After a long, and thankfully uneventful flight, Valerie and I began our long-planned journey to Turkey. We’ve strung together multiple tours through several different parts of the country for a total of almost 4 weeks. To make everything work, we had to limit ourselves to two nights in Istanbul before heading off to the wilds of the Kackar Mountains (pronounced “catch-car”) in Northeastern Turkey. We weren’t too concerned about the short time we had to explore this magnificent city as we planned four nights in the city on the return.
After settling into our comfortable hotel in the heart of the Sultanahmet region of the city, we decided to wander around to get our bearings. We discovered we were only a block away from the one of the most magnificent religious structures in the world: The Sultanahmet Mosque, or as its more famously known, the “Blue Mosque.” We met a gentleman outside the mosque by the name of Youseff who offered to guide us in the mosque for free. He was trying to drum up some business to his family’s nearby carpet shop. Since we were in the market for a Turkish rug for our new home, we decided to let him take us to the shop after the tour.
I was surprised by how enormous The Blue Mosque is – it holds a large number of worshipers at one time. At the rear of the mosque is an area where visitors are asked to remain so as not to disturb the worshipers. The mosque got its name from all of the beautiful blue tile work on the interior. It was just getting dark as we entered the mosque so we didn’t stay long as the evening call to prayer was about to begin. We knew we’d return at the end of the trip to take our photos.
So now it was time to check out the rugs. The experience of shopping for a Turkish rug was quite fun, and a bit overwhelming, with so many carpets of differing sizes, materials, and designs. But the owner cheerfully explained the different aspects of rugs and showed us many different designs while we sat and drank some tasty apple tea. The carpets were stunning, especially the silk ones. Sadly, they were way out of our price range. We finally decided on a particular carpet and after a few minutes of friendly haggling, we bought our first Turkish carpet. They packed it up in a case that would be convenient for carrying on the plane and kept it for us while we toured the country.
The next day was our first full day in Istanbul. I was suffering a bad bout of jet lag, so my energy level was not at its highest. We did a nice loop walk around the Sultanahmet area, visiting the Basilica Cistern, which is a very unique experience, and the Grand Bazaar, a shopper’s paradise. We did the audio tour of the Cistern and it was worth the money. We worked our way from the Grand Bazaar down to the Golden Horn and crossed the Galata bridge to the Beyoğlu District. We then worked our way back across the bridge, with a brief visit to the local fish market, and climbed the hill back to our hotel for a brief rest. Just wandering the streets is such a treat – you never know what you’re going to see.
After a refreshing nap and a light lunch, we wandered back towards another magnificent monument, The Hagia Sophia, which is adjacent to the Blue Mosque and is an important monument both for the Byzantine and Ottoman Empires. Originally built as a Christian Church, it later became an Islamic mosque, and is now a museum. This is another enormous structure with towering domes and arches adorned with Islamic religious symbols and sections of beautiful mosaic Christian art that had been plastered over when it was converted to a mosque.
After our visit to the Hagia Sophia museum and a nice walk around the Hippodrome, we decided to hunt down a place for dinner. During our wanderings, Valerie had spotted a place selling Turkish Ravioli, so we decided to check it out. Instead of the usual square shape with fillings of the traditional ravioli, this was very small lumps (about the size of marbles) of dough filled with lamb meat. This was served in a bowl, with yogurt sauce and chili oil spread over the top, followed by a combination of the three spices mint, sumac, and chili powder. This ravioli is a traditional Antolian dish and it was fantastic.
A fine dinner topped off the end of a wonderful day in Istanbul. We will return in a few weeks after our tour around Turkey to savor more of its delights.