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Captivating Cappadocia

After a Brief Stop in Ankara... to Eat of Course!

semi-overcast 21 °C
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Spectacular Sunset in Cappadocia!

Spectacular Sunset in Cappadocia!

Ankara

Back from our Aegean Adventure, we had a small 3-day visit in Ankara, primarily a government city – modern and very cosmopolitan. It is also a very hilly city! We had picked up colds so didn’t overly-exert ourselves.

In the Citadel

In the Citadel

On our first day, we went in search of the Angora rabbit yarn, named for this city, only to find it no longer exists here. China and Britain seem to hold the current market so Christa and I were most sad, but we drowned our sorrows with lovely Efes beer and had an amazing dinner of İskender kebab at Uluda Kebapçisi. This dish, named after its creator İskender Efendi, originated in Bursa in the late 1800s and its official name "Kebapçı İskender" is trademarked by the original Bursa family. Made with slices of a sort of döner kebab, placed on cubed white bread or Turkish pita and topped with a spicy tomato sauce… yummy all on its own, but then taken over the top by pouring melted butter all over! Unbelievably good and served with rice and yogurt. We were so lucky to have wonderful friends living here to take advantage of all the local choice food spots.

In the Market

In the Market

On day two we experienced our first Hamam! At the Swissötel in Ankara, the Hamam is a series of sauna, steam rooms and a beautifully tiled circular bathing room. After arriving and changing into our robes (recommended wear is swimsuit bottoms or a spare pair of panties, though can wear a full swimsuit if you are more comfortable with the extra coverage), we were ushered in to the Sauna for some pre-softening, then the steam room for more thorough cooking. Deeming ourselves sufficiently well-done, we made our way to the main bath room. However, when we arrived our attendants seemed to think us to be on the rare side and we were sent back to the steam room for some extra wrinkling. Finally escaping from the steamy heat, we were led back to the octagonal marble bath room. There were individual hosing stations all around the perimeter where we were rinsed off before heading to the large central marble slab for a thorough scrubbing and manhandling (or rather more accurately womanhandling) – I don’t think my skin has been so clean and new since the day I was born! Was a bit horrified to see the growing pile of black, dead skin falling off my body! Though I am reassured by a Turkish friend that this is a normal result, even when you go for the monthly scrub – apparently it’s not recommended to do more frequent visits than that. Your skin needs time to recover!

Finally they were finished trying to remove any more layers and mercifully we were given another rinse off, before lying on the marble alter and having buckets of bubbles poured all over us. The feeling was actually really cool having large mounds of suds slip-sliding down over our newly revealed and overly sensitized skin. A final rinse and we were pronounced clean! Whew! We followed this up by an oil massage and left so silky smooth! Quite the experience! I think I liked it?

Ankara Crow Conversation

Ankara Crow Conversation

Leaving the hotel, we went for a visit to the Anit Kabir monument and tomb of Atatürk, whose name translates to Father of Turks. This monument was beautiful, simple and modern; set high on a hilltop in the centre of the city.

Atatürk is so revered here, even today, it is virtually a criminal offence to disagree with anything he did, or to say anything bad about him. The attached museum was very interesting, if appearing to be overly propagandized. Regardless of your personal opinions of the man, he made modern Turkey what it is today, moving it forward into the modern world at a seemingly impossible rate. During his leadership he created a system of ‘equal’ rights for women; established and created the current Turkish alphabet, replacing the Arabic one; created last names for the populace, of which his was determined by government members; and completely removed religion from government and all other areas of control. Although he operated more as a benevolent (to the Turks) dictator, he set up the democratic succession so successfully that Turkey has remained incredibly stable in an area of religious and political instability. Worryingly though, people are concerned as recent governments are moving away from this secular model.

Changing of the guard at Ataturk's tomb

Changing of the guard at Ataturk's tomb

Dinner was another foodie heaven – Kalbur Balik Restaurant, run by a gentleman affectionately referred to as the Fish Nazi. This small, hard-to-find restaurant apparently has amazing fish main courses, but I don’t think I’d ever know because the mezes are so good, I’d never get to it. We had so many varied and wonderful mezes for dinner that night I can’t remember them all, just know I need to return one day!
Thursday saw us head to the old winding streets of the Citadel (really the only part of Ankara that is older than the 1930s), as well as a quick stop at the mostly-under-construction, but good for what we saw of it, Anatolian Museum of Civilization. Also, you guessed it, another great meal. This time in the Citadel itself, in a beautiful and old house- Zenger Paşa Konaği.

Some shopping in the Citadel, coffee at Divan (Ankara’s oldest Turkish Delight maker), and then back home to pack for our trip the next morning to Cappadocia!

Shooter's equip from days gone by on the Citadel

Shooter's equip from days gone by on the Citadel

Cappadocia – Unlike Anywhere I've Been on this Planet

Beautiful spring flowers following us throughout this trip.  Göreme Open-Air Museum

Beautiful spring flowers following us throughout this trip. Göreme Open-Air Museum

Cappadocia is a short and beautiful 3-hour drive from Ankara, which would mean for me, that like Michele, I’d be going there a lot if I lived in Ankara!

