Sunday morning and I was up and ready to go by 9:00. Unfortunately, clouds rolled in and it began to sprinkle as Lala and I headed to the Spice Market. Lala continued to assure me it would pass, and I was hoping she was right since we were supposed to be going on a cruise on the Bosphorus in the afternoon. Now the Spice Market was one of the shopping areas I was really looking forward to visiting. Saffron, peppers, henna, teas, figs, fruits, nuts, cheeses and candies. It was all here. We wandered down the isles and the aroma was intoxicating. At one end, Lala suggested that we try Turkey’s famous baklava at one of the oldest patisseries so we went in and sampled 4 different types. All made with pure honey and pistachios. This stuff was so sweet I thought it would squeeze the bitchy lawyer side right out of me. Yowsa!
Next stop was one of the stores famous for Turkish Delight. (By now you should have caught on that Turks love, love, love their desserts.) Anyway, I sampled two kinds and ended up buying a small box made with cranberries. YUM. I also ended up buying some really fabulous spicy peanuts. Good Lord get me out of here before I explode. (They freezer packed the peanuts and Turkish Delight for me, which I guess is standard procedure, so the two boxes would be fresh when I get home in November … uh guys you shouldn’t have bothered… there is zero chance the two boxes will remain freezer packed and unopened until November!)
We left the Spice Market and stopped by a rug store at my request. Lala took me to one of the oldest carpet sellers in Istanbul (5th generation selling out of an at an old Caravanseri (an old building that was once used by caravans of camel merchants who would stop for the night and exchange goods). Anyway, Metin met us at the door and was absolutely charming (gack all these Turkish men can turn it on). I explained to Metin what I was looking for and he produced some beautiful rugs. After the traditional drinking of the Turkish tea and exchanging of pleasantries we got down to the purchase. I ended up buying a nice runner for my entry way and am still debating about an area carpet for my living room. Exactly what I want, but not exactly the price. (Again, the Christmas ornament only rule has long been dumped….)
After rug shopping, we drove on to Beylerbeyi Palace. A summer residence for the Sultan and his harem on the Bosphorus. The Palace was gorgeous with fantastic murano glass chandeliers, hand carved furniture, beautiful carpets and silk covered chairs and couches. The Palace was tasteful and certainly not over the top like Catherine’s Palace in St. Petersburg. We wandered through the first level, which housed the main state rooms the Sultan used for meeting with his ministers and heads of state. We then walked up stairs to the private “Harem” quarters. Really very beautiful and quite modern (the Palace was built in the 1860s and only used for a brief period of time before the Sultan was tossed out in favor of a democratic government in the 1920s). Unfortunately no pictures were permitted, but it was a splendid opportunity to view a Palace that was completely in tact.
As we left the Palace, the rain started to really come down. ACK. Bad timing since we were heading to Ortakoy to catch our boat. Lala decided a detour was in order to allow the rain to let up a bit so we stopped at the Ortakoy Sunday market for some lunch and shopping. First the lunch… fantastic. I had this wonderful stuffed potato. They take a baked potato and mash it with cheese and butter. Then you select the toppings. (It is called kupir in Turkish.) I choose mushrooms, a spicy tomato concoction and olives. It was YUM YUM YUMMY. I took a picture of my potato, but what I really should have done is taken a picture of the woman sitting over from me. Apparently it is standard fare to mound on the toppings and this woman’s potato had to be four inches high (from the top of the potato). I have no idea whether she even tasted the potato, which was delicious by the way.
Lala and I then headed to the Sunday market in Ortakoy and we each bought a Pashmina since the weather had turned somewhat and neither of us had a jacket. Turned out to be a good call as the rain did not let up until we commenced the Bosphorus cruise. So after some browsing in the market (where some kid asked me “where in America are your from” without any prior conversation with me – geez is it that obvious??) and walking around Ortakoy (a very quaint little area of Istanbul rarely visited by tourists) we headed to our boat. Fortunately, the rain let up and the 1 1/2 hour cruise around the Bosphoros (Europe side and Asia side) turned out to be quite enjoyable. Beautiful views and beautiful homes on both sides of Istanbul.
