Category Archives: Travel to Europe
And that’s all we ate in Istanbul.
I jest. Sort of.
We DID eat a lot of kebabs … but they were pretty amazing. Especially the Teste kebab, which (despite Alex’s hesitation based on the suspicious sounding Latinate root), turns out to be meat and veggies cooked in a special clay pot. They have to break the clay pot to get your food out, and it’s done in quite a dramatic fashion with flame and calculated tapping on the pot … different restaurants play it up for tourists, of course, but we got a big kick out of it.
We also had some amazing bread, which comes out all puffy but slowly deflates over time.
After our 4th of 5th meal of meat and rice though, Alex wanted some pasta, so we ventured to a special restaurant on Istiklal Cadessi that serves authentic Turkish pasta. It was …. interesting. I’m afraid it’s clear that Italy is the winner in the pasta stakes. Turkish pasta looks a lot like gnocci, but comes floating in a pool of oil and cheese. There is no sauce per se, just a lot of oil and cheese. Did I mention the oil? And the cheese?
I didn’t mind it that much, actually … except that it’s an awful lot of the same flavor, and it takes a long time to work your way through that much oil and cheese. By the end, my arteries were groaning!
By far the highlight of the trip for me was the baclava. I’m a fan of the honey and pistacchio treat from way back when …. and I had some of the best baclava in the world. I especially liked it when served as above, with ice cream on top! Yummy!
This picture is probably my favorite, because it shows our Christmas dinner. This is what we ate mid-day on Christmas day, sitting in the square between the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia. It’s a simit, which is kind of like a pretzel, but without the twisty bit. It’s sesame bread, and they’re sold on the streets as a quick mid-day snack. Forget a turkey and all the trimmings … for us, a simit and a Coke made for the perfect Christmas dinner!
That title sounds vaguely dirty, but I promise the Bosphorus is anything but! (Ha ha … that also sounded dirty!)
Also known as the “Istanbul Strait“, the Bosphorus is the bit of water that separates Europe from Asia. If you look back at Alex’s blog last week, he had a great map showing how the water really stands between the two continents. It is apparently the narrowest strait used for navigation, which we can testify to after seeing all the giant ships with containers on-board! It’s apparently quite a dangerous stretch of water, because it’s narrow, the water flows quite fast, and there are some 80 degree turns that the giant ships have to navigate. Not to mention all the ferries dashing across between Istanbul and Kadikoy!
I’ve always had a strong desire to go on a cruise up the Bosphorus – my earliest memory about it dates from my 7th grade history class, when Ms. Leinwebber talked about going to Istanbul and sailing up to the Black Sea. She talked about how beautiful it was, seeing Europe on one side and Asia on the other … and that moment has stayed with me ever since. So when we made plans to go to Istanbul, I knew that a water journey was high on my to-do list!
Knowing that, we checked the weather and chose Thursday for our cruise excursion, because it was supposed to be bright and sunny all day. We actually had great weather the entire time we were there, and Thursday turned out beautifully. But we didn’t quite make the cruise we had originally planned on! The boats leave Eminonu quite early in the morning, by 9:30 or so, and take 3 hours to sail up the strait. Then they leave you in a little coastal town for about 2 hours, and then it takes 3 hours to sail back down. That’s a looooong day on a boat!
So we decided to do something a little different. We took the tram as far as it would go on the Galata side of Istanbul, and then hopped on a local bus up to Bebek, where there is an old castle perched alongside the water. It’s one of the castles that Sultan Mehmed II built when he besieged Constantinople – ultimately the city fell, and it became Istanbul. From Bebek we walked up to Rumeli Hasari, which is a really cute little waterside town – with nice looking cafes and a gorgeous walkway along the water.
Then we waited (a loooong time) for another bus to get farther up the Bosphorus, and conveniently we met up with the day-long Bosphorus Cruise on the way back! So we still got to experience the water, but only one-way. Which worked out perfectly. I think it was a really good choice – especially because a lot of the other people who had been on the boat all day were bored and tired … some were even sleeping!
Alex and I decided to combine a trip on the Metro-Bus (which I’m sure will get a post unto itself – but I’ll just post the question here: is it a metro? is it a bus?) with a trip to the Theodosian Walls, all along the way to the Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora (it was a busy morning!). But this particular post is going to be a bit disappointing, mostly because the walls themselves are disappointing. All of our guidebooks suggested that you can walk along the walls for the total distance of 6km, and that this makes a nice day-trip. Others suggested only walking along a small portion, which is what we decided to do. Now, I don’t know if we just chose the wrong portion, or if we missed something, but most of the walls were crumbling. You definitely could not walk ON the walls – but you could scramble just in front of them along a muddy path. There is no sidewalk or consistent roadway – just a strip of muddy grass between you and the cars. We did this for a short distance, and then abandoned the walls to continue our journey to Chora.
Originally the walls were much more impressive, of course. The walls surrounding Constantinople were one of the greatest and most complicated fortification systems of ancient times, and they did an excellent job of protecting the city for hundreds of years (until the conquest in 1453 of course). I think part of the problem with visiting the walls today is that there were actually many walls, from many different time periods, in many different places. Each progressive ruler changed and added and altered them slightly – adding gates, removing gates, pushing the walls out, bringing them back in … so there is no single decisive “wall experience”. I have to admit, I think we didn’t do enough research in planning this little venture, and so we didn’t see the restored sections (which look impressive on Wikipedia).
Nevertheless, it was certainly interesting to see the land walls, and to think about the history of the city. I think the guidebooks either need better information about which sections of wall to see, or else there should be a specific museum or attraction to visit that displays the best bits with some good historical information. The picture below shows Alex climbing the best section of wall that we could find …. but there was no pathway along the top. At the top of the stairs you were pretty much stuck. But you do get a good idea of the scale here … massive!