Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Joe's take on Istanbul so far

We arrived in Istanbul on Monday, April 12, after an uneventful flight from Tunis. The weather was good and, for the first time ever, we were able to see what the pilot sees on our monitor because we selected "flight view." In previous flights I usually looked at the "flight map" but this was definitely a step above. I was surprised to see how black the tarmac was from all the rubber left by the plane tires when they land.

After checking in at the Alaaddin Hotel we went out for a light supper because it was getting late. We decided to try some street food and got some tasty Turkish doner and some water from a street vendor. On our way back to the hotel we stopped to sample a simple spinach gözleme, at a tiny outlet where the chair and tables were very close to the ground making it difficult to get up after we finished. At a small store near our hotel we got a couple of Efes beers which we drank in our room, while we watched BBC World News.

On Tuesday morning, after breakfast at the hotel, we decided to make our way to Taksim Square in the Beyoğlu area of Istanbul. Istiklal Caddesi is the main street and it is visited by 3 million people a day! We took the Tünel up to the street because the steep hill would have been too much of a challenge for us.

Before we started our walk we stopped at a fairly nice restaurant for some Turkish tea (Çay) and some Lahmacun, which is a pizza-like snack. After our snack I had to use the washroom which was located on the third floor. I was quite surprised to see that the toiled was a hole in the floor, which was not a problem because I just had to pee. But, since there was toilet paper, I figured it was a "full service" toilet. The floor was rippled on both sides of the hole so that you wouldn't loose your footing and also, I guess, that you wouldn't get your shoes wet. I seemed rather primitive yet, outside the toilet, the soap dispenser and hand dryer were automatic. Go figure...

Istiklal Caddesi, like much of Istanbul, is fascinating. There's some beautiful architecture, busy and crowded side streets with merchants selling everything and hundreds of restaurants of all varieties. I noticed a rainbow flag down one of the side streets and decide to check out the "Sugar Café." It is a small gay-owned café that was playing disco music. We decided to go in for some tea and to take the weight off our legs.

After meandering through various side streets we arrived at Taksim Square and decided to walk back. Before we got to the Tunel we decide to go up to the Galata Tower to take some pictures. It was cool and windy but the view of Istanbul, the Golden Horn, the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara is breathtaking.

Today, Wednesday, after making plans for our tour of Cappadocia, etc. we decided to check out the Spice Bazaar, and to look into taking a boat tour up the Bosporus tomorrow. The Spice Bazaar and the area around it is an amazing shopping area. You can find everything you want and, perhaps more importantly from my perspective, everything you don't want. Of course every imaginable spice is available. There are also bedding plants, cats, dogs, birds, seeds. clothes, leeches(!!), all kinds of sweets, toys, knives, etc., etc., etc.

We got tired and wanted to sit for a while so we stopped at a tiny food outlet for some really delicious doner and a yogurt drink. This place was amazing. There were only two tiny tables with a total of eight chairs. There may have been some more tables on the second floor. What blew me away was that there were ten staff on duty! There were more staff than customers! How on earth can they make a living that way?

Other pictures from Istanbul are here.

More later....

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