Cappadocia defies description really, and believe me, the photographs do not do it justice. An incredible landscape of Fairy Chimneys, rolling lava hills in in a surprising array of colour and massive boulders. All created by the nearby volcanos that erupted millennia ago. Over the years, the rock that flowed from the volcano and up through underground tunnels have slowly been revealed by erosion of the surrounding soil, creating an unworldly landscape.

The beauty is only made more enchanting by the incredible history of the place. From pre-history to the Hittites of 1800-1200 BCE; followed by the Persians, who gave the area its name – Cappadocia means land of the beautiful horses, a reference to the horse trade that once dominated here; to the Romans, Byzantines and early persecuted-Christians who took refuge in the caves of the area. The area’s unique soft porous rocks provided shelter, rock-cut monasteries and underground cities.

Chimneys, hey! – beautiful horses, and evil-eyes, Oh My!

Chimneys, hey! – beautiful horses, and evil-eyes, Oh My!

Our hotel was a cave hotel, as are many in the area, the Elkep Evi in the town of Ürgüp. It's a small hotel with fantastical rooms and ours was fabulous, sleeping three very comfortably and having a beautiful terrace overlooking the city from which we drank our wine in the evening, picked up from a nearby winery.

View from our hotel balcony!

View from our hotel balcony!

After checking in, and having lunch at the wonderful, but expensive Ziggy’s restaurant, we headed straight to the Open-air Museum in Göreme, dodging like we have through the entire trip, regular but short rain storms. The open-air museum is a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the important Byzantine monastic settlements in the area. Wonderful fresco-decorated churches, begun in the 3rd century, but most from 9th to the 11th century, and carved into the rocks. There seemed to have a predominant preoccupation with St George and his dragon slaying adventures here as many of the chapels were named and decorated in his honour. It was a beautiful place to wander through, but unfortunately many areas were closed off for restoration. You can also see dwellings, troglodyte villages and underground cities in the area. What is a troglodyte anyway? Besides a really cool sounding name? Turns out it refers to cave dwellers in antiquity! Huh!!

Entrance to a chapel in the Goreme Open Air Museum

Entrance to a chapel in the Goreme Open Air Museum


Wonderful fresco in a cave chapel

Wonderful fresco in a cave chapel

Saturday morning and it was balloon ride time! Overly expensive, very packaged and touristy, it was still an amazing experience, quite simply for the scenery and ability to get a birds-eye view of the incredible landscape. We were up at 4am, to be picked up and ferried to a very bad buffet breakfast (opt to skip this if you go) and then to the balloon site. There are literally hundreds of balloons taking off in the morning, making an impressive sight all of their own. The balloon pilots expertly drifting down so close to the rocks they brush over bushes as they clear the valleys. Simply indescribable, especially as the rising sun painted the greens, reds and yellows of the landscape!

Predawn light with hundreds of balloons drifting close to the flowing rock

Predawn light with hundreds of balloons drifting close to the flowing rock

In our basket, there was Christa and myself, 2 Aussies and 12 Americans on a Christian Site pilgrimage. They were very nice, but one member, as we silently drifted over the landscape, the only sound being the whistling wind and the periodic balloon's flame-heater, started to exclaim… “Martha, have you ever been somewhere so quiet? I can’t quite believe I’ve ever been somewhere so quiet. It’s really amazing how quiet it is up here. John, have you been somewhere so quiet? Oh my stars, this is the quietest place I’ve ever been. How about you…..” Oh dear…

Beautiful rosy lights start bathing the lighter colours of the valley

Beautiful rosy lights start bathing the lighter colours of the valley

After drifting over a wide variety of landscapes we touched down on a plateau covered in fragrant wild sage, and actually landed precisely in the middle of the flatbed truck meant to carry off the balloon and basket. While they gathered up the silk of the deflated balloon we had what was advertised as ‘champagne’, but was in reality a glass of the ubiquitous, but very nice, sour cherry juice (vişne suyu), topped off with the tiniest of smidgeons of champagne and poured into glasses set up subtly around the very carefully lab led “Tip Box.” Still, nothing could take away from the high of this experience! And it is important to make sure you have a reputable company with well-trained balloon pilots, so don’t be tempted by the cheaper options.

Changing landscape and colours from the balloon

Changing landscape and colours from the balloon

The rest of the weekend was spent exploring some of the areas sites and more famous rock formations.

Popped into Avanos to check out some of the wonderful handmade pottery of the region, decorated in a rainbow of colours and patterns. We watched as one ceramic artist joyfully made a traditionally-styled wine jug for us, demonstrating the various techniques.

Working on pottery in Avanos

Working on pottery in Avanos


Lovely house in Avanos

Lovely house in Avanos

Devrent Valley (Imagination Valley), behind Göreme, is a long valley that doesn’t have any historical caves, churches or monasteries, but instead is a beautiful, fantastical golden red landscape of fairy chimneys and naturally shaped rocks in some very interesting forms. Some are nicely G rated, like the oft-photographed camel rock, while others provide a rather high realism ode to the Shiva Lingam!

