The morning started off with everyone congregating downstairs and making use of the free wifi in the lobby to catch up on email etc. before our continental Turkish breakfast included with the price of our rooms. We en-masse headed into the dining room where there was a spread of tomatoes, cucumbers, and three kinds of breakfast breads, standard white and wheat slices, a tasty yeast roll and a phyllo-dough pastry. Not wanting to neglect any variety of carbohydrate I took one of each, along with fixing a cup of Turkish tea. So throughout the course of this trip I’ve learned I am a big fan of Turkish tea. It’s brewed very very strong and is served alongside a pot of hot water (frequently it is served in a special double-spout kettle). The idea is you dilute the tea with the hot water to your taste, then add sugar cubes if desired. Most folks didn’t know this was either a) tea and not coffee or b) supposed to be diluted so we all had some pretty strong first tastes of Turkish tea (although Jeremy, who does not like coffee or most American teas, enjoys the Turkish tea undiluted, saying it is the only tea he’s had that doesn’t taste too watered down), now we have learned “how to take tea” and many of us order it at every meal.
Following breakfast we reunited with Elif’s parents, Kay and Elif’s aunt, along with Elif’s uncle and cousin and headed onto our minibus for our tour. We visited:
-Hippodrome – No longer surrounded by stands, this has the feel of a small park sandwiched between the Blue Mosque and Haga Sophia, with the only remnants of the stadium being the three ancient monuments lined up in the center of the ring.
-Blue Mosque – Still an active mosque, everyone must remove their shoes and place them in a plastic bag before entering, gorgeous interior
-Haga Sophia – Now a museum, no longer an active place of worship, amazing tiling and mosaic work
-Underground Cisterns – Very cool (and dark) underground water resevoir with dozens of aligned Roman columns holding up the ceiling.
-Sultan’s Palace – A series of 3 courtyards with various administrative and support buildings, beautiful views of the water
-Grand Bazaar – The bazaars are very interesting places, think narrow (10 feet or so) halls with shops on either side and people *everywhere*. In general there are probably a few dozen or so types of items sold at the bazaars but there are hundreds of vendors for each thing. We’ve been told you are expected to haggle with the sellers as they price their items about twice what they are expecting to sell them for, I found a cool silver case to hold my business cards in with (what I’m told) is a traditional Turkish pattern on the front, haggled from 15 TL to 10 TL.
Before visiting the Sultan’s palace we had traditional kebabs at a local restaurant served along a white bean salad and the most excellent indescribable dessert, it was maybe bulgar (or something else resembling couscous in size and texture) mixed with honey and maybe some kind of nut, it was compacted enough you could cut small slices out of it but wow was it tasty.
The tour lasted from 9:30 until 6 and then we reconvened at 7 to meet up with Elif’s college friends and cousins at a restaurant in the Taksim area of Istanbul, which is a pedestrian high-end shopping and restaurant district and also one of the main nightlife hotspots. All told there were 20 of us sitting in the outside seating area of the restaurant, which served a fixed menu of dozens of meze as well as more “entree” style items like liver, flash fried small fish that’s indigenous to the Bospherous, and meat and rice served in rolled grape leaves. This meal was also accompanied by raki or beer or Turkish wine (had both a Cabernet and a Merlot, both quite good) and ended with watermelon, nectarines, grapes and fresh figs (this was the first time I’d ever had a fresh fig, so much better than a Fig Newton!). Afterwards we decided to split up into two groups, folks who wanted a quieter spot to talk (Elif wanted to catch up with her friends) and those who wanted to check out more of the night life, Jeremy and I went along with Elif, Doug and Elif’s friends to a coffee/tea bar on the top floor of an apartment building that had 270 degree views of the Bosphorous, quite an amazing sight at night. Jeremy discussed world politics with Elif and her friends while Doug and I caught up on what we’d been doing the past few months, it was a great, laid back time. We agreed at the beginning of the night to meet in the morning at 9:30 for breakfast, this was not the most awesome idea by the time the night ended around 2am but oh well.