We took a very long bus ride into Istanbul from Thessaloniki. It took about 10 hours, including our stop at the Turkish border where we got a pretty new visa! By the way, thanks Canadian government for screwing over those of us who travel! Bloody expensive 45 euro visa. At least we’re getting to spend two weeks in the country, which makes it more worthwhile. We arrived at 6pm and spent about 3 hours trying to get to our hosts’ place. Istanbul is a huge city – our only complaint while there is that its long and frustrating trying to get anywhere, especially anywhere out of the way. We finally arrived and our host, Bahadir was nice enough to order us adona kebab at it was late and we hadn’t eaten since breakfast.
The next day Janice and I headed across Bosphorus to the main touristy section of town. It took over an hour to get there by bus but we finally got there and arrived at the fish market. After a couple minutes figuring out how to get across the street we finally made it to the New Mosque to look around. After finding a bank to break our enormous bills we headed into the Egyptian Spice Market to look around and pick up some spices and Turkish delight. I have never liked Turkish delight outside Turkey, but in Turkey it’s actually quite nice! Full of nuts and not too sweet. After the market we wandered up to Topkapi palace and looked around the magnificent buildings before heading to both the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque – both magnificent buildings. We also managed to sneak in a visit to the cisterns which were incredible. After a less than stellar meal in the least touristy restaurant we could find (which was lousy) we headed back to our hosts’ place for the night. After meeting him we headed out to the main bar district and saw a live performance of Turkish folk music (which was good but loud) and then wandered home through the busy plaza.
The next day we headed back to the touristy side of town and wandered through the outdoor market first and then into the Grand Bazaar – the biggest indoor market in the world. It’s enormous and we couldn’t find our original entrance so we exited at the opposite side of the building and wandered into a café (we tried to find the least touristy) but we still ended up eating over-priced unappetizing food (wet kugel being the worst). We met Bahadir later than evening and he took us on a tour of his favourite mosque before taking us to a cool shisha café with an amazing over the city and the Bosphorus. We sat on the balcony in the warm evening air and had rose and mint flavoured shisha – which was actually pretty nice! Then we went to a bouza store – yes, there is a Turkish version of the Bulgarian drink, but its much sweeter and eaten for dessert, not breakfast. It tasted a bit like rice pudding without the rice, which I very much enjoyed (for everyone who knows about my rice pudding obsession!) We went back to Bahadir’s place and met up with a friend of his (Ondatje) who drove us down to Bebek (a posher neighbourhood of Istanbul). On the way, we had a little accident as he was backing the car out of a very tight alley; Ondatje sideswiped another car and took off its side-view mirror. Once we got to Babek we stopped for a common street food – a baked potato topped with the most outrageous items – pickles, peas, couscous, hotdogs and cold potato salad are all options. It was enormous but very tasty and we drank tea before walking along the river.
Our last full day in Istanbul was mostly taken up with a cruise of the Bosphorus – very pretty and we saw the sunset – and then walking among the fish stalls and restaurants. We had delicious lachmacun for dinner (like Turkish flatbread pizza) and hung out with Bahadir and his roommates for the night playing Turkish monopoly. The next day we had to leave on an overnight bus to Cappadocia later in the day, but we wandered through a couple more mosques, looked at the ruins of a bath complex and headed to Galata Tower where we were able to see the sunset from nine stories up before collecting our things and heading back to the bus station headed for Goreme.