Camel Rock and other interesting formations in Devrent Valley

Camel Rock and other interesting formations in Devrent Valley


Fairy Chimneys in Imagination Valley

Fairy Chimneys in Imagination Valley


Turkey2012.._05_25_0035.jpg

Uçhisar Castle (Tiptop Castle) sits atop Uçhisar rock and is the highest point in Cappadocia. An elaborate Roman rock-cut castle, it provides a dramatic backdrop to many sites in the area. Formerly the outer castle defense for Cappadocia, in more peaceful times it functioned basically as an apartment building, till as recently as the 1950s. Running behind the city is a valley filled with chimneys and cave homes and loads of pigeons. Aptly named Pigeon Valley, for the important birds that lived there. Important as message carriers as well as using the shells for the plaster in the buildings.

Pigeon valley and Uchisar Castle

Pigeon valley and Uchisar Castle


House in Pigeon Valley, with small pigeon or dove cotes... not sure how you move the sofa up those stairs?

House in Pigeon Valley, with small pigeon or dove cotes... not sure how you move the sofa up those stairs?


Wonder where Pigeon Valley gets its name?

Wonder where Pigeon Valley gets its name?


Uchisar Castle and the Sultan's Potions sold outside

Uchisar Castle and the Sultan's Potions sold outside

The next morning we were off to see one of the 36 underground cities in Cappadocia. Derinkuyu is the deepest at 11 floors. Only 20% is available to tourists but it gave us a glimpse at what it must have been like when used by the regions inhabitants. It was originally started during the Hittite period (8-7th centuries BCE) and expanded over the centuries to ultimately provide a safe hold for an estimated 20-50,000 people along with their livestock and food supplies. There are over 600 doorways to the city, specialized rooms for stables, churches, oil presses, wineries, all you’d need if you have to evacuate and hide from enemies, which was its primary use. With underground water supplies in addition to the surface supply, it was an effective place of safety for many over the centuries. Massive rolling stone-disc doorways, weighing 200-500 kg with a centre peephole were used to block passage ways.

Rolling stone door... hard to kick that down!

Rolling stone door... hard to kick that down!

Passageways can be very narrow, steep and low so not for those who are claustrophobic, but remarkably constructed and with over 15,000 ventilation systems that work quite well even today. The city was also connected to other underground cities in the area.

Hope it doesn't get much narrower!

Hope it doesn't get much narrower!


Spectacular Sunset in Cap

Spectacular Sunset in Cap

We spent our final Sunday morning with Ruth, a Kiwi ex-pat who has lived in Göreme for 22 years. She owns and runs a carpet shop called Tribal Connections, specializing in the regional Kilim carpets. She gave us a run-down on navigating carpet shopping in Turkey, which was really practical and interesting. She also turned us on to what would be my favourite site amongst so many amazing ones – the Selime Monastery in the Güzelyurt area. This part of Cappadocia was so dramatically off the mass-tour routes that it was almost tourist free! A wonderful peaceful way to end our trip here.

The volcanoes responsible for this captivating landscape

The volcanoes responsible for this captivating landscape

Our first stop was in the cute little town of Güzelyurt (means beautiful land or home), amidst atmospheric rain and no power, which made lunch an adventure! We strolled the picturesque and hilly streets leading to an old church – the Great Church Mosque (Büyük Kilise Camii). Built in 1896 as the church of St. Gregorius over an older original church site from385. It's thought to be the birthplace of the Gregorian chant! Now a mosque, the very nice (and cute!) Imam gave us a quick tour, including a visit to a well purported to contain holy water. And then gifted us with nice pamphlets on Islam. St. Gregory was from this area, hence the predominant churches and chapels named in his honor; however, he wasn’t the only family saint. Four of his brothers were also named as Saints – St. Macrina the Younger, St. Naucratius, St. Peter of Sebaste and St. Basil of Caesarea. Wonder how fun Sunday dinners were at their house?

Lone flower at the Great Church Mosque

Lone flower at the Great Church Mosque


Lovely family portrait in Guzelyurt

Lovely family portrait in Guzelyurt

The town has been here for over 3000 years and little has changed, in fact now it is protected from modern development. New building must use local stone and be appropriate in style for the town. In 1924 one of the mass population exchanges occurred here with the Ottoman Greeks leaving and Muslims moving in.

Taking shelter from the rain

Taking shelter from the rain

Sitting high on the Analipsis Peak above Güzelyurt Lake is the Yüksek (High) Church, the highest church in Cappadocia. Not much seems to be known of the structure or when it was built. A part of the chapel is attributed to the Byzantines, while another area is thought to have housed a Christian monastery. The backdrop of Lake Güzelyurt, snow-capped volcano – Hasan Dağı, caves cut in the surrounding cliffs and picturesque fields of various greens made this spot yet another captivating moment.

Guzelyurt Lake below the Yuksek Monastery

Guzelyurt Lake below the Yuksek Monastery


Looking out from the Yüksek (High) Church

Looking out from the Yüksek (High) Church

Finally, it was off to the Selime Monastery! The Selime Monastery is the largest rock-cut monastery in Cappadocia, built in the 13th century and contains the usual stables, kitchens, monastic cells as well as a full size cathedral. Based on some inscriptions it is assumed that it was built by an aristocratic family and likely the seat of power in the area. Most of the frescos are faded into a faint outline, if evident at all, but this place was wondrous. As awe-inspiring as the Göreme Open Air museum, but with only a handful of people, and no areas roped off. Although by far my favourite Cappadocia site, it’s not for those with a fear of heights. It is a fairly difficult climb in some areas, eroded stairways and sloping rain run-off channels lead you from floor to floor, with no railings or handholds. Wear good shoes with a nice grip!

Looking out from a cave cell in Selime

Looking out from a cave cell in Selime


Turkey2012_05Cappadocia_05_27_0428dk

Turkey2012_05Cappadocia_05_27_0428dk


Selime Monastery

Selime Monastery


Selime Monastery, with puppy standing guard

Selime Monastery, with puppy standing guard

On a side note, though the movie scenes were shot in Tunisia, the scenery for the Sand People in Star Wars was shot here.

More wonderful rock sculptures outside the Selime Monastery

More wonderful rock sculptures outside the Selime Monastery


Donkey!

Donkey!

Like everywhere in Turkey, the stray dogs and cats were standing guard over the monuments. But unlike many other countries I’ve travelled in, these animals are relatively well-fed by the average Joe & Jill. In fact many city governments have standard poliiesy to catch, neuter and release stray animals in Turkey. Tags are placed in the animal's ear to show that they have been fixed. We saw dogs and cats peacefully living, being fed by restaurants and individual people, guards playing string games with resident stray cats and fat puppies freely frolicking among ruins, temples and rock caves. Says a lot for the Turkish Society. To quote Gandhi “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated.” As an animal lover, was a nice experience!

Running ahead of storm clouds on the way back to Ankara

Running ahead of storm clouds on the way back to Ankara

Leaving Cappadocia on the drive back to Ankara, a large thunderstorm was following on our heels, sometimes catching up. Luckily we arrived back before the main storm hit, and had a wonderful evening watching the lightening show over the city from Michelle's apartment. Next morning, we were off to Eastern Turkey!

Thunder and lightning over Ankara

Thunder and lightning over Ankara

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 00:07 Archived in Turkey Tagged food landscape caves cappadocia turkey byzantine goreme ankara ataturk derinkuyu selime avanos balloon_ride uchisar troglodyte Comments (1)

Talkin' Turkey! Sublime Constantinople!

Eating and exploring and eating and shopping and eating in Istanbul!

rain 17 °C
View Talkin' Turkey, 2012 on LisaOnTheRoad's travel map.

Istanbul reflecting the golden sunset on the Bosphorus

Istanbul reflecting the golden sunset on the Bosphorus



My first visit to wonderful Turkey, provided 3 weeks of unmatched exploring. Travel with Christa is always great. In part because of the compulsive researching we both enjoy doing when we travel, but this trip was made more fantastic by our friend Michelle. Michelle is working for the Canadian Government in Ankara and was an unparalled host, tour guide, driver, travel consultant and friend during our visit!

A few peeps have been complaining that it's been a long time since my last blog ( lisaoindiaiv@travellerspoint.com ), which is actually quite nice because you're not sure if anyone actually reads and/or looks at your entries. I must appologize, but life, starting a company, and travelling have put me far behind on the blogs. Time to play catch up!

I travelled to Istanbul, for 3 weeks in Turkey, on my way back from 2 months in India in May 2012. We spend several days at the beginning and end of the trip exploring Istanbul, so I've combined all Istanbul-travels into this first installment. Let's begin...

Descending into Istanbul

Descending into Istanbul

It was an easy flight to Istanbul and a beautiful sunny day, so the view below was fascinating. As we came in to land, we flew over the gleaming, magical city. It never fails to amaze me when you fly over a place, and it looks just like maps in a book. I know that seems a silly comment, but there you are…. The Sea of Marmora, the Black Sea, the Bosphorus and Golden Horn Harbour all laid out below me. The Sea of Marmora was filled with massive freighters heading to this wonderful place that I’ve read about for so long… Gateway to Asia - Byzantium, Constantinople, Ottoman Empire… so much wondrous history.

I was picked up by a lovely young English student at the airport and whisked through the fantastically clean and orderly streets (especially coming from India), along the Bosphorus to the old city of Sultanahmet where we were staying. Beautiful spring flowers were everywhere and such a bright clear day, which it turns out was not the norm this trip. It was so quiet on this drive that it was hard to believe this is a city of 13 million.

Watermelon season against the old walls of Constantinople

Watermelon season against the old walls of Constantinople



We passed the walls of old Constantinople on the way and my excitement began to rise. We were staying at the modern, but affordable and ideally-located Erboy Hotel. Best thing for me this trip was their willingness to store my huge suitcases (coming from two months in India), while we hit the road, enabling me to dash around the country with my carry-on. Christa had arrived late the previous night from Victoria, so had a quick shower and we were off!

Not just incredible mosaics in the Chora Church, even the marble is cut and selected to form incredible patterns

Not just incredible mosaics in the Chora Church, even the marble is cut and selected to form incredible patterns



We decided to head to the recommended Chora Church, referred to locally as Kariye Kilisesi. The original Church was built outside the then city walls of Constantinople in 5th century, however most of the existing Byzantine building was built at the end of the 11th century. Chora translates to country, the full name of the church meaning the Church of the Holy Saviour in the Country.

