Porter had a business meeting in Istanbul, so we decided to make a weekend out of it. This was our first time going this far east and to a country with a very different culture and language than we were used to. I was a little scared. My mom was worried and sent me a lot of reading material that warned of what can happen if a traveler was not careful and of course when I read stuff like that I envision myself getting kidnapped, sold into slavery, killed and so forth. That is just how I am, but at least my sense of self preservation keeps me safe. The biggest fear I had was using the taxi service there. I read many complaints from travelers about how taxi drivers had scammed them out of money. So I had a plan.
Upon arriving we immediately bought our Jetons (little tokens for the metro system) and jumped on public transit. No only is Public Transit cheaper in Istanbul, it's also faster and there is no worry of crazy taxi drivers. The Metro was very clean and bright, however it's not as sophisticated as the Tube system in London. We had to walk a lot to make connections. We also used the buses to get to our hotel. I am so happy Porter was there with me. Together we navigate our way through rough situations well and keep each other smiling.
We made it to our hotel with no problems. It was a fabulous hotel room. I felt like we were at the Sultan's Palace. We quickly dropped our bags off and jumped back onto the Metro to head into Old Town to the Spice Market. It was so much fun smelling all the delicious teas and sampling nuts and turkish delight. I learned that one should only buy food from sellers who will let the customer sample it. It's the sign of a reputable vender because they know their product will sell itself.
Malatya Pazari was the best place. They had very high quality items and they stuffed us full of turkish delight. The man helping us wouldn't even tell us what he was putting in our months, he would just grab something and stuff it in our face. It caught Porter off guard. He tried asking the guy what it was and the man just insisted on feeding it to him. It was pretty funny. The vendor gave us the most delicious samples of flavors I had never tasted before. There was one candy roll that was rolled in rose petals. The texture was bizarre and it tasted very floral and fruity.
We stopped for dinner at Hamdi. It was really good, I highly recommend it.
In order to catch our flight we were up at 3:30 am. However, our second day in Istanbul held no rest for us. We had our friend, Brendan, in the city for a layover and we wanted to meet him in Old Town for the morning before he caught a flight home to Houston at 1pm. So we got up at 5:30am (3:30 am London time) to go meet him. It was so fun to see one of our best friends in such a random place. We loved touring the sights with him.
The structure behind us is one of the most famous landmarks in Istanbul: The Blue Mosque. It was stunning.
Another view of the Blue Mosque
Porter and I inside the Blue Mosque. The women are required to cover their hair. And everyone takes off their shoes. When I was entering, a man sipping some tea pulled me over by my arm, looked at my rear (I was wearing black jeggings) looked at me, then back at my rear and said you are a very beautiful woman, but I think you need to cover up. He had me put a shawl around my waist like a skirt. It was pretty funny when I told Porter and Brendan what had happened, and why I was in such a crazy get-up. But out of respect for the culture and religion I was totally fine with it. It just cracked me up how the little old guy handled it, and what stir my derriere caused. We loved going through the mosque.
The next place on or tour was the Basilica Cistern, an under ground chamber full of old pillars, giant fish and Medusa.
These pillars are in standing water that is home to huge fish. It's very humid and the ceiling is constantly dripping on the heads of the tourists. I loved it down there. Porter and I walked around in the dark pretending we were adventurers who were dungeon crawling on a quest to slay Medusa.
The Medusa pillars are quite an anomaly. No one really knows how they came to be down in the chamber. I thought they were so cool!
Coming up for air, we headed toward The Hagia Sophia, once a Christian Church that was converted to a Mosque. Seriously, one of the most amazing buildings.
I believe this mosaic was Constantine's claim as the Holy Roman Emperor, it's basically a family portrait with him, his wife and Jesus. See how he is on Christ's right side. He is God's right hand man.
Upon finishing up our tours of the 'big sites' we went through a bunch of museums up by Topkapi Palace. I had to use the loo. And boy, did I get the surprise of my life.
Their version of a "toilet" was a hole in the ground. A squat toilet. I read about these in my travel book but didn't think I would actually encounter one. If you are wondering, yes I did try it out, and no, it wasn't that bad. I felt all native and stuff. And I when I came out and showed Porter this picture the look on his face made it all worth it. He couldn't believe it and said the men's was all westernized. I was a little miffed at that, but I had conquered the Squat Toilet and thus added a new skill to my survival skill set. It was definitely a very unique experience.
After finishing up at the museums it was finally time to eat. We found a cozy little place call Capadocia. They featured Nomadic Turkish Food. I loved the Turkish pancake and the saucy kebab they brought us. We dined on a pile of pillows on the floor. It was pretty fab.
Istanbul is funny in that a bunch of land marks in the city are huge souvenirs brought from other countries that were conquered. For example, The Obilisk of Theodosius, was commission to be brought from Egypt in the 4th century a.d. by Roman Emperor Theodosius. So it's Egyptian, but in Istanbul. And there are a bunch of items like this. All the Rulers wanted to bring big items home.
Istanbul has a huge problem with stray animals. There were cats and dogs every where. However, all the dogs seemed really well fed. They hung out in the tourist areas, I think they get a lot of scraps. It still broke my heart though to see all the little animals running around.
Our final day we spent at the Grand Bazaar, walking around town, dining on the best baklava of my life, and ending in Beyoglu with a yummy dinner in Taksim Square.
The Grand Bazaar wasn't my cup of tea. I loved this picture I took there, but the shopping was stressful. My travel book warned that the style of markets there could be intimidating. The customers must haggle with the vendor for every item. Also, the vendors are very aggressive. There was one guy who told Porter that he had knocked over his display (he didn't) and was getting angry and telling Porter he should buy the stuff and clean it up. We also had a guy following us really closely through some of the tunnels. Porter was wearing a back pack and I wasn't sure if the the guy was thinking of trying to pick pocket him. I held onto Porter's arm and hung back slightly so I was right next to the back pack. As soon as I did that the man disappeared. We left pretty quick and most of the stuff was touristy junk that we didn't want anyway. I'm sure if we knew what venders were legit and if we were up to haggling prices we would have really liked it, but as it was, it was not our favorite place.
I did loved walking through the markets close to the Spice Market though. They were adorable and the vendors were a lot nicer.
The best baklava ever! I think the place was call Devali? One thing we learned was that Google Maps does not work very well here. Porter used it to travel to his meeting, and it took him to the wrong place. So, if you travel in Turkey, do not rely solely upon Google Maps. It will get you lost. Right before we left, we were able to meet up with another friend friend from Utah. My friend Adam was in Istanbul for his tour of Beauty and the Beast. It was so much fun to see him!
All in all, we loved our long weekend in Istanbul. The food was delicious, the sites were beautiful, and the company superb. The language barrier was definitely an issue and Porter couldn't leave me alone. I had a couple instances with men approaching me and not leaving me alone until Porter came back (he had only left me alone for 5 minutes). I don't think I was in danger, but I wouldn't travel there alone as a woman. But we loved experiencing such a vibrant city and culture. I think everyone should make a visit at least once to this gorgeous city!