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10/12 - Istanbul 1
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Afternoon
After sleeping in having another typical buffet brunch, my family and several friends joined the Bosphorous cruise. It started with a quick pass of the Blue Mosque, but since we had a more detailed tour of the Blue Mosque the next day, I won't talk about it here.

Our first stop was the Hagia Sophia, a Byzantine style basilica that was destroyed twice and re-built before being converted into a mosque and eventually being declared a historical monument and converted into a museum.

The Hagia Sophia was built primarily out of marble and you can see it throughout the building. The marble used to decorate the walls and columns is beautifully and carved with intricate detail. In addition to all the marble, there are beautiful paintings, stained glass and mosaics on the walls. Unfortunately, due to Islamic rules that forbid images of God (Allah) or people in the mosque, most images were destroyed or painted over.

A few particularly beautiful examples were preserved and simply covered up for historical purposes and have been revealed and restored since Sophia was turned into a museum. A few instances of Christian designs that were painted over have re-appeared through their outer layer.

Hagia Sophia is an extremely beautiful building with a very interesting history and definitely worth seeing with a guide. After that our tour bus took us to Stork's jewelry store for some personal service (Turkey is famous for their Turquoise). The most interesting thing was that the building used to be a prison for women. They didn't give us much more information than that, but from the outside you could see the very small windows.

The other nice thing about Stork's was that they brought us snacks. First they provided all of us with hot apple tea, which is very popular drink in Turkey. It's an apple-flavored tea pre-sweetened from a mix or served with sugar cubes. We also got some Turkish simit which was sliced and served with cheese.

The simit here was very different from the sesame rings in Greece. These were not as dry and had a texture similar to the inside of large pretzels. In addition to the simit were other mini simits, cookies and shortbread, all of which were better and less dry than the ones from the Izmir bakery.

Next was a cruise on the Bosphorous, but while we waited for our boat, we were tempted by a cart cooking up doner kabob. I asked our tour guide if it was safe and she said, "For me it is safe because I live here, although even I might get sick. But if you want, you can try."

Having tossed caution to the wind, my dad and sister had already ordered by the time the tour guide finished talking to me. The meat was tasty but I wish there had been a bit more. The bread, lettuce and tomatoes were pretty standard, but the sandwich definitely hit the spot.

The Bosphorous cruise was a bit windy and cold due to the October weather but it was a nice cruise and we got to see a lot of stuff. Unfortunately, I can't remember all the things we saw. There were several palaces and and mosques as well as a few schools and academies. The Bosphorous was not as calm as I expected. Due to the mixing of currents from the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara and the rocky bottom, the Bosphorous has continuously strong choppy waves and fast moving currents.

When people talk about Istanbul, they often talk about the European and Asian sides, which are separate by the Bosphorous. The Asian side is primarily suburbs while the European side holds the city centre, business district and historical district. The European side is also split in half by the Golden Horn, an inlet off of the Bosphorous. The historical district with all the monuments, Grand Bazaar and Spice market is on the south while the business district, shopping and downtown are on the north side.

Evening
After the boat tour, we returned to the cruise ship. The parents met for dinner but my sister and I decided to explore Istanbul a little. After getting directions from an immigrations officer, we walked 10 minutes to the Findikli tram stop. When we got there, we couldn't figure out where to get tickets. Since the tram operates on street level (like the San Francisco trolleys) we just walked onto the platform around the turnstiles.

Walking to the other end we found a cop but he didn't speak English. He figured out that we didn't have tickets. We offered to pay in British Pounds or American dollars but we had no Turkish Lira. Another passenger came to help translate and eventually the police officer just waved us off so we didn't have to pay.

The tram system is fairly new as it has recently been upgraded to cross the Golden Horn on the Karakoy bridge as part of a public transportation modernization program. Soon a new subway underneath the Bosphorous will connect the Asian side as well. We took the tram across the Karakoy Bridge and got off at Eminonu as there appeared to be lots of restaurants in the area.

Right outside the station were several small shops including a few food stands. One that caught our eye was a place selling Balik Ekmek. Balik means fish and ekmek means bread, so what you get is a fish sandwich. The vendor grilled fish fillets on a huge griddle with salt and pepper then put it on bread with lettuce, tomatoes and onions for a tasty sandwich. My sister and I bought one and sat on milk crates and buckets set up along the bridge. Next to the vendor was a man selling what I assume were stuffed mussels but we decided to keep exploring and passed on them.

After walking on the lower level of the Karakoy bridge, past all the neon lit restaurants, we stopped for some pictures and then headed back to the Eminonu station and walked along the tram line to the next station at Sirkeci, where the national train line also stops (which is the same line that ran the Oriental Express).

At the Sirkeci station we found Sirkeci Simit, a large modern restaurant which had the largest Kumpir display we had seen. Now, Kumpir is a special Turkish baked potato. After buying a ticket at the register we gave it to the Kumpir guy who went to pick up two large baked potatoes out of special tall oven. He cut them both in half, then scooped all the meat out of the second potato and whipped it with butter and cheese inside the first potato.

Following that, we had to choose our toppings. Our choices were: red cabbage cole slaw, carrot slaw, vegetable salad, hot dogs, peas, corn, pickles, cous cous, tzatziki sauce, red cabbage and ketchup. It sounds a big crazy, but in the end, it kind of just tastes like a nice warm potato salad since everything gets mixed together anyway.

After that we decided to try their equally crazy waffles which have a six flower petal design so you can choose six Nutella style spreads (we chose chocolate, hazelnut, butterscotch, strawberry, pistachio and caramel) garnished with maraschino cherries, kiwi, banana and nuts. It was a suitable sweet finish to our giant Kumpir potato and satisfied my sweet tooth pretty well.

After our food, I was super thirsty so I stopped at McDonald's for a Diet Coke and to see if they had any special Turkish items, which they did not. We looked at a few other shops before heading back to the Sirkeci tram stop. At this station we discovered that the ticket booth is located across the street and you pay for tokens that are accepted by the turnstiles. Despite it being dark, we didn't worry about our safety too much and made it back to the ship without a problem.

No gastro-intestinal issues either...

10/12 pictures are here.
Posted 12/15/2008 10:44 PM in Food, Pictures, Snacks, Travel, Turkey | Total Comments: (4)
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Comments

Istanbul != Turkey
Last paragraph of your Afternoon segment: I think you meant Istanbul as being divided by the Bosphorous (as opposed to all of Turkey, though that would be pretty cool, too).
Submitted by Dan on 12/17/2008 11:25 AM



Good call.
Submitted by filbert on 12/17/2008 11:03 PM


Images in Hagia Sofia
While some of the images of people in Hagia Sofia may have been destroyed by Muslims, the bulk of them were destroyed by Christian iconoclasts during various times in the Church's early history. Great pix!
Submitted by crowbar on 12/30/2008 08:31 AM


TpfvTseOLsWuUTK
It's sopoky how clever some ppl are. Thanks!
Submitted by adiviKVwAGpYPIh on 04/23/2011 08:25 AM



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