Cats galore in this country ~ Guard at the Chora Church entertaining the local colony's kittens!

Cats galore in this country ~ Guard at the Chora Church entertaining the local colony's kittens!



The church was small but beautiful and the mosaic tiles incredible – so intricate and fine the details – and the marble work stunning. To get there, we took the tram to a bus stop by the Grand Bazaar, then hunted around for 10 minutes looking for the spot to buy tickets before hopping onto the bus 90B. We had written down the name of the Church in Turkish to show our bus driver, cleverly thinking he would let us off where we needed to be! Best laid plans… he mumbled something at us, shaking his head in disgust at our lack of understanding, so we just smiled (I might have added a head bobble!) and went to sit down where I whipped out my phone and handy dandy GPS. Really is a godsend this Google Maps! The bus went up hill from the water into increasingly narrow and winding streets, till the bus could literally go no further. At which point, he backed up a side street and told/gestured everyone to get off! Ahhh…. That’s what he was trying to tell us! We hopped off and a pair of lovely local women, kids in tow, seeing our piece of paper, promptly motioned us along and led us the rest of the way. We found this to be the norm in our Turkey travels. You couldn’t look confused for more that few minutes before someone came up to you wanting to help. Lovely people!

One of the domes in the Chora church

One of the domes in the Chora church



Before touring the church, we decided to have lunch at an amazing Ottoman restaurant next-door. Āstāne replicates menus from the Sultans of the past, listing the year the recipe was taken from. We had Gömlek “Fatty Apron” Kebab (1764), which was spiced and minced beef and lamb wrapped in caul fat and baked, it was served with a bulgur pilaf with chestnuts, from 1469; and to finish off, our first Turkish Coffee with Helatiye (1539) a milk pudding served with almonds, pistachios and a jello-like cube-thing in rose water. Hard to describe, but the combination of flavours and spices seemed somehow old. Wonderful and odd at the same time.

One of the fantastical mosaics in the wonderous Chora (Kariye) church

One of the fantastical mosaics in the wonderous Chora (Kariye) church



After wandering in awe through the museum-church, we walked the Walls of Constantinople, following a walking tour from the wonderful Rick Steve’s travel book. Although previous versions existed, what you can see today were built in 408-450 AD and ran 13 miles around the city, making it virtually impenetrable for over 1,000 years. We walked the remains between the Chora Church and the Golden Horn, meeting fascinating locals going about their day. By this time we were draggin our feet and decided to head back to Sultanahmet for dinner. We were looking for a well-known local fish haunt, Balikçi Sabahattin, purportedly one of the best seafood restaurants in the city, and one of the most difficult to find! At the end, we were wandering down a dilapidated alleyway (leading 4 lost Brits who also wanted to eat there), along the train tracks, when finally the sign appeared! Yay!! Luckily it lived up to its rep and the fish was fantastic. I had turbot – a really ugly fish that was new to me.

Sorting wool on the streets of Istanbul

Sorting wool on the streets of Istanbul



Dinner done, it was now 9:30 and we crawled up the last hills for the day to our hotel, lay down and passed out!

The next morning, we were heading to the new city for our Turkish cooking class – Flavours of Turkey with Selene. The class took place in her home, an old apartment house built by her grandfather. There was a couple from New Zealand and another couple from Quebec who joined us making dolmos, tomato salad, flaky pastry “cigars”, artichokes, carrot salad and apricots stuffed with clotted cream (kaymak) and dipped in pistachios and placed on a bed of spun sugar (Pişmaniye), which is made by blending flour and roasted butter into sugar.

One of the many atmospheric side-streets of Istiklal Caddesi

One of the many atmospheric side-streets of Istiklal Caddesi



After yet another overeating venture, we decided to walk the main drag, İstiklâl Caddesi (avenue), starting from Taksim Square, down to the Galata Bridge. The street is mostly empty of cars, which is really nice for walking, except for the “nostalgic tram” which runs the length. All types of Turks are here, western looking, scarf-wearing and burka-robed people, strolling the streets dotted with restaurants, lokum (Turkish Delight) shops, art nouveau facades and designer-label shops. We stopped into Ali Muhittin Haci Bakir, arguably Istanbul’s favourite lokum and family run since 1777. We of course had to taste the delish varieties, including my fav – double roasted pistachio. And then there was the Halva, also wonderful – a tahini sweet made with crushed sesames, flour and sugar. We also popped into Mado Café – a local favourite for Turkish ice-cream made with goat’s milk and wild orchid pollen. It was really good, but has a gluey texture that kind of stretches as you pull up a spoonful. No shortage of food this trip!

The very trendy Istiklal Caddesi (street)

The very trendy Istiklal Caddesi (street)



At the bottom of the hill, we took the Tünel, an old subway train in the world’s second oldest subway station, down to Galata and back Sultanahmet for a quick change before our evening dinner cruise on the Bosphorus.

