I expected drizzle and cold, and cold it is in the shade. But the sun illuminates and heats Istanbul intensely even at 10am as we walk down the narrow streets toward the waters edge of Karakoy. Karakoy is on the Bosphorus strait, bridging the Black Sea and the Medditerannian, separating Europe and Asia.
Istanbul is massive. It’s the largest city by metropolitan area) in Europe and the Middle East and the sixth largest city in the world. We’ll try to see a few of it’s highlights on foot today, knowing that we will only catch a glimpse of it’s true scale.
Breakfast is at Namli Gurme, a kind of high-end deli that serves a variety of Turkish meat, cheese, sweets, pasterys and eggs. Some folks are eating outside, but we wait. Those outside are huddled under blankets and propane heaters and still look cold. It takes 20 minutes to grab an inside table.
The food is fresh. I would have preferred to try more of the salads, but we got the basic cheese, eggs, bread and olive plate all of which is delicious and filling. Maybe we’ll go back for the other stuff.
Across the Galata Bridge and the Golden Horn waterway, we walk toward the old city of Istanbul. Fisherman line the side of the bridge with buckets of smallish fish, the size of a large cigar. Many buckets are empty. Underneath them float dozens of cruise boats for the ubiquitous tourist boats that go up and down the strategic and historic waterway of the Bosphorous.
Byzantine styled mosques mark the skyline against the edge of the deep blue sky. We walk a few miles up to the city’s most historical site, and second most popular museum, the Aya Sofya or Hagia Sophia.
The Aya Sofya is one of the most important religious buildings on the planet, having been constructed in 537 as a church and later becoming a mosque under the Ottomans in the 15th century. It’s considered by many the epitome of Byzantine achitecture and after various additions and alterations and repairs is an architectural roadmap of Turkish history.
The church is named after the ‘wisdom of god’ which is the second in the trinity aka the Holy ‘Ghost’. It ceased to be used as a religious building in the 1930s as Ataturk secularized the nation and converted it into a museum. Some of the original christian iconography was maintained (or covered up) during the Mosque era, leaving a mixed religious experience.
The interior is, indeed, ghostly. On this bright day the interior is filled with a blue and yellow glow. Much of the indside is being restored, but fortunately we get to see the main dome and the front of the church/mosque. It had been covered for almost 10 years until 2009. Upper levels reveal more gold icons and beautiful variagated marble walls.
Our entrance to the Hagia Sophia was slow, but the lines seemed much lower when we left. That gave us some hope for shorter lines across the way at the “Blue Mosque” more properly named the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. But we had no luck, it looked to be at least an hour. The Mosque is only open for a few hours a day, the rest of the time it’s an active mosque with srvices and worshippers.
Thus began an afternoon hour of tourist-fail, which, under bad weather conditions would have been frustrating. But in the sunny cool air was enjoyable. Our second failed stop was a restaurant and cooking school we hoped to eat or maybe take a class. But they were only serving 5 course lunches at high prices, and the school was an all-day thing. We passed and headed back toward the Blue Mosque.
The final stop was the Museum of Islamic and Turkish Art, which was supposed to have a great cafe and little instructional sessions on making proper Turkish coffee. The cafe, it turns, out was under renovation and though the museum was still worth visiting, we needed a break, which we got at one of the many outdoor cafes dotting the area, and the coffee and warm cake was perfect as the sun begen to drop in the sky.
We crammed into a tram back toward our apartment, not as squished as Beijing, but close. We were remided this is the largest city for some distance. A british woman next to us had her ass grabbed by a man, and she yelled and pushed him hard. He slunk back in to the crowd. For some time that evening, I wondered how I would react if Amanda or one of the girls had that happen to them.
In sunset, The apartment has a gorgeous view of the Bosphorus, the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque to the right of the photo.
Evening is delightful. The girls stay in the flat and make some pasta for themselves, while Amanda and I dine nearby at Lokanta Maya, a fine restaurant near the water’s edge. We had an artichoke puree that was light and aerated, a long bean with dill salad, freshly fried felafel and zucchini fritters and a salad. They only servied Turkish wines, which even at their driest were too sweet for Amanda. The service and decor were enjoyable.
On our way back we bought Emma and Lily green apple fresh juices from the resturant we went to last night and some chococolate, which they devoured before sleeping.