After the Bosphorus cruise, Lala and I headed to Taksim Square for a walk through the area and a ride to the top of the Galata Tower with spectacular 360 degree views of Istanbul. An absolutely breathtaking view. We left Taksim Square and I arrived back at my hotel for an early meal and bed. Next day (Monday) Lala and I planned a trip to Princess Island instead of my original plan to go to Bursa on Tuesday. (Lala thought it be far too long a day for me after the U2 concert Monday night – boy was she right and when you read my U2 blog you will understand what I mean).
So Monday morning, Lala and I took the tram to the Bosphorus water front and jumped on a ferry to Princess Island (one of four islands in close proximity to Istanbul). It took about an hour and a half to get there, and the ride was absolutely lovely with a sunny day thrown in to make it even better. We paralleled the Asia side of Istanbul and the waterfront was lovely. We also passed by the other three islands finally arriving on Princess Island around 10:30. Lala and I headed up the narrow streets to the center of town. No cars are permitted on Princess Island so the only way around town is by electronic scooter, donkey or horse and carriage. Lala and I opted for a horse and carriage tour of the island (I will not get on a scooter as I still have a vivid memory of me running my scooter into a pothole on the way to Hanama Bay in Hawaii, doing a 360 over the handle bars and landing in a ditch. I was in Hawaii with the University of Houston football team for the Aloha Ball and a bunch of the players I was riding with came running over yelling that I was dead … so uh no scooter for me thank you! And donkey … not today – I have a U2 concert to attend tonight.)
Anyway, as Lala and I wandered the streets we ran into a little procession of people At the center of the procession was a very young little boy dressed in a blue outfit replete with crown and scepter. I learned that the child was being take for his circumcision, and it was a very big celebration day for Muslim families. I highly doubt the kid would be doing any celebrating once he was snipped. Poor kid had no idea the day would be painful for him and only joyous for his family. Oh well… Allah Sukur (Turkish for “thanks to God”.)
We reached the center of town, but before we hired a horse and carriage, Lala insisted we stop at a patisserie and buy some Turkish cookies. Geez its a good thing I am doing a ton of walking. These sweets would translate into multiple pounds. Anyway, we selected 3 different types: one made of figs, one made with sour cherries in a shortbread dough (my favorite) and one made of chocolate. So with our little box of cookies in hand, we hired a horse and carriage for an hour long tour of the island. It was a really trip… gorgeous homes, lovely views from the top of the island and our cookies!
Once we were back in the center of town, Lala and I did some more walking around the town before selecting a seaside restaurant for lunch. We sat down and ordered a selection of mezes (Turkish appetizers), a salad with oil and cranberry vinaigrette (looks like balsamic, but way way better) and sea bass. I decided at this point it was time to try the Turkish national drink – raki (similar to uzo, but made from anise. So we each ordered a glass, mixed it with water and took a sip. Ummmm … first taste … uh not so much. Lala told me to wait and drink the rest with my fish and then tell her if I enjoyed it. Well the fish came and yep… listen to the locals. Raki with fish = very good!
Lala and I caught the catamaran to the city (a high speed catamaran that made it back to Istanbul in about 35 minutes). Unfortunately when we docked It was time to say goodbye to Lala since I planned to wander around Istanbul on my own on Tuesday. Lala was a fantastic guide and really great at introducing me to Turkish foods probably unknown to the average tourist and introducing me to areas of the city not frequented by tourists. It was a very sad goodbye as I really like Lala and cannot recommend her guide services enough! So with tears we parted, and I headed back to my hotel to get ready for the big night – U2 – with fingers crossed that the directions given to me to get to the stadium by public transportation were correct.