Istanbul lit up as we depart on our Bospherus cruise

Istanbul lit up as we depart on our Bospherus cruise



Dinner Cruise on the Bosphorus -- Well… what can I say. We went for this because a friend’s recommendation, though sadly we went with our hotel-discounted company instead of the one recommended by said friend! Will know better next time! Was actually pretty funny in the end, but I’d say, don’t go for the Istanbul Dream cruise run by Senkron Travel Agency! They’re discounted for a reason!! We were nicely picked up at our hotel and brought to the boat. We had opted for the alcohol-included menu, so our waitress came over to offer us “fruit juice or pop”. Uhhhh… by the time we had successfully communicated that we wanted alcohol, we were told, red wine, white wine, vodka, or whisky, but whisky would cost extra. Vodka we exclaimed... with?.... 10 minutes later (OK, probably only 2, but seemed like 10), we had managed to get a list of available mixes out of her and settled on Vişne Suyu (the ubiquitous and yummy sour cherry juice), which was rapidly becoming my favourite drink there, so good it was!

Dinner arrived, which was the worst food we had in Turkey, during the entire trip. We finally managed to signal for our waitress to order the second of our “all you can drink” drink, which was some awful red wine, when the cultural program started… a magician! Huh? Not the first thing I think of when I think of the culture of Turkey. Followed by two men dancing around with their shirts over their heads? Oy! The belly dancer portion was OK. At least the men thought so! She started to get people up to dance with her, and approached a young Indian girl, quite obviously there on her honeymoon. With the urging of her groom she reluctantly got up, and proceeded to outshine the belly dancer with some beautiful bhangra dancing. Not to be outdone, the belly dancer upped her game and began to do all kinds of contortions, to the floor and up, across the room, etc. but, the bhangra princess kept up all the way.

Boshorus Bridge, that displays a changing light show at night

Boshorus Bridge, that displays a changing light show at night



By that point, we decided to head up to the deck above, passing by the bar for warming beverages (it was quite cold). We missed out on the marriage celebration show and the disco that happened next, but that was fine by us because, for all of that, you absolutely should do this (tho not with this company) because the views from the boat, as you pass around the Golden Horn and up the Bosphorus at night are breathtaking. Beautiful modern and old buildings illuminated with golden lights, and wonderful light shows from the many bridges spanning the straight make for really a magical experience. And, this particular cruise provided no shortage of funny memories!

Beautifully cobbled Queen Mother's courtyard at Topkapi Palace

Beautifully cobbled Queen Mother's courtyard at Topkapi Palace



The next day, we got up super early, since we were catching the flight to Izmir later that night we had a lot to pack in. First stop was Topkapi Palace and even though we had arrived for opening, the crowds were incredible. We picked up our audio guides and went straight for the harem. The tile work is quite exquisite, and the audio-guide quite good to this point, but not as exciting as I expected from guidebook recommendations. Maybe because I’ve seen so many spectacular buildings in India lately, not sure, but neither one of us was overwhelmed. I think it would be worthwhile to source out a really good guide, who can make the place come alive, because I’m sure there are many fascinating stories of this place.

Intricate tile and glass work in Topkapi

Intricate tile and glass work in Topkapi



The audio guide actually became quite funny as we progressed though. It was almost like they got tired of describing places, as they became increasingly spare and repetitive. Entering a sultan’s private room, it would say “take note of the beautiful blue tiles”. Full stop. Into the circumcision room – this room was used for the Sultan’s son’s circumcision ceremonies and given the titillating name, surely had some stories, but nope… “ you are now in the Circumcision Room, note the beautiful tiles”. Full stop!

Note the beautiful tiles!

Note the beautiful tiles!



The Treasury was my fav part, with fantastic gold and jewels, which were in cases literally in front of your nose, not like in the Tower of London where you are behind a velvet rope, far back from the cases. The work and sparkle were mesmerizing, especially the Spoonmaker's diamond. 86 carats, this diamond was reportedly found by a garbage collector and sold to a spoonmaker for a few spoons. Now that’s an Antiques Roadshow Find!

Before I was told, No Photos! in the treasury

Before I was told, No Photos! in the treasury


Doors in the Harem, plus tiles

Doors in the Harem, plus tiles



After Topkapi, we decided to pop into the Basilica Cistern. I’d been to and loved the Portuguese cistern in Morocco, but was unprepared for the magnificence of this one. It was built in 532 and rediscovered in 1545 by a scholar investigating claims from locals that they could get water by lowering a bucket through a hole in their basement floors, and could even catch fish this way.

The atmospheric Basilica Cistern

The atmospheric Basilica Cistern



The Cistern is 65m wide and 143m long, with 336 columns supporting the roof. Many columns were scavenged from other buildings, including two wonderful columns that are supported by massive Medusa heads. Another column had a beautiful teardrop carved design. Couldn’t help wonder what historic sites they once lived in. Shadowy figures of carp slowly swim by in the shadowy water weakly lit by flickering lights, as drops fall from the ceiling with an eerie echo. Wonderful place!

Head of Medusa used to support a pillar in the cistern

Head of Medusa used to support a pillar in the cistern


The other Medusan head, inexplicably upside down?

The other Medusan head, inexplicably upside down?

Fast forward to our return to the city at the end of the trip

Colourful and seasonal fruits & veggies

Colourful and seasonal fruits & veggies



We were again ensconced in the Erboy, this time Michelle was flying out to join us for our last weekend, but before she arrived, Christa and I went on what was one of our major highlights (of many) on this trip – a culinary tour of the backstreets of Old Istanbul, led by an American expat, Megan, from the company Istanbul Eats. It is one of 4 of their current tours offered, and I have added the other 3 to my ‘bucket list’.

