Thursday the 25th we flew from Capadoccia to Istanbul for our final stop. The Kayseri airport was so small there was only one gate. Despite this we were nearly mowed down at check in by Korean tourists booked on the same flight who were convinced they were going to miss their flight. After our extremely long transfer from the airport on the Asian side of Istanbul to our guesthouse in the Old Town, we had lots of energy and undertook most of the big sites--Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, and the Rick Steve's walking tour of Sultanahmet. Feeling very accomplished for the day we finished with drinks on a rooftop terrace and then a somewhat fancy meal. The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia sit across from one another and they are both so incredibly impressive. The Blue Mosque is a bit more elaborate and pleasing to the eye. But then you remember that although the Blue Mosque is pretty much older than any building in the U.S., the Hagia Sofia is 1,000 years older yet, which is truly astounding.
On Friday, we had a tour booked. We followed the Rick Steves back streets of Sultanhamet walking tour to get there and got to enjoy two gorgeous mosques built by Sinan, the Grand Bazaar, and the Spice Market. We had lunch at the market and then met our tour guide. It was just us and a young Australian, Jade, on the tour. We jumped on public transport over to Taksim and to get our first glimpse of the new side. We got our Turkish coffee grounds read and checked out the markets. With so few people on the tour we managed to force a beer stop. The bar we ended up in filled up with high school kids while we were there. Seriously. They were in their uniforms and had no problem not only getting served, but smoking and drinking up a storm. Steve and I were easily 25 years older than these kids. So much for tucking into a bar to avoid children! We finished at Galata Tower and met up with a couple we had met in Cappadocia for a beer. At this point it was starting to rain so we jumped on public transport and headed back to our side of town before we got drenched.
The next morning we headed over to Topkapi Palace to finish out the tourist sights. It was cool, but overwhelming and full of tourists. Also it started raining again and I was over sight seeing and crowds and being on my feet all day. We briefly toured the archaeology museum then sought out lunch. The streets on both the old and new side of Istanbul are confusing. You will look at the map but, not being able to find many street signs, you have to guess which road is the one you want. Some streets don't make the map because they are just alleys, but it's hard to distinguish them from regular streets. So you head the direction you think you want to go only to find you took the wrong street and it turned an entirely different direction. As such we gave up on finding anything from the guidebook and ate fast food. But it was a local fast food chain and not so bad. Jade had convinced us to sign up for another tour that evening so we return to our hotel changed and headed back to meet the tour.
Our second tour involved a dinner cooked by a local woman and served at her house. It was the same three of us from the tour the prior day and another couple from Australia. We had dinner at a local's apartment which was typical Turkish food including lentil soup, a tomato and cucumber salad, and an egg dish for the for the main course which was fortunately different from the home cooked meals we had previously enjoyed. The woman who cooked for us was nice but she was mostly interested in selling us pashminas. After we politely declined and finished dinner we headed to a place to smoke shisha and play backgammon. The Australian couple, who were older, bowed out out quickly. So, of course we convinced our guide to join us for a nightcap. This was the first and only time I drank Turkish raki. It tastes just like Greek ouzo, but again don't tell that to the Greeks or Turks. Our guide from the previous day, who I think was sweet on Jade, showed up and joined us for a drink. When we finally departed for the evening it was raining ridiculously hard. On the walk back to our hotel we managed to get drenched from the waist down. We hung up our clothes to dry and decided we would take it easy our last day in Istanbul.
The next morning we decided to check out the modern art museum and spend the rest of the day on Istiklal Street shopping for trinkets and eating and drinking our way through the new side. The museum was a nice rainy day activity. Then we went shopping finding all the little knick knacks we had intended to bring back. We unfortunately chose a Thai restaurant for lunch because we were ready for a change. I'm sure it's great Thai food for Turkey but it was expensive and not so good by our standards. After we were done shopping we found a cocktail bar with a very friendly cute waitress who was happy to talk to us about life and politics before the place got too really busy. We grabbed a kebab on our way back to the hotel that night and spent our last night in Turkey. Fortunately we got notification our flight the next day had already been delayed therefore we got to sleep in a little bit before heading back to the U.S. It was a long day of travel to get back and we had to sit in front of a hacking, sneezing, coughing miserable woman for one of our flights. Thankfully I was able to sleep through most of that. And that brings us up to now. It took a week to get over the jet lag. But it is business as usual again.
Here are some Istanbul shots from my tablet: