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Travelling in the Footsteps of Giants! Exploring the Aegean

Following the Coast from Izmir to Selcuk to Ephesus to Pergamum

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Theatre at Pergamum with Temple of Trajan above it.

Theatre at Pergamum with Temple of Trajan above it.

One of the great crossroads of the ancient world is a broad peninsula that lies between the Black and Mediterranean seas. Called Asia Minor (Lesser Asia) by the Romans and Anatolia by the Greeks, this place was phenomenal for a history-junkie like myself!

We landed in Izmir, a very cosmopolitan city, with a large population of ‘Levantines.’ This term seems to refer to anyone not of Turkish-Muslim heritage. We only had a night here, but stayed at the super luxurious Swissôtell (pronounced Sweeeeese-ôtel), happily at a nicely discounted rate, courtesy of Michelle’s connections. A nice stop before heading on our Aegean adventures.

Rolling Aegean coastline from the car.

Rolling Aegean coastline from the car.

The next morning we were up bright and early for the road trip to Selçuk, gateway to Ephesus! Driving through the rolling hills and fields that were filled with poppies and other spring flowers, I would find myself thinking of what it might have been like when Alexander, Marc Antony, Cleopatra and other amazing historical folk passed through this way. The interior is a high arid plateau, about 3,000 feet (900 meters) in elevation, flanked to the north and south by rugged mountain ranges. Within the plateau a number of ranges enclose broad, flat valleys, where several salty lakes have formed.

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Our Hotel, the Kale Han was lovely, very reasonable and super helpful and the town small, picturesque and surprisingly friendly given the amount of tourists that pass through on their way to the famous sites in the area – over 3 million people were reported to visit the sites of this area in 2012. Gerly, a friend of Michelle’s joined the group and then we were off to explore. Guided by Michelle’s handy GPS system, we drove through farm villages to the historical hotspots: first up – Didyma!

Temple of Apollo in Didyma

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This was the site of the 4th largest temple in the known world – the Temple of Apollo. The earliest temples here were dated to the 8th century BCE, with the final and most important being complete in 331 BCE. (It was, at 124 columns, only 5 columns smaller than the nearby Temple of Artemis, which was one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.) At the site’s natural spring, Leto is said to have given birth to Artemis and Apollo – the mythological twins (didymoi in Greek). The spring is said to have flowed until the temple was betrayed to, and destroyed by, the Persian Darius in 493 BCE. Restoration began in 334 BCE and the spring is said to have started flowing once again after a visit from Alexander the Great. The oracle here was the most important in Asia Minor, consulted by all the greats of the time, including Alexander and Croesus.

Steps from the cella (courtyard) to the sanctuary platform.

Steps from the cella (courtyard) to the sanctuary platform.


Beautiful Bull! and wings of a griffon. Was the former capital of one of two columns.

Beautiful Bull! and wings of a griffon. Was the former capital of one of two columns.

It was fabulous! At first glance, it seemed to be little more than a platform with fallen columns and large chunks of marble strewn about a field, but walking down one of the two tunnels on either side of the front platform, and you are in the massive temple proper, with all four walls still standing. It was incredibly beautiful and easy to imagine what it must have been like when the prophetic oracles were there to give out advice.

Central courtyard (cella) of the Temple of Apollo

Central courtyard (cella) of the Temple of Apollo

Theatre in Miletus

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A short drive on and we arrived at the ancient town of Miletus in the middle of vast fields of cotton. All that’s left of significance here is the Great Theatre, which is fab! You can see it in the distance as you approach and its size and relatively good state of repair let you imagine how great this city once was. Miletus was a major port city from 700 BCE to 700 AD until silt brought the harbour too far from the city. The 15,000-seat theatre, was reconstructed heavily in the 1st century AD and in really good condition. It was also virtually deserted so we were able to clamber about and explore freely.
Corridor to your seating

Corridor to your seating


Thespian Pup

Thespian Pup


From the top of the Miletus theatre

From the top of the Miletus theatre

Priene's City and Temple of Athena

Mount Mykale behind the Temple of Athena's columns

Mount Mykale behind the Temple of Athena's columns


Our final stop for the day was at Priene, and it was also our favourite. High on the forested slope of Mt. Mykale, the ruins of the city leading up to the temple almost completely deserted, with a local goat herder leading his goats home through the ancient streets, filling the air with beautifully resonant goat bells. With its extensive ruins, the 300 BCE city showcased a small 6500-seat theatre, gymnasium, temples, hospital, Byzantine church and stadium. When the city was originally established it was on the sea coast and the temple built on an ocean-side cliff. Today it overlooks a patchwork of farm fields.