Nuts, Nuts and more Nuts!

Nuts, Nuts and more Nuts!


Dried veggies ready for the off season use

Dried veggies ready for the off season use



Our adventures started with a meet up in the Egyptian Spice Market, one of Istanbul’s oldest markets situated across from Sultanahmet by the Galata Bridge. Built in the 17th century it is so named because it was built with money from Egyptian import duties. It specialized in spices from the Orient and it still offers an authentic bazaar experience. After meeting with Megan and the rest of our group, she led us to the various stalls. One selling just nuts, varieties of pistachios simply labeled with the name of the region they were from. Olives and cheese similarly labelled. Gorgeous fish and an interesting character of a fish monger. Strange facts, like artichokes and peas are sold by the fish monger! They are always sold shelled and trimmed to the hearts, which is done by the same type of knife used to cut fish, hence this odd happenstance. Imminently practical!

In the Egyptian Market, grape leaves and pepper masalas for sale!

In the Egyptian Market, grape leaves and pepper masalas for sale!


Colourful owner of the fish market, seasoning his wares with a soucon of ash!

Colourful owner of the fish market, seasoning his wares with a soucon of ash!



After picking up olives, bread, cheese and of course Simits (wonderful bagel-like bread covered in sesame) we went into the bowels of the market, and set up on a newspaper covered crate, next to the chai and Turk Kahve stall, getting out own coffee and tea. A constant stream of trays of tea and coffee heading out into the market to sell to the various stall vendors. Hard-working bunch! As we tucked into our, first, breakfast of the day, Megan outlined our route, so we could try to pace ourselves for the food. Luckily it would take us through the markets and up into the Fatih neighbourhood, which helped us a bit!

Simits, cheese and olives, Oh My!  Breakfast of champions!

Simits, cheese and olives, Oh My! Breakfast of champions!



After breakfast, we strolled down to see the Kokoreç Kid! There was always a story surrounding the different places we went and here was no different. Kokoreç is a very popular street food all over Turkey. Lamb or mutton intestines wrapped around offal, usually liver, spleen, lung and sweet breads, then skewered and grilled on a charcoal fire, it was then chopped and mixed with herbs and spices, wrapped in warm bread and presented to us! Now I HATE offal, but I found that this was actually good. Quite a surprise. The young man running the stall has apparently put everyone out of business in the area, he is that good. The story goes, that his parents had asked him if he wanted an apprenticeship, or university and he chose apprenticeship, so they set him up with the best Kokoreç Usta (master) in the city. Then, as luck would have it, the master had to flee because of gambling debts, leaving the student the new master of the area. He’s done so well, he drives a Mercedes and is engaged to the daughter of the richest man in Istanbul. And he kinda looks like Max on Dancing with the Stars!

Kokoreç Kid

Kokoreç Kid


All spiced up and final cooking for our Kokoreç

All spiced up and final cooking for our Kokoreç




Next up was a stop for some wonderful lentil soup and then off to meet the Pide Usta. The nearest thing you can relate Pide to in the west would be pizza, but it is so much more than that. To be fully enjoyed, it must be eaten within 15 minutes of leaving the oven, so it isn’t standing up very well to the new influx of Dominoes in Turkey. Here we had the traditional oblong-shaped, open-faced pide and made to order with wonderful seasoned meat, mild cow’s cheese (kaşar) and fresh veggies. Fired in a wood fired oven, drizzled with melted butter and topped with an egg! Heaven!!!

The Pide master's work, almost ready for us to devour

The Pide master's work, almost ready for us to devour



After pide, it was a trip through the Kantarcilar area where sellers have been selling weights and measures since Ottoman times. Rows and rows of wares, pots, coffee pots, trays, weights and measures. And in all of this, Lokum! Turkish delight is made with sugar, water, corn starch and flavouring/nuts. That’s it! I thought for sure it contained some sort of gelatin, but nope. This shop, Altan Şekerleme was mecca for Christa! And no hell for me! A family run, authentic candy store, passed down for four generations, since 1865 and some of the best we had, at ridiculously low prices compared with the more famous cousins in other areas of town.

Old Ottoman family Lokum (turkish delight) store proprietor

Old Ottoman family Lokum (turkish delight) store proprietor



Laden down with boxes of lokum, we were off next to stop in an old caravanserai for a break and a drink. Caravanserai’s were the Motor Inns of old, and dotted the trade routes of old. This run-down courtyard, with peeling doors of the rooms to rent was lovely. Also lovely, the colourful men sitting around smoking and having chai. Best mustache in Turkey!

Upper hall of an old caravanserai (inn)

Upper hall of an old caravanserai (inn)


This mustache would do any Rajput proud!

This mustache would do any Rajput proud!



