Friday the thirteenth!

Posted on January 13th, 2012 by

We started out the morning with breakfast in the hotel restaurant at 8am, and met upstairs at 9am to begin our daily tour. We began walking through the steets and after about 5 minutes arrived at the Topkapi Palace. Just to interject, I think it’s great that everything is in such close walking distance from our hotel! Who would have thought that this palace, the Blue Mosque, the Haghia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, and the Hippodrome were all within 5 minute walks of our hotel?? Anyway… We reached the Topkapi Palace and began our tour. The palace was built in 1459 and took 18 years to complete. The palace is huge and made up of a series of open courtyards and large domed buildings. Where the palace is located provides a fantastic view of the city. This was intentional because when the palace was built most of the trading done in the city came through in boats, and the Sultan could watch over who was entering and leaving. I think we all agreed that the view of Istanbul was breathtaking. From where we stood we could see both the European and the Asian sides of the city, and well as the water dotted with small fishing boats and huge yachts and ferry ships.

We continued our tour through the multitude of courtyards. Within the palace museum there are sections of different artifacts dating back to the Ottoman Empire. These included jewelry, clothes, and other precious materials, as well as an armory with every weapon you could imagine. A few of the main attractions included an 86 carat diamond, the prophet Moses’ staph, the casted footprint of the prophet Muhammad, and the ceremonial circumcision room. (Also just a fun fact: Within the rooms of the relics there are men who sit and read from the Quran 24 hours a day which are amplified throughout all of the rooms in the building.)

After spending close to two hours wandering the palace we left and went to the city streets. Here we separated for an hour so we could find lunch. After eating and walking through many of the shops we met up once more and walked a short distance to meet our van drivers. Our group split up between two full size vans and we drove to the Suleymaniye Mosque. This mosque is the second largest in Istanbul, and in my opinion, is just as beautiful as the Blue Mosque. One of the more interesting facts that we learned about the mosque is that it has unrivaled air circulation. I know, it sounds silly, but the mosque contains 126 windows which were important when the lamps used to burn oil. Our guide explained that when the oil lamps used to be burned the soot would collect in a special area of the mosque (on purpose). They would take the soot and turn it into paint, and actually painted parts of the inside of the mosque using that paint!

After leaving the Suleymaniye Mosque we walked to the Grand Bazaar. In the few blocks surrounding the Grand Bazaar merchants line the streets selling basically anything and everything you can imagine. We saw shoes, sweatshirts, jeans, purses, fur coats, hats, hookahs, ceramics, scarves, you name it.  But this was nothing compared to inside the bazaar. We entered through the 7th gate which apparently makes a straight shot to gate 1 (which we would eventually exit). HOLY COW was there a lot going on in there. Vendors were selling everything; jewelry, clothes, scarves, trinkets, etc. And they had the most ridiculous ways to get you to come to their store. While some would stick to the more tradition sayings such as, “Hello! I am here! Come on in!” others were a little more “forward”. One man even said to me, “Oh you dropped something…. My heart!”. We sure got a laugh out of that one!

I think the bazaar was my first real feeling of minor culture shock. I mean, I’ve been shopping in the streets in many places, but this was crowded and bustling and busy! Asli even said that this was not a busy time…

After the Grand Bazaar we walked back to our hotel. Only about 7 minutes, which means we can all easily go back to shop. Once we arrived back at our hotel we had a surprise arranged! Today is Asli’s birthday!! The only reason we knew was because Lei went around and told everyone in secret. We planned to have a surprise party and our tour guide even bought a cake at one of the baker’s shops in town. We brought Asli downstairs and turned out the lights (boy was she confused) and brought out the cake! Then we all ate and talked about our day and what is to come in the next few days.

After cake and our recap we were given roughly two hours to relax and unwind on our own.

At 6pm we all met downstairs for dinner. The group of us piled into a 15 person van (so a few had to sit in each other’s laps, myself included) and we headed across town to our restaurant. As I sit here writing this I realize I didn’t pay attention to the name of the restaurant so I apologize. We were joined for dinner by Asli’s parents, brother, her brother’s girlfriend, and a friend of Asli’s from college. We enjoyed a long meal (we were there for over 3 hours) which included appetizers, a middle course, dinner, and dessert. The appetizers included a green salad, pomegranate salad, a spicy walnut spread, sea bass spread, fried eggplants, and eggplants with yogurt. All of these were separate and could be eaten on bread or on their own. Our middle course was a calamari dish and also a shrimp dish. For dinner we had the choice between fish or beef. The fish were fried anchovies and the beef was similar to mini hamburgers – without the bread. With this meal we were also able to sample the traditional Turkish drink called Raki. This is a clear liquor that is mixed with water and turns white as paper, but tastes like black licorice. After dinner Asli’s parents brought out a birthday cake and we sang again and enjoyed the delicious tiramisu cake.

This concluded our evening around 10:30pm. Overall it was a very busy and enjoyable day!

Until next time,

Jill

 

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