Fountain at Priene

Fountain at Priene

The pièce-de-résistance of this lovely ancient city was the Temple of Athena, which was perched on the very edge of the mountain, overlooking the plains below. Alexander the Great actually “cut the ribbon” of this temple, that he funded the construction of, and gave the dedication at its opening. Five of the columns had been reconstructed but the rest were strewn around the temple platform in a beautiful, almost artistically arranged way. We all loved this place and could have spent hours wandering and exploring, but, the sun was going down so we hiked back down to our car and head back to town. This trip was rapidly turning out to be almost as much climbing as Peru and the Incan cities!

Plains laid out below the Temple of Athena

Plains laid out below the Temple of Athena

Dinner was at the fascinating Ejder Restaurant, seated outside under Roman Aqueducts. The area is famous for its çop şiş -- a kabob of small pieces of lamb. The food was really good and the family so engaging, but the really fun thing was seeing the book of notes, signatures and mementos left by past guests. There are several volumes and people leave some really strange stuff, like their hair and belly button lint! We signed in too and taped a Cdn coin, Air Canada napkin and an old, now defunct, Turkish Lira from Christa’s trip in 1990. They proudly showed us the comments from Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter as well.

Fabulous Ephesus!

Downtown Ephesus

Downtown Ephesus

It was Saturday and we were off to Ephesus! This was one of my “must sees” so was looking forward to it with palpable excitement. We met up with our guide and set off to what is described as “the best preserved classical city in the eastern Mediterranean and Europe.” And, it didn’t disappoint, although the crowds seemed overwhelming at times after our quiet explorations of the day before. Still, we were apparently lucky. It wasn’t quite high season yet and our guide told us that there are often 5-6 cruise ships docking each day, sending busloads to the site – that day there were none, so yay for us!

Temple Cat

Temple Cat



Once the Roman capital of Asia, Ephesus (Efes) had a population of over 250,000 and was founded in the 10th century BC by the Ionians. Alexander the Great was there in 356 BC and the Virgin Mary and St. Paul were purported to live here for 3 years. By the 6th century BC, the harbour was so filled with silt, the city began to be forgotten.

From the top of the Odeon looking down the colonaded street to the Temple of Domitian.  This was right next to public bath houses and a main entrance to the city.  New arrivals were expected to clean up before proceeding to the city.

From the top of the Odeon looking down the colonaded street to the Temple of Domitian. This was right next to public bath houses and a main entrance to the city. New arrivals were expected to clean up before proceeding to the city.

Only 20% of the city has been excavated to date, after nearly 150 years of archeological work and still you can get such a good idea of how the city would have been, strolling streets paved with great slabs of marble or more elaborate mosaic sidewalks and lined with the ruins of shops, temples and statues; visiting the terrace housing of the city’s rich and powerful; meandering through the baths and latrines; standing in front of the library’s impressive façade where 12,000 scrolls were once stored, the world’s 3rd largest; climbing up the 5000-seat theatre known as the Odeon, which held municipal meetings; exploring the hospital or Asclepion, complete with the snake ‘pharmacy’ symbols inscribed on stone that we still use today; seeing the clay pipes that supplied fresh water to the city, looking so similar to our own; and joining masses of tourists climbing the Great Theatre, which once held 25,000 people. Although its condition was not as impressive as at Didyma, it was still a sight to see.

Ephesus plumbing, nothing is new!

Ephesus plumbing, nothing is new!


Greek Goddess Nike

Greek Goddess Nike


Looking down the street of Curetes to the Celsus library

Looking down the street of Curetes to the Celsus library


The public toilets.  Patron would send their slaves in ahead to warm the seats!

The public toilets. Patron would send their slaves in ahead to warm the seats!


Checking out the activity on the Mosaic paved sidewalk

Checking out the activity on the Mosaic paved sidewalk


Amazing mosaics inside the Terrace Houses excavation

Amazing mosaics inside the Terrace Houses excavation


How the elite would live, Terrace Houses

How the elite would live, Terrace Houses


Who needs carpets! Terrace Houses

Who needs carpets! Terrace Houses

Love those poppies!

Love those poppies!

