of small fish from the water on long blank lines. The town had a nice energy and we were looking forward to the coming days.

Fishermen on the Galata bridge

Saturday Adam and Megs came and met us at our hotel. It was a fantastic feeling to hug family again. Jen was beaming. We spent the day wandering around Sultanahmet. After breakfast we visited the Basilica Cistern - originally constructed for water storage for the Great Palace of Byzantium. Its an expansive structure with a boardwalk winding through tall romanesque columns. They are individually lit and create a beautiful effect as they reflect off the water. Of particular interest are the twin medusa heads deep within the cistern.

Medusa Head at the Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern

Next we walked to the Blue Mosque. It is an amazing structure with a large, busy square and gardens outside.

Exterior of the Blue Mosque

Courtyard of the Blue Mosque

We removed our footwear and stepped inside. The interior was beautiful, with large round candle chandeliers suspended by long cables from the ornate ceiling. It was a unique opportunity to see people quietly exercising their faith.

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

We left the Mosque and walked down towards the ferry terminal at Eminonu. On the way we met a man with a fortune telling rabbit with the mystical name of rabbit number one. Jen got bullied into having her fortune told. It entailed the rabbit picking up one of many small pieces of folded paper from a tray. The paper was unfolded to reveal a message. It said she had to watch her health. Amazing! how could rabbit number one have known that. We paid the man and walked to the ferry terminal. We boarded the ferry to Kadikoy, on the Asian side of Istanbul, and enjoyed a spectacular view of the Mosques as the day slowly turned to evening.

View of the Mosques from the Asia side of Istanbul

Adam and I were sporting moustaches as part of the Movember charity event. As per the guidelines, the tash comes off when November ends. We had a small gathering of friends at Adam and Meaghan's place for some party snacks and the ceremonial shave. It was so very good to say goodbye to the endless itching of a, decidedly inadequate in Turkey, charity tash. I was also celebrating a birthday so we were all able to enjoy some cake into the bargain.

Movember Finale - pre shave-off

With the party over we jumped on a bus and headed into town for a taste of local food and local music. We found a bar with a live band. We had a great time, the music was fantastic and Paul even joined the locals for some dancing.

Sunday morning Jen and I visited Hagia Sophia. It is a magnificent building with marble floor and a huge dome above. The interior is adorned with symbols of the faiths which have predominated historically. In 1935, after 1400 years as a place of worship, both a Cathederal and a Mosque, Ataturk turned Hagia Sofia into a museum. Today Christian mosaics share the interior with large wooden medallions inscribed with Arabic caligraphy. It is a beautiful, peaceful space.

Hagia Sophia

Inside Hagia Sophia


Women on their way to prayer

Next activity for us was to be the antithisis of the peaceful morning. We had tickets to the football match between Galatasaray and Istanbul F.C. We knew very little about the teams involved but as it was a Galatasaray home game, in the stadium known simply as 'Hell', we knew we were going to be fervently supporting the red and yellow!

Adam, Megs, Jen and I made our way to the ground and after a couple of security searches were inside and finding our section. We met up with Josh and Jessica, from the previous night, and we secured seats for ourselves on the lower section near one of the goals. The atmosphere was electric. The crowd was a sea of red and yellow with large drums to keep the endless chants and songs in sync.

There was a small caged area for Istanbul F.C supporters. Suffice it to say... there were none. The crowd belted out a variety of songs with real gusto and when the teams ran onto the pitch they were welcomed with whistles (the Turkish equivilent of booing) or cheering and wild applause. Just before kick off a hush fell over the crowd. There was an eerie silence and then it was game on. The first taste of excitement was when the visitors scored early in the first half. We heard the collective moan of the crowd followed by the sound of chairs being broken all around us.
It was a little intimidating. We made sure everyone understood we shared the dissappointment. We wanted to make it clear we were not supporting the opposition. Oh well... only one down and the majority of the game still to be played. Not too dire, we thought. Then Istanbul scored again. The cracking of seats echoed around the stadium. We were very relieved to hear the half-time whistle. In the break we chatted with a few of the locals about some of the Australian players doing well overseas. I assured the gentleman next to me that we were still in the game and he looked to the heavens for assistance.

The Second half started with a couple of scares as Istanbul dominated play again. Then the unbelievable happened against the run of play Galatasaray scored! The crowd went crazy and the guys around us hugged each other and us! One more we screamed. Just one more goal and we might just survive to write the blog. My new friend looked up at the clock and said it was crunch time. He vowed that if we scored again he would give me his Galatasaray scarf. With only minutes left, an obvious penalty was ignored by the ref. The crowd screamed at him and our hearts sank. My new friend suggested it would be best if we all left with he and his friends for safety reasons. That sounded like a good idea to us. In the dying moments of the game we scored again. High fives and hugs all around, and a new scarf around my neck.

Our Galatasaray friends

A two all draw meant that everyone got home alive. Josh even managed to take a large section of broken seat home as a souvenier. We celebrated our survival with a meal and some nagileh (nah-ga-lar) we decided on cappucino flavoured in one and double red apple in the second. I over did it, felt a bit sick and turned white for a while.

Last big activity for the trip was a traditional Turkish bath. We decided on Cemberlitas. It is a segregated bath but the facilities are identical in both the mens and womens sections. In some of the baths the womens facilities are much less grand than the mens. Adam and I said goodbye to our wives at the reception area and headed off to get changed.

We donned our peptemals, which are printed cotton body wraps, and walked into the steamroom. It didn't seem too hot at first, but after dousing ourselves with the very hot tap water and lying on the large marble platform in the middle of the room, we were feeling the heat. Adam had purchased a massage and I could hear the slapping and thumping behind me. I had decided not to risk my back and chose to simply enjoy the heat. After about 45 minutes we were done. We got dressed and waited for the girls in the bar area.

Cemberlitas Hamami (image from official website. http://www.cemberlitashamami.com.tr)

When they joined us we all agreed that we felt relaxed and had enjoyed the experienced. We had a final meal together, again enjoying the pita platter of tiny meat, and called it a night.

Tuesday we were heading home again, so it was time to shop. We hit the spice market and the Grand Bazaar. We purchased tea, spices, carpet, cushion covers, ornaments and a backpack to put it all in. We could easily have spent a lot more time and money in there.

The spice market

Looking out from the bazaar

Glass lights at the bazaar

It was tough to say goodbye. Christmas was only weeks away and Adam and Megs were going back home to spend it with family. We had a really wonderful time in Istanbul. Adam and Meaghan were fantastic hosts and had arranged the activities perfectly. We will definately visit again.

Posted by StephenJen 04:40 Archived in Turkey

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Great entry,can't wait to see you both and our trips together,also going over to see Adam and Meg,market looks fantastic.You really bring the places you go to life,Thanks. Ma and Pa.

by davenliz

Great entry guys, the photos look fantastic. We are in the new flat now. We live 10 mins walk from the ferry terminal and 5 mins walk from the Marmara Sea so you'll love it when you come back. The place is huge... plenty of room to doss for a while.

by adamandmeg

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