OOhhh… Turkey. We had heard so many wonderful things about the country and were excited to be there. The plan was to spend 2-3 weeks exploring and 2 weeks doing homework in a smaller city near a beach.
We arrived in Istanbul October 18 and took a taxi to the apartment we were renting for the next week. I won’t go into a lot of gory details, but it wasn’t the apartment we had booked and paid for through HouseTrip. We were in shock. In all the months of traveling and all the hotels, apartments, condos, hostels and guest homes we had booked online, this was the first time something like this had happened. We immediately got in touch with HouseTrip and after some phone calls and forwarding pictures of the apartment, it was determined that yes, the owner had given us a different apartment (that was run down). HouseTrip agreed to refund our rental money, but by this time is so was late in the evening that we had to spend the night there. HouseTrip immediately began looking for other accommodations for us, but in the end we decided to book another room on our own. We moved to an area closer to the Blue Mosque.
Now we had lost two days of our time in Istanbul. Determined not to be tainted by what had happened we went out exploring the area. We quickly determined that the area we now were in was much better for us. Easy walking distance to most attractions and restaurants. We spent the next week falling in love with Istanbul.
Each of the places and things we did in Istanbul really deserve a posting of their own. However, as we still are relatively new to the blogging and because we fear you may be tired of reading our previous lengthy postings, we decided to try a fresh approach on this blog and highlight a few things that we enjoyed the most.
Who doesn’t love baklava? It is so sweet and flakey. The only bad thing was is that we didn’t eat enough of it. We loved the food in Turkey, it was inexpensive and tasty. The perfect combination for budget travelers like ourselves. Our favorites included sweet apple tea served in tulip shaped tea glasses, halva, Turkish delight, and of course doners (kabobs). We also tried Turkish coffee and I thought it was terrible. Len, wasn’t sure so had to try it a few more times, and finally he agreed with me, that yes it was unique and specific to Turkey, but no it was not one of our liked foods. We’ll finish on that one by saying we think it would be an “acquired taste”.
Blue Mosque (also referred to as Sultan Ahmed Mosque)
The Blue Mosque can make you feel so small. The mosque is beautiful with its blue tiles, its stained glass windows, its huge chandeliers, its cascading domes, and of course its 6 minarets. When we visited it, there were not many visitors milling around, but we were told that during prayer times the mosque can hold up to 10,000 people. Like all mosques, there are separate prayer areas for the men and women, and worshippers pray facing in the direction of Mecca.
OK…, I really didn’t know anything about the Basilica Cistern, but everyone we spoke to said we must see it. We waited in the short line, passing through the doors, paying our 20 lira (about $10 CAD) per person before walking down the 52 stone stairs. Once at the bottom we decided to purchase 2 audio guides for 5 lira each, which was a waste of money as there was less than 5 minutes of information provided, which was repeated verbatim on posted signage.
The basilica was constructed in the 6th Century AD to collect water transferred from Belgrade forest 19km away. The Cistern covers an area of 9,800 square metres and is supported by 336 9-metre high marble columns in 12 evenly spaced rows.
The first thing you notice is how dark and gloomy it is, but we kept our eyes open for the two carvings of Medusa’s head on the columns, which we found in the northwest corner of the cistern, along with an endless line of tourists posing for photos with the carvings.
A definite highlight of our time in Istanbul would be seeing the Whirling Dervish dancers. This had been on our Bucket List and now we can officially check it off. I had no idea that I would feel like an intruder as I sat there watching such a personal and spiritual dance, but I did.
The ceremony started with a trio of musicians slowly entering the room, finding their place at the back of the room and then they began playing music of the kind I had never heard before. I have to say, at first I didn’t like it, but after a while it grew on me. It was very soothing and calming music, on traditional Turkish instruments.
After about 10 minutes of music the three dervishes began entering the room wearing dark cloaks. They walked to the centre of the room, faced the musicians then sat the on the three mats that were on one side of the room. Slowly and purposefully they removed their cloaks to reveal their white top and skirt.
As the music continued they stood up and one by one began gently whirling counter clockwise around the room. One by one they slowly whirled gaining momentum with each passing; and slowly their white skirts began to flair and rise as they spun raising their arms and eyes to the sky.
It was the most beautiful and mystical dance I have ever seen. It was a dance that looked so personal and spiritual that watching it would make anyone feel like an intruder, but it was so beautiful that it would be difficult not to watch. Each dervish whirled their way into our hearts that night, in such a silent yet powerful dance. This was definitely my favorite part of Istanbul, and previous to the ceremony, we got to enjoy some delicious Turkish cuisine. It was well worth the money spent and would recommend it to anyone visiting Turkey.
We had heard great things about the Spice Market and decided to check it out. However, by the time we arrived it was filled with so many people that it was very difficult to move. It was so full of people most of our time there and so congested with people in many areas that you had to hold your ground or get pushed out of the way. I held on to Aurora’s hand making our way through the crowd, and kept looking behind for Noah and Len. Len was way behind. I keep shouting to Noah to stay close. We had no choice but to move with the crowd. At one point I was pushed and began falling, thankfully the person behind me caught me so that I didn’t fall to the ground. If I would have fallen, I believe I would have been trampled. Dead in the Spice Market. All that would have been left of me would have been a t-shirt covered with thousands of footprints stained on it. I kid you not. It was at this time I completely lost my cool. I grabbed the lady by the shoulders and yelled at her to stop (pushing). She looked at me in complete horror and started praying to Allah (probably asking for this crazy Canadian woman to leave their country). Len later told me that the only way he was able to catch up to us was by becoming more aggressive in the crowd, and that had he not pushed his way through, he would have been stalled and pushed backwards in the crowd and would have never found us. After almost losing my life in the Spice Market I couldn’t wait to get out of there and into the open air. None of us enjoyed the Spice Market at all, it was such a taxing experience to be in the crowd, and then have no goal except not to get separated and to “get outta there” as quickly as possible. I know this isn’t everyone’s experience with the Spice Market, but it was ours. We say nothing but people in a crowd and bought nothing as we shuffled by the shops.
The Grand Bazaar is one the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, and has been an important centre of trade since 1461 AD. It has 61 covered streets and over 5000 shops and 18 entrances, including many large and elaborate domed buildings. It sees from 250,000 to 400,000 visitors a day. You will find police at the entrances, tea servers hustling tea around, delivering it to vendors. You are able to find almost everything here from gold, towels, luggage, clothing, food, electronics, crafts, Walmart kind of items and the list goes on and on. There is no way you can see it all. We stopped by the Bazaar a number of times and always got a little lost; it’s hard not to. We did find ourselves prey to the vendors a few times, but that’s all part of the experience. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose, and in the end you always have had fun. Now being the experienced market shoppers that we are, we quickly walked away from the constant calls of shop owners who wanted to get us into the shop for a sale, including the clutches of the Turkish carpet salesmen.
Talk about multiple personalities. Hagia Sophia was first a Church, then a mosque and now a museum. There are still remnants of Christianity on the walls.
There is so much to see and do in Istanbul, we barely scratched the surface. Istanbul definitely deserves a return visit. Maybe next time we’ll try marble painting.