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Published: April 6th 2015
We arrived at night after being delayed in Paris (are things ever on time in France?), our car sent by our hotel was waiting for us to take us through the crazy Istanbul traffic. Even on a Wednesday late at night the roads were bumper to bumper traffic. When we pulled up to our hotel it was pouring rain, we grabbed our bags out of the back and ran inside. The staff at our hotel were really nice, we were pretty tired after traveling for 2 days but they welcomed us with tea and maps and gave us good advice about things to see and do in Istanbul.
The next morning we were ready to hit the town and headed across the Galata Bridge to Sultanahmet. At the waterfront we were immediately greeted by a smattering of mosques and minarets throughout the old town skyline. We popped out from an underground walkway at the foot of the New Mosque. Luckily I had thrown a scarf in my bag for such an occasion, I wrapped up and we went in to check it out. As you already know, we are big fans of churches and their grand architecture, mosques exteriorly and
interiorly are equally as beautiful and we were excited to check a few out. Afterwards, we grabbed the museum card pass from outside of the Archeological Museum and headed in. The archeology museum was comprised of a few big buildings with various displays of art, statues, sarcophagus’, and even a mummified skeleton in an open case. From there we walked around the grounds between Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia before stopping in at Hagia Irene. Hagia Irene was not the most exciting place but still showed off some beautiful architecture. A security guard came over to us and told us about some of the famous singers, Italian operas, and concerts that have played on the big stage. He must have been bored, or curious, he asked us about where we were from, whether we were married, our age, if we had kids, etc. He seemed happy when we said that we didn’t have any kids yet and told us that it is better to wait. We said good bye and headed off to the great Hagia Sophia museum.
“Hey, are you from Canada?” a random Turkish man asks on the street as we walk by, “Yes” we reply as
we keep walking. At this point in our travels we feel like we have heard every line in the book when it comes to people trying to sell things to us, most often we just ignore it, or play along because we are nice but rarely do we get suckered.
“Don’t you want to know how I know?” he calls out behind us.
“Sure, how?” I reply walking backwards but still walking away.
“It’s how you walk, you must be from Toronto.”
He keeps walking with us, “if you take a right and walk straight you will get to Hagia Sophia entrance, I am not a guide, I’m not trying to sell you anything.”
“Great, thanks, we see it.”
“I just own a carpet shop on the corner over there; do you guys need a carpet? Do you like Turkish carpet?”
Hagia Sophia is a very old church built by the Greeks as an orthodox church for 1000 years, then used by the Romans before it was converted into a mosque after the city was conquered by the Sultan at the beginning
of the Ottoman Empire. Since the early 1900’s, it has again been converted but now to a museum. There is an interesting mix of both Islamic art as well as old paintings uncovered featuring Christian art. It’s pretty massive but of course, like everywhere we go, half of it was being restored. Across the way is the Blue Mosque, which is still active for prayer, we sat outside of the grounds eating a simmit by the fountain while the call to prayer blasted around the courtyard waiting for the prayers to be over before the mosque would reopen to visitors.
The Cistern Basilica is an underground water hold filled with pillars and walkways. We walked around looking for the two famous Medusa heads that were placed purposely upside down to avoid the curse of her gaze in one corner of the cistern under two of the pillars. The owner of our hotel told us that the fish in the water have always been there as a way of protecting the people, if something was wrong with the water the fish would die and the people would know not to use the water.
Many people ask Binnson what he
is. This is a funny question. “What are you?” “Homo sapien?” we joked. Obviously meaning where are you from but if the response is Canada, that is unsatisfactory. The first guess is always Korea.
“Are you Korea? Are you China? Japan?”
“Canada? Her, I can see Canada but you, Canada?” Same response, over and over again, everyday.
We left the Topkapi Palace for the following day as we heard that you need several hours to visit it and we ran out of time the day before. Heading back over to Sultanahmet, we ended up spending over 4 hours at the Sultan’s digs. Mostly standing in line to see each area – the lines for the treasuries were extensive – housing large diamonds and other precious jewellery, medals, and spoils of wars. In another area, things that made us raise an eyebrow – the staff of Moses; Joseph’s turban; pieces of beard, a footprint, and a tooth of Mohammed. Finally we stopped in to the Harem before departing back into the streets.
