Monday, October 25, 2010
Day One: The Grand Adventure Begins
Day One. Arrived at approximately 10:30 am. Found our way through the airport to the Metro. Rode it to the transfer station and switched to the tram. Got to our hotel at about 1pm. It was a small, but very clean and nice hotel. Typically European in appointments. Not luxurious by any means, but had comfortable beds, nice linens and a very good staff.
First stop - The Grand Bazaar. Pebbles hated every second of it. There was a crush of people and lots and lots of vendors hawking their wares. The Bazaar is around 3 million square feet, all totaled. It really was an overwhelming experience. We took a quick exit and headed to the water front. Right away, we fulfilled one of my wishes - the fisherman's lunch at the Galata Bridge. Fish are caught right there in the Bospherous Sea, grilled up and served on the wonderful, wonderful Turkish bread. Four Turkish lira for this sandwich for two. We then walked across the Bridge, over the Golden Horn and headed for the "new city" - Taksim. We took an immediate left after crossing the bridge and ended up in an amazing open air fresh fish market. Also encountered a rather impromptu "restaurant row" set up on the waterfront. We didn't know it at the time, but impromptu coffee (kaveh) and tea houses (chi) would spring up whenever the weather was clear and there was space on a street or under a tree. We took the Funicular (one of the oldest in the world) up the steep hill to the main avenue. Took a dodge and ran into one of the impromptu tea houses. We had a seat on a little bitty stool (Ottoman) at a little bitty table and pretty soon a waiter came from somewhere to take our order. Turns out we are not very good at sipping tea or coffee, for that mattter. We are more gulpers! Ended up drinking two cups each. Amazing tea.
Tea is the most popular drink and it is taken very seriously and served in a petite tulip-styled glass (no handle) seated in a small saucer - all on a large silver(ish) tray. We would see tea being carried through the streets on these trays all throughout our stay. It was so cool to see no disposable cups - all tea was served this way. Even in the working class neighborhood where our hotel was located. I guess tea houses/restaurants had a routine stop in the shoe shops during tea time. There seemed to always be a man delivering silver trays of tea on every street we went on.
Continued up the avenue to Taksim Square where we encountered some soft of flag-waving protest. I can't read Turkish, so I don't know what was being protested, but I do know that seeing so much of the police force decked out in full riot gear was a little disconcerting. I didn't however, see that they were armed. There was also an agricultural products of Turkey exhibit set up adjacent to the Square - think the Texas food and fiber exhibit at the Texas State Fair. Took the modern funicular down the side back to the tram.
Istanbul is a hilly, hilly city - bent knees, lean into the grade, steep. Our hotel was near the bottom of a steep, steep hill. Men were doing all they could to keep their handcarts full of shoe-making supplies from rolling down the hill into the Sea. We finally learned to cut the trip up in half - we'd go halfway up, traverse a side-street over one block, catch our breath (mostly Pebbles) and then hike up the rest of the way. We ended up taking the tourist tram from one end to the other. That proved to be beneficial, as we'd now got the lay of the land, so to speak. However, the old city was very compact and very walkable. Ninety percent of what we wanted to see was within twenty minutes of our hotel.
We returned to our hotel at about 6:30 pm, exhausted. We took a nap and were awakened by the after sundown call-to-prayer. Turns out, our hotel is within spitting distance of four mosques, so we heard the calls sort of in stereo. It was pretty awesome. Got up in search of food. For the life of me, I cannot remember what we ate that first evening. I do know that it didn't take us very long to find the local baklava/pastry shop. And since we were out of the main tourist area, the clerk didn't speak English, but we managed to get our sweet on by pointing. Funny story - they had several varieties of baklava. We had managed to convey that we wanted 6 pieces (yea, I know - but there were HILLS!) when Pebbles made a comment about wanted the baklava with the pistachio on top (ground, green looking nuts on top - or so we thought). The clerk stopped getting THAT baklava and gave us six green roll looking things. Rather than try to gesture our way out of that, we just took what he gave us - something made of pistachios. Turns out, these "happy rolls" as we came to call them were beyong spectacular! Yummy. And yea, we went back a few evenings for a little something. That is until we ordered the best dessert in the history of ever a few nights later.
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