Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Istanbul or Constantinople?

Michelle and I left terminal five O’hare after devouring a lovely plate of nachos at Bin 51.  On our plane was about 50 teenagers heading to Paris to study art, but it didn’t matter because we were in Economy Comfort on Air France which was a lovely little pod of luxury.  We were given wine, bread and movies as we flew over the ocean.  We had a layover in Paris were we enjoyed the accommodations of the Air France lounge where there was no shortage of chocolate croissants and cappuccinos.  A short three hour flight later we were in Istanbul!  We took a taxi over to the Beyoglu neighborhood where we found our apartment for the next few days and Liza! We enjoyed a bottle of wine and some Kefta in a crazy alleyway cafe. 
Istanbul is crawling with cats.  Everywhere you look are street cats.  When we headed out the next morning at the end of our steep street was a Julius Meinel sign and a small coffee shop.  The owner ousted the cats from the chairs and we were served up cappuccinos and delightful yogurt, honey and granola.  We were fueled for the day and we headed to Old Town to catch the sights.  When we arrived we were greeted by men who informed us that the Topkapi Palace was closed but they could take us to their carpet shops, we politely declined and made our way to the tombs of the Aya Sofya.  Aya Sofya is an old (like super old built in 537) church that was converted into a mosque, and later converted into a museum.  The tombs were buildings were all sorts of sultans, his wives and his children.  Each tomb was decorated in mosaics and the tombs were felt covered caskets that were arranged according to size, the largest the sultan, then his wives then his children in pecking order.  The boys’ tombs had turbans on them!  After hanging out in the beautiful tombs we went into the Aya Sofya, ay ya ay! Beautiful large ceiling and domes, incredible that it had been built so long ago!!!  It was awesome to see the frescos of Christians past with the art of 18th century Muslims side by side.   
Blue Mosque view from Aya Sofia
After the church it was onto the Grand Bazar! Upon entering there were shops for as far as the eye could see.  We spent time wandering the winding rows haggling for lamps and Turkish bath towels. We were famished from our adventures so we hit up a Doner Kebob shop and had fresh lamb with pita bread.  Across the street we spied the famous Hafiz Mustafa bakery across the street, we strolled across to sample the Turkish Delight and coffee.  It was an experience, but the sticky, gelatinous, nutty “delight” was less than delightful and the coffee thick as tar; we came, we did, need not repeat!  The other items we sampled at Mustafa’s was AWESOME, such as the pudding and cakes.  Doner Kebob’s though, the JAM!!!
Turkish Coffee? Delight?
After stuffing our faces we headed to the spice market to grab some spices.  We sampled pomegranate tea and purchased loads of spices!  We then made our way on foot back to our apartment across the Ataturk bridge.  On the bridge were tons of fisherpeople spending their after work time casting giant deep sea fishing poles off of the bridge.  These fisherpeople were not just your aging old men with graying beards, oh no this was an after work happy hour with fashion similar to Logan Square hipsters, I expect after they catch their fish they’ll grab their fixies and ride home to fry it up with some PBR.  Pretty crazy scene.  We made it back to our hotel and headed to a wine bar to gossip about the day and drink some Turkish wine!!
Day Two

Our late evening at the wine bar made an early start on Wednesday not practical so we journeyed out we went back to the Topkapi Palace and it was open, we strolled through the grounds and pictured what it was like to live here in 15th century 4,000 people deep.  It was rumored that the harem housed at least one woman for each day of the year and at one time a emperor had 112 children.  The palace people rarely left the grounds and were feasting on amazing food that ‘Merica would not see till at least the 1800s.  

Blue Mosque Selfie
After our palace aunt we ran into of course another carpet dealer.  He was a man in his mid 50s who lived in Sarasota Fl who of course would give us a good deal because you know we are from his country.  We headed to his warehouse which was a 200 year old skinny house that was seven stories high, with a crazy windy staircase with massive amounts of carpets and crazy old antiques.  There we learned about carpets, did you know you can light real wool on fire and it won’t burn?  One rug later we needed to check out the water source for the Aya which is the Basilica Cistrern which was a cistern that was into repurposing before it was cool.  There the Emperor Justinian in 532 went around and had his people grab columns from all over the Roman empire to hold up the cistern, he even hauled in two medusa heads that he installed upside down and sideways.  This creepy underground place now houses water and is home to tons of carp.  After our subterranean visit we finally made our way to the Blue Mosque, this beautiful holy place was pretty epic.  The Muezzin was chanting the whole time because of Ramadan, which created an amazing feel to this mosque.  Outside of the mosque 100s of people were gathering around with picnics awaiting the fast to end.  We headed back for our dinner of lamb shank and more delightful Turkish wine.

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