This morning our tour guide Aykut (eye-koot) met us at our hotel with a driver and a minibus. We loaded up at 8:30am and were off to explore some of Istanbul’s more famous sights. We started our tour at the Hippodrome. This is the oldest part of the city that was originally founded by Constantine. The old Hippodrome track where they used to hold chariot races is now a cobble stone street. In the center there are 2 obelisks and another statue that Constantine had collected from his conquests.
A morning break at the Pudding Shop (world famous ‘60’s hippie hangout) for authentic Turkish coffee. A picture of The Big Dog (Bill Clinton) up on the wall from a time he had stopped in there, helped lend some credibility and affection to the place 🙂
The Byzantine era underground cistern was spectacular! It was built in the 4th century and has 336 marble columns that hold up the 30 foot ceiling. It spans many city blocks and was build to hold 100,000 tons of water.It was a little bit Phantom of the Opera-esque down there.
Sultanahmet (The Blue Mosque) is the only mosque in the world with 6 minarets the only mosque that has more is in Mecca and they have 7. It is very imposing from the outside but quite comfortable and welcoming on the inside (except for all of us stupid, rude tourists). Build in 1609, there are 20,000 tiles decorating the interior of this beautiful building. Remember: everyone must remove their shoes and ladies must cover your hair and shoulders. Aykut took this opportunity to teach us a little about Islam and remind us that it is not a hateful religion. He spoke about the importance of doing good things, loving your family and giving to charity. I wish we could have seen prayer time in there but they kick tourists out an hour before prayer time (5X per day).
For the afternoon we went to Topkapi Palace. Toured the various buildings and saw museum artifacts and weaponry from the 15th Century. We ate lunch at Konyali, the oldest restaurant in Turkey. Beautiful view of the Marmara Sea and pretty good lamb kabab sandwiches. For dessert, Mom and I shared a wonderful fruit, nut and bean pudding called “Noah Pudding” (sounds gross, I know… surprisingly sweet and creamy).
After that it was back to the tour bus and off to Yeni Camii ( New Mosque) built 500 years ago (so… relatively new for this area of the world). We did get to see some prayers being offered up at this mosque but not formal prayer time. Honestly, it kinda looked like they were just having a jam session in there. A bunch of guys sitting on the floor crossed-legged, passing around a microphone and creating beautiful “music”. Neat experience.
We shopped the Egyptian Bazaar. Spices, clothing, candy, coffee, soaps, meat, cheeses, teas, lotions, olives, fishes, tonics and cleansers. This place has everything and all prices are negotiable.
We sat at Ender Café and enjoyed Chai Tea and people watching at the busy market.
For dinner we wandered up the hill near our hotel. Found a place called Ya&Re. We all enjoyed the dozen or so starters and salads. Everything from sardine wrapped olives and calamari to 3 bean salad and baba ganoush. Main course was the mixed grill with 3 different meat kababs and fried sardines. (ummm.. kinda ok for fish that you eat with the bones in. You won’t find me grabbing a can to snack on though.)
A walk back to the hotel took us by an ice cream shop and I tried bitter chocolate and orange gelato. Wonderful day! I’m exhausted!!