Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Another Walk After Lunch

As we were leaving the seafood restaurant Jay recommended that we have some ice cream a few steps away. 

This guy is semi-famous, as you can see from the large sign on his ice cream stand. The photos on the back wall show him selling ice cream in Japan. It was a fun ice cream treat.

Picking a flavor.

The ice cream guy teases Robin by twirling the cup away when she reaches for it.

After ice cream we walked along the Marmara coast where lots of people hang out, picnic, walk, and fish.

Jay leads the way.

This guy sells a white milk-ish sweet drink. We tried it and it was very tasty. I could go for one right now.

The seawall makes a nice spot for target shooting. Balloons or glass bottles, take your pick.

In Istanbul you don't have to wait for the County Fair to come to town to test your shooting skills.

Some guy with a monkey (that would make a good book or movie title) lets people take photos with the monkey. He wouldn't take money. I think he just happened to be out walking his monkey.

The ancient defense walls around the city are still mostly there. Some of the newer buildings are partially made of the old wall. Above, the Blue Mosque appears beyond the wall. 

Strolling along.

When Nezih and Elmira left to return home, Jay hailed a taxi and we went back across the Golden Horn to his side of town. We went to a palace on the Bosphorous that sultans used after they stopped using the Topkapi Palace for their headquarters. Unfortunately we didn't get there in time to enter, but there was a nice cafe there with outdoor seating that we enjoyed with cappuccinos.

If you click this image to enlarge it, you can see the Blue Mosque silhouette on the Istanbul skyline, on the other side of the Golden Horn. I didn't realize we were this far away from our part of town.

Jay is the best tour guide ever. Behind Jay is the Bosphorous and the Asian side of Istanbul, on the Asian continent. When Jay was going to university, he changed continents twice a day, going to school and back home.

Jay's friend, Buket, joined us for a fun visit. When we left for our hotel (taxi again), she and Jay went to a friend's house to watch a big football game (soccer) on TV, featuring Jay's favorite team, Galatasaray.

A clock tower at the palace, dating back a couple hundred years or more. Jay says it's the world's first iPhone because the dials on it tell the time, the barometric pressure, and several other things.

Sunday Seafood Lunch in Istanbul

Elmira and Nezih ordered all of the food for us, since we were overwhelmed by the choices available. The waiter had a big poster showing all the different kinds of fish, but Elmira and Nezih recommended the Blue Fish because it's in season now and is the best choice.  

Grilled Blue Fish. Four fillets per plate. Delicious.

Nezih chats with Robin. 

Posing for Jay or Elmira.

Nezih continues his story. He grew up on the other side of the Bosphorous. I asked if he used to swim in the Bosphorous. He said "Yes, but it's dangerous. The current is so strong that if you go in here, you end up there. But if you grow up next to the sea, you have to do it."

A delicious salad. With goat cheese. Too bad goat cheese makes Robin gag. Also, unfortunate that she didn't realize it was goat cheese before she took a bite. But she recovered nicely, I thought.

Nezih, Robin, Elmira, and Jay, from inside the restaurant.

Jay handed Robin his iPhone so she could listen to a Turkish comedian on YouTube. Istanbul is a fascinating combination of ancient and new worlds. 

Stroll Through Sultanahmet

After visiting the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia Sunday morning, we walked back to the Best Point Hotel to meet Jay and his parents, Elmira and Nezih. Since our hotel is very near the Marmara Sea coastline, we set out to find a good seafood restaurant. Walking along backstreets and through non-tourist neighborhoods was a real treat. Nezih and Jay had to ask for directions several times, but we finally found the area they were looking for.

A nice Sunday walk through the Sultanahmet area.

It's fun to explore Istanbul on foot, especially if you have three Turkish-speaking natives with you.

Some neighborhoods could use a bit of restoration work. We were amazed by how many hotels there were in Istanbul. Lots of large hotels and even more small boutique hotels. My guess is that there will be a hotel here soon (above).

A pedestrian overpass gets us to the other side of the tram tracks.

The tram tracks. Istanbul has a good public transportation system and lots of taxis. We found it very fast and easy to grab a taxi anywhere, any time of day or night. When we visited Jay in his part of town, Taksim, he hailed a taxi for our return to the hotel. He told the driver (in Turkish) "Do not take the long way." The driver replied "Please! Do not think such a thing of me!"

Street vendors are a common sight.

A popular cafe. There are Starbucks coffee shops here, but not in the old part of the city that I could see.

This is the area we're looking for. A street of nothing but restaurants with street seating. At this point Nezih said "Smell that fish smell. It's of a fish that's in season now and is the current specialty of all these restaurants. I remember this smell from my childhood." The fish, Blue Fish, is from the Black Sea. It's unique to this area. It's always grilled, never prepared any other way.

At the end of this street is the Marmara Sea, and the main highway that follows the coast. Most of these restaurants (maybe all of them) specialize in seafood from the Marmara Sea and the Black Sea. 

The restaurant that Elmira and Nezih choose is at the end of the street on the left. A great and memorable meal. See the next blog for more photos.

Hagia Sophia Mosque, Part 2

Hagia Sophia is an amazing experience. I'm glad we were here in the off-season when crowds are small. 

The mosaic above this door reminds us that this used to be a Christian basilica.

The calligrapher who created the calligraphic ovals had obviously read Robin's Non-Designer's Design Book and used "contrast" (of both size and color) to create compelling graphics. I should have asked for an interpretation. I hope it doesn't say "No Smoking" or "Gift Shop This Way." 

I was lucky enough to catch some sort of ceremony in progress underneath one of the chandeliers.

Before prayers, you should wash your hands and feet. Robin thinks that's a good idea, since you'll be kneeling with your face a few inches from the feet of the praying person in front of you. I hadn't thought of that myself, but I think she's on to something there. You'll also be putting your forehead on the floor that billions of people have been walking on. Religion is not for the squeamish.

A wall of great windows.

This area is where occasionally some lucky guy got proclaimed as the new sultan. As soon as the ceremony was over, the Sultan would say "Which way to the harem?" Just kidding, I made that up. The oldest son of the just-deceased sultan becomes the new sultan. The Ottoman Empire had an interesting tradition: when the sultan died, not only did the oldest son take over, all of his younger brothers were immediately killed, just to make sure no ambitious siblings caused trouble. I read about a sultan that died. His coffin was put in the garden temporarily. The next morning there were 19 coffins next to his. Sultans have lots of children, thanks to the harem thing. Eventually this colorful tradition was dropped. 

Leaving Hagia Sophia.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hagia Sophia Mosque, Part 1

The Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) was first dedicated in 360. It suffered damage in several wars and kept being restored by the current conqueror. It served as the Greek cathedral of Constantinople until 1204 when it was converted to a Catholic cathedral by Crusaders. In 1261 it again became a Greek cathedral. It became a mosque in 1453, and remained a mosque until 1931 when the new Republic of Turkey made it a museum.  

Point your camera anywhere and click. 

Fabulous calligraphy. The structure on the right is the top of the pulpit.

The structure at bottom right is a private room with a sultan screen to shield the sultan from curious worshippers.

The sultan's private viewing room.

Inside the mosque it was damp and chilly. Lots of visitors noticed a cat (one of many in the mosque) using a bright light as a heat lamp.

He was very popular with all photographers, and stayed there enjoying the warmth the whole time I was wandering around the mosque.

I love cat-friendly museums. Istanbul seemed to be a very cat-friendly place. They were everywhere.