Up next, a kebab (kebap) seller that we were all sworn to secrecy over. It’s not even in their guidebooks, or web reviews for fear of it becoming overrun. The Usta does not want to expand, makes only one doner kebab per day, and when it’s done, that is that! They sell that, and fresh squeezed orange juice. And oh-my-god! Best, beyond best I’ve ever had. The meat was incredibly interlaced with peppers and spices, shaved off and piled into pita bread, and then devoured. I GPS marked it on my phone. So must never lose my phone! Megan told us, if in doubt, in Turkey you should look for 3 things to determine a restaurant – a small menu, with limited items; plain, undecorated eating area; and a steady stream of locals. This fit the bill!

Best, best, best! I've ever had!

Best, best, best! I've ever had!



Our next experience at Vefa Bozacis was not one I expected to enjoy, but was definitely surprised. Boza is a thick drink made from fermented millet. Kind of like a milkshake and served in a glass, with a spoon, topped with cinnamon and roasted chickpeas (which you had to buy at the chickpea store across the street of course), it was quite wonderful. Another family run place, operating since 1876 and displaying the glass Atatürk drank his boza from when visiting, in a glass case. An ancient drink originating in Mesopotamia 8-0000 years ago, it is extremely healthy with all kinds of purported and wonderful benefits, including lowering blood pressure, stimulating the production of milk in women, and enlarging women's breasts!

Yummy Boza with roasted chickpeas

Yummy Boza with roasted chickpeas



After the breast-enhancing boza experience, we stopped at a çig köfta stall for an experience with “raw meatballs.” A potentially dangerous street food I’m thinking, and Megan said if this particular vendor wasn’t there, we would skip it, but, he was! Quite good, combined with bulgar, tomato and pepper pastes, herbs and spices. Not my most fav though.

Byzantine acquaduct, providing shade for the local mens' clubs!

Byzantine acquaduct, providing shade for the local mens' clubs!



Finally we reached our final meal destination, only it was also the biggest meal thus far! We were all up for it though, cause what a meal. In the Fatih neighbourhood, also known as Little Kurdistan, was Siirt Seref Büryan Kebap Salonu, a restaurant in the shade of a massive Byzantine aqueduct. Here, they specialized in a lamb, slow-cooked over coals and served up on a bed of flat bread. Also here, was a homemade Aryan drink (yoghurt, water and salt mixture, frothed up and served in copper mugs) and a celebratory pastry dish, Perde Pilavi, which is a peppery pilaf rice mixed with chicken, almonds and currents and wrapped in pastry. And that’s not all! We had some fantastic künefe (kind of cheese cake, topped with a nest of golden shredded filo) and the best baklava I’ve had, baked and delivered daily by a local woman.

Buryan Kebap oven, and almost finished lamb!!

Buryan Kebap oven, and almost finished lamb!!


Perde Pilavi with homemade mug of Ayran and salad!

Perde Pilavi with homemade mug of Ayran and salad!


Incredible Kurdish lamb Kabap!

Incredible Kurdish lamb Kabap!



And that was all in one day! We skipped dinner!!

The rest of our time in Istanbul was spent exploring the Grand Bazaar, the oldest indoor mall in the world, winding our way down hallways and corridors. Most of which is pretty much a touristic bunch o’ schlock, but, once again, Rick Steve’s came to our rescue and we did his self-guided walking tour of the Grand Bazaar that took us into the very few remaining authentic areas. Met a wonderful, and proud man, in the old Gold Souk. His stock in trade was to gather all the remnants of gold and silver from the various artisans and smelt it down into something useable. He showed us his forge and was in the middle of melting down some silver. Very hot! Had fun in a 5-generation, family-run Turkish towel (pestemal) store too – Eğin Tekstil. These towels are wonderful, absorbent and light. Perfect summer towels and the type used in the Turkish baths, which we experienced in Ankara!

Almost monumented out, we still packed in a visit to the Hagia Sophia (Aya Sofya) and the Blue Mosque. Unfortunately my photos from this day were corrupted, so must go back! The Hagia Sofia was the most miraculous building to me. More than 1400 years old, it is an architectural giant in the world. Many of the incredible works of original art were destroyed and covered when it was turned into a mosque in the 15th century, but some Byzantine art, mosaics and paintings have been restored. Considered the greatest church on earth for nearly a millennium, it was the largest domed building in Europe until the Renaissance. When you enter the nave and walk toward the centre under the massive dome, your jaw literally drops. It is so fantastic it’s hard to describe adequately. Some idea… Paris’ Notre-Dame would fit within the great dome. The 17th century Blue Mosque, still a practicing mosque, was very lovely as well. Lots and lots of blue tiles! but we should probably have seen it before the Hagia Sophia.

Driving to dinner-very poofy wedding dresses be the rage in Istanbul!

Driving to dinner-very poofy wedding dresses be the rage in Istanbul!



Our final night in Istanbul, and we had a wonderful dinner (I know, shocking!) overlooking the Bosphorus, with friends and fireworks in the background. Very fitting! Istanbul is more than you can imagine. This city has everything you could want, modernity meets legendary history, fantastic food, warm people, and endless alleyways and neighbourhoods to explore. Good thing it’s a nice convenient route to India! Next week, I’ll post on our adventures on the Aegean coast!

Fishing for dinner on the Galata Bridge

Fishing for dinner on the Galata Bridge

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 06:56 Archived in Turkey Tagged food history turkey istanbul constantinople Comments (3)

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