Monday, September 21, 2009

Today was the best day ever! We saw the most amazing things. Our day started out with traditional Turkish breakfast in the hotel with a fellow teacher of mine who is staying next door to us in the hotel at the moment. He's lovely and we had a great chat about travel and culture, while eating our olives, bread, fresh sliced cucumber and tomatoes, with some over-steeped sweet tea to wash it down.

Fortified for a days activity, we first headed south down Istiklal Caddesi, a huge and bustling shopping street about five times longer than Grafton Street in Dublin, to Galata Tower. This tower was part of the fortifications the Genoese built in the city. This area of Istanbul was once the European part of the city, as opposed to the Ottoman part which centred around the Golden Horn (Halic). From here we enjoyed an amazing panoramic view of everything. I just can't believe how big the city is! It seems to go on forever in every direction!

Then we crossed the Galata Bridge over to Sultanahmet, the historic centre of Istanbul. Here we saw the Aya Sofya (Hagia Sofia in Greek, Church of the Divine Wisdom in English). It was first a Byzantine church and then a mosque. Now it's a museum. We also saw the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, a beautiful park, small cobbled streets lined with traditional wooden Ottoman style houses. Numerous times throughout the day there was heavy rain and even a thunder storm, followed by more sun and heat. We ate grilled corn next to a water fountain in a park between the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya. Later we rested in a comfy little out of the way place to drink a few cups of Turkish tea in delicate glass tea cups and smoked a nargile (water pipe with apple soaked tobacco). It was great to take a break and absorb all the experiences of the day. Then we headed back to the Galata Bridge, pushing our way through the crowded footpaths next to the ferry docks and grabbed a couple of fresh grilled fish sandwiches. They cost about €2 and were absolutely delicious. Then we crossed the bridge and hid from a sudden downpour beneath some building scaffolding and waited out a short thunder storm with some locals.

A glimpse of Aya Sofya.

Some traditional Ottoman style houses.

The Sublime Porte, former residence of the Grand Viziers.

Aya Sofya.

The Blue Mosque.

An ancient Egyptian obelisk, located in the former Hippodrome, a Roman chariot racing course.

Finally we made it back to our hotel to rest for a while. For dinner we headed to some nearby side streets full of small bars, meyhanes, and cafes. We had our first sampling of raki, which is Turkey's national drink. Its an anisse flavoured spirit, which you drink mixed with water. We went for mezelar again, because you get such beautiful variety. Tonight we had a couple of different patlican (eggplant/aubergine) dishes, and I just can't believe how good they were. Dripping with flavour, melting on your tongue, smoky, creamy, sweet, beautiful. This place is a food lover's paradise. Now, we're safely tucked in bed to rest up for our next adventure, with full stomachs and the sound of nearby Turkish party music ringing in our ears.

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