After spending hours, exploring and photographing this magnifiscent city, we drove over to the nearby Meryemana (Mary’s house) site, where the Virgin Mary was supposed to live at the end of her life. Considered a sacred sight for this, especially for Catholics, there’s no proof she actually lived in this spot. It’s based on a nun’s vision, and was subsequently authenticated by Pope Paul VI in 1967, however, the oldest evidence of the ruins date back only to the 3rd century AD. Still, nice forest it sits in.

House of the Virgin Mary

House of the Virgin Mary

Temple of Artemis

Melancholy ruins of the Temple of Artemis

Melancholy ruins of the Temple of Artemis

Our last stop for the day was the Temple of Artemis – one of the original 7 Wonders of the Ancient World and where Cleopatra’s half-sister Arsinoe was banished after trying to overthrow her sister’s rule. Public sentiment in Rome at the time saved her life and forced Caesar to send her to this temple sanctuary. She lived here for a few years before Cleopatra was able to persuade Marc Anthony to end her life. She was forcibly removed from the temple in 41 BCE and publicly executed on the temple steps. This violation caused a huge scandal in Rome at the time.

Temple goose

Temple goose

Apart from knowing the history of the site, it was quite sad to see it. Very little remains here – only one of its 127 columns still stands, reconstructed to give you an indication of its once massive size. This temple was a major stop and the largest in the world, beating even the Parthenon in Athens. Where did it all go? This once most important of locations now held a melancholy and wearied air to Christa and myself as we strolled across the grass.

After an exhausting day of sightseeing and ancient wonders it was off for an Efes beer and dinner at Selçuk Köftecisi, touted as one of the best Kofta places in the area to eat at. It was very good, if pricey for this typically cheap fare (think the recommendations are pushing the prices up) but the best was their dessert – The Temple of Artemis. There were only two left, so we quickly grabbed them and shared. Was rather like a really good crème brule flavoured with almonds, vanilla and tahini. Best dessert we had in Turkey.

Ancient City of Permagum

Next day we packed up early and hit the road for the drive to Bergama, a beautiful little town with winding hilly and narrow picturesque streets. There has been a town here since Trojan times and evidence of this is everywhere.

Bergama Fixer-upper!

Bergama Fixer-upper!

We stayed at a marvelous new B&B, the Hotel Hera. Set in an historic building, with massively thick walls and a really good ancient cellar converted into a very decent wine room. Our friendly and super helpful hosts happily showed us around and we picked a wine to enjoy on the terrace overlooking the town – really reasonable prices for the wine here too! In the courtyard, ancient inscribed tablets and pots, found during the restoration of the house are displayed and arranged among pots of flowers.

Lost in thought

Lost in thought

Asklepion

After dropping our bags off, we set of to see the Asklepion ruins. This ancient medical centre is one of the most important hospital sites of the ancient world and the destination of all the who’s who of the time: visitors included Marcus Aurelius, Caracalla and Hadrian. It was originally set-up by a local man, Archias, as a holistic healing centre and more spa-like than hospital, offering mud baths from the sacred pools, music concerts and dream analysis (in the Telephorus) – people believed dreams were the result of a visit from the God Asklepios, and held the key to curing illness. To the western world, however, it really became famous in the 2nd century AD under Galen, a physician to Pergamum’s gladiators, who is recognized as perhaps the greatest early physician. His expertise was based on the research he was able to do from the many victims in the gladiatorial arena and his work was considered the authority for western medicine till as recently as the 16th century.

The chambers in the Temple of Telephorus

The chambers in the Temple of Telephorus


Underground passageway to the hospital temple of Telesphorus

Underground passageway to the hospital temple of Telesphorus


Cool frogs everywhere around the Sacred Well

Cool frogs everywhere around the Sacred Well


Temple Chicks

Temple Chicks

In addition to the ubiquitous theatre, agora, and shop remains, there were sacred wells and a circular Temple of Asklepios, where the dream analysis was conducted. The Sacred Way once led all the way up to the Akropolis of Pergamum, which you could see in the distance.

Asklepion theatre and start of the road to Pergamum

Asklepion theatre and start of the road to Pergamum


Roman Bazaar Street (The Sacred Way), leading from the Asklepion to Pergamum on the hill, you can see the theatre near the top

Roman Bazaar Street (The Sacred Way), leading from the Asklepion to Pergamum on the hill, you can see the theatre near the top

The Akropolis!

Monday came and too quickly our last day in the Aegean region. Early in the morning we set off for the Akropolis. We ended up doing things a little backward, which made for some impressive climbing and sweating! Following the lonely planet’s guidance, we found a small hidden passageway that took us to the incredibly steep, in fact the steepest ever built, theatre.

Starting down the stairs to the theatre

Starting down the stairs to the theatre


.. and in the stairs

.. and in the stairs


Vertigo Inducing Theatre and Bergama below

Vertigo Inducing Theatre and Bergama below

The 10,000-seat theatre was set into the hillside and had an incredible view, but the steepness was surprisingly dizzying. After checking out the upper levels, we clambered on down, sections of which seemed to drop off into nothing. Finally reaching the bottom, taking a quick peak at the adjacent Temple of Dionysus, we set off down the hill on a barely-there path through fields of flowers and grass and fun critters; past temples, city ruins and pillars of old Pergamum town to an excavated house with bizarre but beautiful mosaic carpet of contorted faces. Then…. We climbed back up! So pleased with ourselves, we rewarded ourselves with ice-cream!

Wildlife portion, loads of cool bugs walking down from the theatre

Wildlife portion, loads of cool bugs walking down from the theatre


Hey, cool! Dung beetles! oh, and dung...

Hey, cool! Dung beetles! oh, and dung...


Amazing butterfly that looked kinda like a dragonfly

Amazing butterfly that looked kinda like a dragonfly


Fantasical mosaic carpet in the middle city

Fantasical mosaic carpet in the middle city


Some details...

Some details...


Pergamum cats like pistachio ice-cream too!

Pergamum cats like pistachio ice-cream too!

Most of the Akropolis site is in ruins, but the some areas were very interesting. The Temple of Trajan, built during the reigns of Trajan and Hadrian was in pretty impressive shape, and to stand in front of the spot where the library stood, formerly the 2nd largest in the ancient world, was similarly imagination-filled. Especially when you learn that Marc Antony stole all the scrolls as a wedding present for Cleopatra. So romantic!

Temple of Trajan

Temple of Trajan


Trajan Accolytes

Trajan Accolytes


Temple of Trajan

Temple of Trajan


Nice pied bird

Nice pied bird


...more poppies!

...more poppies!

After Pergamum, we popped into the massive and atmospheric === Red Basilica ruins===. Originally a giant temple to Egyptian gods Serapis, Isis and Harpocrates and built in the 2nd century AD, it was a major pagan site, cited by St John the Divine as one of the 7 churches of the Apocalypse. Supposedly the throne of the devil! My kinda church ;-) Christians later built a basilica inside the walls.

Red Basilica

Red Basilica


Inside the Basilica Christians built inside the building

Inside the Basilica Christians built inside the building


At the Red Basilica

At the Red Basilica

We stopped into a cute winding little town called Sirence for lunch. More beautiful rolling hills and cobbled streets, famous for fruit wines, which of course we had to investigate.

Street in Sirence

Street in Sirence

New ideas for planters at our fab restaurant in Sirince

New ideas for planters at our fab restaurant in Sirince

This ancient wonders trip too quickly over, we were on the road back to Izmir and our flight to Ankara. On the road, a dung beetle hitched a ride and was climbing up the back of Gerly’s seat! Quick to the rescue, and wanting something more stable than my phone, I grabbed the ‘kitty’ purse – a ubiquitous flying carpet-styled little purse we used to hold our joint moolah – to lure the beetle onto and then put the industrious bug out the window. Michelle, rather obviously I thought, said, “Don’t throw the purse out the window!” “ Ha Ha” say I, as I roll the window down on the highway to let the creature fly free… along with the purse! Letting out a little shriek, I squeaked “I did it!”

Not sure what the locals thought of a car backing up along the highway and a silly foreigner walked alongside scanning for our purse. Which, when located on the road, was immediately run over by a passing vehicle. Safely back on the road, money safe-n-sound, but zipper and purse pretty banged up, all was good! Except for the drama-filled re-enactments of my ‘friends’ that continued... for the entire trip!

At the back of the old Pergamum city walls, with an incredible view

At the back of the old Pergamum city walls, with an incredible view

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 19:29 Archived in Turkey Tagged history ruins turkey roman greek ephesus temple_of_apollo efes temple_of_artemis trajan bergama priene temple_of_athena miletus pergamum asklepion asia_minor Comments (0)

Talkin' Turkey! Sublime Constantinople!

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

rain 17 °C
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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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