15.08.2011 - 20.08.2011 28 °C
Spent our fist day in Istanbul down by the port looking over the glistening water, then eating and drinking over a long lunch atone of the many rooftop terraces over looking to Marmaras ocean and the blue mosque. What a cool place Istanbul is. So picturesque, everything is walking distance from the old area and the people are friendly. Stayed at the sultanahmet kings palace hotel which was small but clean with a great breakfast. They had 12 different types of cheeses, 6 kinds of luncheon, fresh breads, olives, fruit. Delicious and looked out onto the sea. So relaxing.
The whole vibe of Istanbul felt chilled out and even though we were there during Ramadan you couldn't tell. There was eating and drinking in the street and restaurants were busy. Locals were happy to show us around although sometimes would get a little sleazy. For those who like shopping, Istanbul is a must see there are hand made rugs for sale, hand painted tiles and wall hangings, vases bowls, you name it. Some are glazed with quartz which are more expensive but there are alternatives. Mosaic lamps are also in abundance but my bag would hardly shut before I got there so I only bought 3 tiles, could've easily filled a container though!
The local drink there is Raki which is very similar to ouzo served with water then ice and extra water and bucket of ice (you'll be needing the water) tastes like aniseed and 2-3 will get you well on the way to dancing/talking sh!t mode. The local who worked at our hotel Yusef took us too a French hostel where a friend of his was working,it was underground and had nargile's (hooka pipes to smoke sheesha) there were heaps of flavours to choose from and all his tobacco was imported from Egypt. First night we selected lemon & mint then second night green apple. Unlike the $25 pipes in australia these ones lasted the whole night and were regularly stoked with fresh hot coals to keep the smoke coming. Cheap too coming in at $15 for a pipe, 2 raki, 1 large water, 1 juice and a glass of red.
Fish is caught and sold along the waterfront at the restaurants, you can pick your fish from the markets out the back and they'll cook it for you. All meals are served with fresh bread which is free and the green beans seems as though they've been cooked in chopped tomatoes, mmm. Kebaps are small and inside is meat, small amount of lettuce and French fries. Really cheap and good for lunch.
The grand bazaar is huge, selling gold, scarves, tiles, souvenirs, leather, anything and everything. I found it too overwhelming and touristy, but still worth a see for the sheer size of the thing, it goes for blocks! The spice market was much more reasonable in size and only a short walk away. They sold spices (go figure) but also Turkish delight like a pick n mix style, cheap too. Pashminas were also on sale for about 5 lira or $3. Good place to stock up for gifts. And as you walk out the other side there you come out by a mosque and you might be lucky enough to catch a call to prayer over the megaphones which was great for reminding us just how far we were away from home. By the nearby bridge there are restaurants along the water too. We stopped for a couple of free Turkish apple teas. Which incidentally apparently the Turks don't even drink, it's for the tourists. Yum though.
Other stops- blue mosque, not actually blue on the outside but filled with blue mosaics on the inside, just amazing and photos cannot do it justice at all. The museum was also amazing which was a Christian church until it was ruined by earthquakes and rebuilt as a mosque, still has images of Jesus and Mary inside though, but none on the cross obviously as Muslims do not believe this is the way the whole 'Easter thing' went down. There are huge plates with green Arabic calligraphy inside also which are beautiful. Get a guide or iPod though because there's no info inside. Again beautiful mosaics.
Could go on and on, there are cats everywhere in the old part that are cared for by the local restaurant owners who feed and water them and playful kittens running about. My favourite city so far will definitely be back!!!