October 20th to 22th, 2001(continued from Athens to Instanbul)
We arranged for private sedan service to take us to our hotel (for peace of mind), but after claiming our luggage in the huge terminal and hurrying out to the minibus, I discovered that my camera was missing!! A thorough search of the ship and many inquiries turned up nothing – It must have slipped off my shoulder in the confusion – never to be seen again. :=( The saddest thing is the whole roll of film in the camera were shots of the ship and our friends….. bummer…..
Anyway, we arrived at “Hotel Spina” with ease – a delightful gem right in the center of the historic section (and ½ block from the snazzy Four Seasons, which is the renovated Bastille and very beautiful – but outrageously expensive). Our room – “suit 2” on the fourth floor was wonderful – decorated in Turkish style with a modern bathroom. Paul is now 5 for 5 on terrific internet finds in the lodging dept.! We enjoyed a cup of Turkish coffee on the rooftop balcony with view of the Blue Mosque and St. Sophia – outstanding! The clerk tried very hard to sell us a packaged tour, but we resisted, wanting to try it on our own. He then said he wanted us to meet the hotel’s owner just ½ block away – and led us, of course, to a carpet shop! (The owner, it turns out, was out of town, but his “cousin” would be happy to show us around! We’ve found out that “cousin” in Turkey doesn’t always refer to a blood relative!) We eased our way out of there with a false promise to return – walked out the door and spotted Tom and Kathy across the street with a guide – Unbelievable! They had taken a taxi to their hotel near the airport, couldn’t get into their room yet, so hired the driver to give them a tour. The odds of us meeting in a city of 14 million are not good – but we joined them, of course, and talked their driver into taking us across the old town near the Spice Market… But even the taxi driver had a “deal” with another carpet shop where he parked his cab, and with the jewelry warehouse where he dropped us off “for the view!”…. Passing tourists around is a fine art in Istanbul! We agreed to a 5-minute tour of the jewelry “warehouse” – actually a snazzy place with beautiful stuff – built in the ancient women’s prison right on the Bosphorous River.
After negotiating the mobs of people arriving by ferry, bus, train, and trolly, we managed to get through the underground pedestrian tunnel to the Spice Market next to Yemi Mosque – a crazy place at noon on Saturday! But the market had the wonderful sights and smells we were promised – but also indoor and outdoor stalls selling everything imaginable, so we wandered with the locals and took it all in. Bought some apple tea, saffron and mixed Turkish spices where a young man offered Paul 5 camels to keep me!! Kathy was eager to find the “Gold Market” – not in the guide books, but thought to be the Grand (covered) Bazaar by those we asked. SOOOoo we wandered and climbed and after a LONG, hot hike we found it – the “bizarre Bazaar”, as Rick Steves describes it – but certainly a sight not to be missed. It takes the idea of a covered shopping mall to a whole new dimension – high arched passages intersecting throughout this mammoth building – lined on both sides with a truly overwhelming array of shops with very aggressive salesmen – we didn’t buy a thing – impossible to know what was quality! (But Kathy found the gold bracelets she was looking for.)
We found our way to the main street – hungry and tired – and were stopped by a friendly young man who asked us the usual question in perfect English – “Where are you from?…” When Paul replied “Maryland", he immediately knew of Baltimore and Annapolis – astounded us with his knowledge of every state capitol – displayed his collection of commemorative quarters (in his uncle’s carpet shop, of course!) – and, it turns out that his real cousin “Sirhan” (age 25) hopes to attend the U. of MD for an MBA next year. Our bright new friend (age 16!) recommended a nearby restaurant where we had a great meal – 4 delicious appetizers and a main course of meats and vegetables cooked in a clay urn that was then drained at our table of the delicious sauce and the crock broken to serve the rest of the stew, flavored with mixed Turkish spices – outstanding! (video of lunch)
We continued our walk down the area of the Hippodrome (U-shaped raceway for chariots many centuries ago) – now beautiful parks, including the Blue Mosque (spectacular!) and St. Sophia. Since Kathy and Tom had limited time and we were all exhausted – we ended our touring at the Topkapi Palace (where we hired a guide for 90 minutes until the 5 PM closing) – saw a few of the highlights in this spectacular setting with wonderfully maintained buildings and grounds. (see guide book!)
Then we walked the few blocks back to our hotel and took a much needed nap! We arranged for a cab to take us to Kumkapi – and area near the fish markets – popular with locals and tourists alike for “famous fish” dinners – an amazing place – restaurant after restaurant filled with happy people and singing gypsies. We settled on the “Aprodit” – the first in the row, as we had promised after our walk… and chose a table upstairs with a view of the water (and the train tracks!). It turns out we were quite a curiosity, since no Americans had been there since Sept. 11th – so we got plenty of attention! The chef’s nephew (age 20) was our primary waiter – assisted by Mahmet (a 25-year-old father of 3 who stole our hearts). We had a delicious and interesting meal of seafood and salad appetizers and a wonderful whole grilled sea bass and local white wine. After a walk along the fish stalls across the street, we caught a taxi back to the hotel and ended the evening with wine on the balcony –with beautiful lights on the nearby monuments – wow! This city deserves more time!……..
Yesterday (Sunday), we completed most of the re-packing, had a quick Euro-style breakfast, then took another short tour to include the interior of beautiful 5th century St. Sophia – currently undergoing extensive interior renovation – and the amazing Cistern (see guide book).
Reluctantly we returned to the
hotel and caught a 10:30 cab to the airport. We arrived 3 hours before our
flight and were first in line –- but had to wait an hour to check in! (The
airport shops were “highway robbery”…) The Lufthansa rep (a “trainee”) said she
was not allowed to issue us a boarding card for the second leg on United –
curious, because United did it on the way over – but we didn’t make a scene. In
retrospect, we should have! We arrived in Frankfurt at 4:00 – on time, with a
scheduled 5:00 PM flight to Dulles. However, it turns out that that flight was
very overbooked (because another Lufthansa flight had been cancelled) and after
standing in a huge security backlog, we arrived at the gate at 5:00 – only to be
told that we could NOT get on “because you’re late and you don’t have a boarding
card!!” We weren’t alone – Twelve of us were left stranded – returned to the
ticket counter complaining loudly – and were given vouchers and a night in a
very nondescript airport layover hotel…..
So now it’s Monday, my scheduled day to “recover” from the trip before returning to work tomorrow – and we’re finally heading home! A lesson learned – but it was a truly wonderful trip!