Off to the Grand Bazaar, we weren’t planning on buying anything, actually our hotel warned us specifically to not buy anything there but we still
wanted to see it. It was as the name suggests, quite grand. Tons of stores and hallways, we took a couple turns and had no idea where we were in no time. Exiting out a different door then we had originally entered we knew that we were in for an adventure. The street was packed with people and stores and we pulled over for a chicken kebap before continuing on down the road. A little while later we were entering another bazaar.... we thought about how it could be possible that we would have gone in a circle back to the grand bazaar but as we exited out of that one we discovered that we were back at the New Mosque. We had found the spice bazaar by a happy accident. It started to rain as we exited and we ran home under our less than reliable umbrella.
After a busy couple of days we were having a lazy morning the next day and didn’t get out of our hotel until after noon. We didn’t have a lot left that we wanted to see but decided on recommendation from our hotel to go to the Dolmabahce Palace which was
pretty close by. It ended up being very beautiful, more European style than the Topkapi Palace. Huge rooms with grand chandeliers, including the largest crystal chandelier in Europe at 4.5 tonnes. The Harem was equally nice and we stopped off at the art museum and crystal pavilion before heading back to our hotel.
That night we were planning on meeting with a friend of mine from high school who was in town for his friend’s wedding. We walked up a giant hill of a road to get to the restaurant but we arrived too early so we kept on walking to kill some time. When we reached the top of the hill, there were literally thousands of people on a pedestrian shopping street. We filed into the crowd and walked along amazed at how crazy busy it was, we spotted a church on the side that a lot of people were going in and took a couple of pictures before turning back to head to the restaurant.
The restaurant was on the rooftop of a building and we arrived in time to watch the sun go down. We grabbed great seats with a view, it was a shame
not to have my camera with me but luckily cell phone cameras have come a long way. Our friends showed up a little while later and we sat and had a few beers before heading back to the streets to find food. Binnson and I had planned to grab some street meat doner’s or something cheap but my friend wanted a nice meal – his business partner spotted a restaurant on our way down the hill and he treated us to the best meal we have had in a long time. Every bite was so delicious, great wine, great conversation late into the night. It was almost 3am by the time we got home.
Luckily for us we had booked appointments at a Turkish bath, Kilic Ali Pasa Hamami, right by our hotel. Feeling slightly dehydrated and sleepy, I sauntered over to the baths at the Women’s only time. Binnson had been on the fence about going but I insisted that we had to try it out and booked us both appointments. Hamam’s are gender segregated by floor or times. At this particular hamam it was by time, so I had appointments at 1 and 2:15 and Binnson had
an appointment at 4:30 when the men only hours started.
The Hamam ritual was pretty interesting...... Given a wristband and told to go upstairs, I changed into my pestemal (Turkish towel) and sandals and headed back to the main floor. A lady led me into another room where the ritual takes place and told me to go into a room to get water poured, I didn’t really know what that meant so I stood by another lady who looked like she was waiting to go into the same room. A woman who seemed in charge, was frustrated with someone in the room and told me and the other girl to come with her as she took off our towels and tied them around our waists and told us to sit down. Thankfully she poured the water on the other girl first so I knew what to expect because moments later I had a bucket of cold-warm water poured over my head with no warning, then again. We were lead over to the large heated marble stone in the middle of the big room to lie down and wait to be collected for our baths. After about 15 minutes or
so a new lady came to perform the bath ritual. I sat on a marble seat facing the center slab as more water was poured over my head, then came the scrubbing – lean forward, stand up, turn around, shoes off. Time for bubbles, more scrubbing, water bucket over the head, then again. A quick shampoo and conditioner and off to the towel room. Wrapped up like a mummy and back out to the main room to relax. I had also booked a massage and was collected shortly after returning to the main room for that... “massage”....
I felt pretty relaxed afterwards walking back to the hotel. I was getting excited for Binnson to go so we could compare our intimate violation stories but when I got back to the hotel he informed me that he did not want to be scrubbed naked by a Turkish man and was going to forego his ritual. I tried to convince him to go but stories of my hamam only solidified his decision. Oh well.
We headed back out to the pedestrian street from the day before and down to Taksim square. Not much to see but tons of people. We
settled for a doner in the square before walking back down to grab baklavas before closing the chapter on Istanbul.
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