June 28, 2011

Istanbul - sites and city

Let's just get it all out there so as to not confuse and befuddle any readers - I love Istanbul. L-o-v-e, as in the four letter word you hold close to your heart for those special things, like corn salad on a hot August evening, a long walk with a dear friend down a familiar path, the way your husband smiles when he gets home from work, that oh so necessary beer and bratwurst mid-mountain ski break...you get what I mean...and that is how I feel about Istanbul. It feels like eating corn salad while walking with a friend towards home where your husband smiles and offers you a bratwurst. Everything happens at once in Istanbul. It's hectic, and busy, and loud and constantly moving in front of you, but it is absolutely spectacular. It's not spectacular in its beauty, but rather in its hints at past beauty. The city and its buildings are a bit tired and worn and every street seems to be composed of buildings from different eras, eras long forgotten in most other cities, but which are still playing out their years in Istanbul. There is so much to see and do and eat and four days was not nearly enough time to explore the city. We did our best though and tried to visit the major sites while also trying to spend time in the less touristy, more real, areas of the city.

This was my first time in a predominately Muslim country. I was unfamiliar with the thoughtful tones of the call to prayer, the social cues and codes, and the geometric decoration. It would have been helpful to have done some research before going, but as per usual, we will have to read up on things now that we are back. Our trips seems to come upon us so quickly, leaving us little time to prepare. It was also our first time in Asia - hah! A quick lunch on the Asian side and now we are already contemplating a larger Asian adventure. There was a departures board in the terminal and Zach and I both agreed that of all the destinations listed, we have to go to Tokyo, perhaps by way of New Delhi - Hong Kong - Vietnam - Cambodia and South Korea!

I couldn't decide how I wanted to organize the photos for Istanbul - did I want to do it by day or everything jumbled - but I eventually decided to focus on the sites and the city today and follow up with some food photos tomorrow. The food is such a wonderful part of the city that I thought it deserved it's own post. And after all, somehow this has become a food blog, so I guess it's only appropriate that food gets it's own post and it's own day.
These are a couple of my favorite photos - a man washing at the Blue Mosque and Zach in the Hagia Sophia. Zach was constantly looking out windows, wherever he could find them, curious about what he would be able see from these different vantage points. The Hagia Sophia did not disappoint, but Zach and I agreed that we preferred wandering into many mosques - big, small, hidden, prominent - that were scattered throughout the city. The Hagia Sophia, meaning Holy Wisdom, was built under Roman Emperor Justinian in 537 as a church. It was later converted to a mosque and is now a museum. As a museum it has lost the rhythms of purposeful daily use, which I think has taken away some of its character and interest.
We were overwhelmed by the Blue Mosque. That's not to say that it was my favorite, although I do think it was Zach's, but none-the-less it was an interesting site to see.
A trip to the Grand Bazaar is a must. I think I was too busy eyeing all the shops inside that I forgot to take pictures, not to mention that the lighting was terrible. The picture of the rugs is the only one I took inside, the rest are photos of the street we walked to get up to the Bazaar, which was a bazaar and crazy site in itself. When shopping you cannot appear interested, otherwise you will be hounded by lira seeking salesmen. We did buy a couple teeny tiny kilim rugs, which are colorful and were cheap enough so that if we were ripped off, which we probably were, that we won't have any regrets about it. Next time I go I'm coming home with a living-room sized rug. I'll do my carpet research before I go - know what to look for, where to buy and be sure I'm getting the real thing at an okay price. While we were in the bazaar I actually heard a salesmen say "How can I get your lira into my cash register?" Ha!
The blue tiles are wonderful and did a good job of making any mosque that was completely covered in tiles my new favorite. I had lots of favorites as the trip went on.
We went to the Harem at Topkapi palace on the recommendation of Katie, who posted a comment last week. It was the best 30lira we spent the entire trip. We wandered through the rooms slowly and deliberately making sure that we didn't miss a patterned tile or a stained glass window.
Oh to be on a boat with a cool breeze blowing in my face. It's desperately hot in Zürich today - almost 33 degrees Celsius, a temperature scale I'm still not getting the hang of. I just googled the conversion and 33 is roughly 91 degrees Fahrenheit - toasty! I went for my first swim in the river yesterday and I think today will be my first dip in the lake. Air conditioning is an unfamiliar concept here. You'd never expect it in your apartment, a restaurant or your office or even on some train cars. Thankfully this type of heat is unusual and our apartment is pretty well shaded and is staying fairly cool, but a nice blast of good cold air from an AC would be reaaaaaally nice right now. Perhaps a trip into the mountains is coming up. Mountains mean bratwurst! Take me to the summit for a beer and bratwurst.

Phew that was a long post with lots of pictures. Time to sign off, eat some lunch and then jump in the lake! Hope you've enjoyed Istanbul part 1 and that you are already looking forward to Istanbul Part 2 - The Food!


  1. So pretty! I'm glad you had such a good time... I love it there too. Aside from the aggressive sales people, of course! Can't wait for the next installment.

  2. These pictures are so incredible!! I love the tile. New no. 1 place I want to go, thanks to this post.

  3. Hi :) I was scrolling through Saveur and came here :)
    I hope you may visit Istanbul back, and see the Anatolian Shore of the Bosphorus :) Some modern face of Istanbul as well... A lovely blog which I will visit often!
    Cheers from Istanbul

  4. "...in its hints at past beauty" so true :)
    Oh by the way on the issue of carpets you are right. You must make a search before you buy one. Carpets are really expensive in Grand Bazaar. But you may try it in Cappadocia, another must see part of Turkey. I guess you will love there as well. And precious carpets are not as expensive as in Grand Bazaar. As being an Istanbulin woman I was amazed when I first visit Cappadocia :)
    You can have a look on this post http://www.karafakiden.com/detay.php?yazi_id_no=129 to have an idea about the carpets. It's my blog in Turkish (as I cannot find enough free time to update my English blog. Life is hard with a baby boy lol) but it may give an idea.