Visit to Istanbul April 2005 - Day 1

I arrived in Istanbul after flying from Rochester to Newark and then Paris.  Paris was a bit of a panic because there wasn't much time and I could not figure out which gate to go to.  I'm sure that there is a reason, but all the gates have a large (black & white?)  number on them; and they also have an equally large - and different, descending - yellow / black number.  I finally chose the right one just in time.

Flying over the city, and the Sea of Marmara, brought on a tremendous sense of anticipation.  I'd read quite a bit about the city's history, and the sight of all the mosques and minarets from the plane just made it all so real and exciting.  Unfortunately, after we landed, reality took over: First of all I was in the wrong line to get a visa, and then not all the luggage arrived.  The bag I'd brought for Ali was missing so discussions were held and papers were filled out.  I finally got through the gates and, among a horde of people behind a rail, heard "Dad! Dad!".  Finally found her and we set off for my hotel.

We were taking the public transportation; Ali led me to the station where we got a tram.  The station and the tram were all very modern and clean; this may be an ancient city and they may be still climbing the economic ladder, but they've done a really solid job of building their transit system it appeared.  The tram took us through the neighborhoods on the outskirts and then into the city proper, going through a gap in the ancient city wall - the Theodosian Wall (5th C Roman).  The wall is massive and thick; it took until 1432 to be finally breached in an invasion.  Now the tram drives through a sloppy break in it.

We had to change to a bus - good to have someone who knows their way around - and I (though lagging a bit from the flight) was revelling in all the new sights and sounds.  
Ali in Sultanahmet with Blue Mosque in the background (click for full size)In a short time we arrived in the Sultanahmet area where, besides my hotel, there are two of the most incredible sights in Istanbul (and the world) - the Blue Mosque and Aya Sophia Cathedral.  I immediately had to take a picture.  That's the Blue Mosque - properly named the Camii Sultanahmet - in the background.  (Camii means Mosque... pronounced "jammi" sort of).
My hotel - which she had already scouted out a couple of weeks before, was just past the Blue Mosque and down the hill a bit.  The buildings in this area are 18th C Ottoman and the immediate neighborhood showed signs of being well renovated over the previous few years.  
Ali outside my hotel - Four Seasons up the road.
My hotel was the Side Hotel ("Sii-dey" - named after a coastal town) which had two parts, a hotel and a pensione where I stayed.  The cost was 30 Euro for a single with bath; including breakfast.  The sort of room I appreciate when travelling - comfortable size, clean, friendly, no need for TV, and low cost.  Others around cost much more - including the Four Seasons, the yellow one just up the street, which I think was 300 - 400 Euro a night!

The vast majority of the streets in Istanbul - at least that is my impression - are made of these blocks you can see in the picture.  Often there are interesting designs to them - as can be seen from the view from the room below.
Side hotel Lobby View from my hotel room to the street
Just around the corner there is a little corner grocery, and across from that a small pub / restaurant; so everything, as they say, was conveniently located

Out to Ortakoy

So - I got quickly settled into my room and then we set off for a little exploration. One that would take us to dinner in one of Alison's favourite places and dining, umm, establishments in Istanbul.  Now one of my favourite establishments too.

First we passed 6th C Roman Emperor Justinian's Cathedral Aya Sophia (St. Sophie) - to visit another day - and followed the tram lines down the road past Topkapi Palace.  I got a small bag of roast chestnuts from a street vendor - but I think the chestnuts had been sitting on warm all day and they weren't as good as they smelled or as I'd hoped. I skipped the vendor with roast corn; a good idea but I wasn't really sure about it cooking all day. Later on I tried Simit - sort of a bread / pretzel / bagel with sesame seeds that are sold by street vendors and Simit shops.  Very very good!

The walk took us through a business district to the Spice Market, which is just a fantastic place - a warren of little shops, selling everything possible, most all staffed by energetic salesmen.  This is the way market should be!  We would come back here a couple more times - for scarves, electrical equipment, for Turkish Delight, for peanut snacks.  If I'd needed a wheelbarrow wheel - Spice Market is the place.  Get a suit while I'm at it too!

Back out into the city - we are now in Eminonu - and to the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn.  This picture is looking back to the old city from part way across the bridge.  The Spice Market would be somewhere in the very left of the picture I think.  And I think that the small mosque on the left is the exquisite Rustem Pasha which we visited another day.  The large mosque is 
Suleiman's  (Suleymaniye Camii to be exact.. have to deal with multiple spellings, including French).

Just getting to this bridge was an experience.  The broad sidewalks take you past all the ferryboats that are constantly criss-crossing the waterways.  There are all sorts of food stands - fish, Doner and snacks.  Ali buys a can  of cherry juice - good!  There is a walkway under the busy street / bridge traffic and it is filled with tiny tiny shops and the walkway is littered with vendors of all sorts.  Folks set up shop in an instant - a blanket, some merchandise and away you go!  Everything from leather goods to little packets of kleenex.

I took a few movies from the bridge which should get links here one day; it was windy so the sound isn't too great.
Aya Sopha Day 1
OK - so Ali probably doesn't like this picture but it sort of captures the image of the place well.   Link is to more pictures.
Looking back from Galata Bridge
So, now that we're across the bridge we are in Karakoy.  We wait a few minutes for the bus and Ali gets us on with her neat little bus pass.  It's a card like a credit card but it has a thick silver-coloured disk imbedded on it.  Place the disk on the reader in the bus and you're good to wherever the bus goes.  She explained, for when I'd be solo-ing, that you can pay cash but it's a bit of a procedure.  I think it was 1,000,000 Lire for a ride.  If there is a guy collecting money (we used to call them the "conductor" in England) you pay him.  If not you pay the driver, adding, gosh, I think it was 100,000 lire for his trouble.  We're talking 75 cents for the ride plus 7.5 for the trouble.  The driver then runs his card / disk over the reader and you're on board.  The couple of times I was without Ali they were really helpful and forgiving of my fumbling - especially when I was toting a large duffel and they made sure I got seated before paying.  This is the year of the conversion from the old to new Lire - divide by a million for the new "YTL".

Anyhow,  this bus goes careening down this city 2-lane (one way) road.  These guys really drive!  We rode the bus, it's the one she takes to get to the school, for about 10 minutes, going right along the Bosphorus most of the way until we got off and she led me on a goodish walk down another road before we turned into a side street.  The "plaza" at Ortakoy - with pigeons
A couple of small blocks on this street and we emerged along the edge of the Bosphorus at a sort of large plaza with cafes, a mosque and pigeons.  A really neat place.

Crossing the Bosphorus is one of the two huge suspension bridges in the city built in the 70's. We're in Europe and across the bridge is Asia.
A street in Ortakoy                                                         

we go back to finding our way around some little streets until the space opens up again and we are faced with a row of food-vendor stands.  

Kumpir vendors to be precise - a whole row of them.

Kumpir is really neat.  Take a very large, hot baked potato - sort of between a Russet and a Yukon Gold - slather it with butter and cheese.  Then choose from all the toppings in the case.  I don't remember all of mine; I was surprised that Ali had sausage (like a hot dog) slices and ketchup.  Didn't seem very foreign really.  But I duplicated some of hers and it was Really Good!

But the fun part was the two guys running the stand.  Clearly Alison had been here before - they recognized her and she and they were soon bantering away in Turkish ( and she introduced them to "Papa").
Here we are for Kumpir here are the guys Greeting Papa!
We got our Kumpir and they tried to tell her when to come back (I think they rent the stand on different days).  They didn't know the English for the day, so they told her to come back "tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow" - or in four days.

Our setting for eating dinner was incredible - along the Bosphorus just watching the water and people and boats going by.

After this we walked back, picking up a bag of popcorn from another vendor, and took the bus back to Kortakoy and Eminonu and walked back up to Sultanahmet.  Passed this Simit shop (it was next to a McDonalds of all things).
Simit shop in Eminonu
Finally at the top, past a spectacularly lit Aya Sophia and down the streets to the hotel (Ali had set off back to school).  between Aya Spohia and the Hotel

It wasn't that late so I took a walk around the Blue Mosque where there were some cafes and some Turkish music and a bit of dancing.

Sipped long on the tea and watched the musicians play.  Once they were interrupted by the speakers on the mosque blaring the call to prayer; the calls go out five times a day (I think); life keeps on moving for the most part except there are some folks who are very intently headed to get there in a timely way.

Blue Mosque at Night

Blue Mosque at night

And  so to bed after Day 1 of Istanbul