Like every journey we have taken...our adventures begin with food (mostly because Erin turns into a crazy person if she is not well fed and that just makes site seeing about as fun as tweezing your nose hairs). As soon as we got settled into our fancy digs at Hotel Empress Zoe we headed off to eat our first Turkish meal. And Turkishly delishush it was. Manti is a common dish in Turkey and it consists of ravioli filled with lamb then covered with Turkish oil, spices, yogurt, mint and adorned with slices of tomatoes. A refreshing twist on pasta and pleasing to the palate.
Manti in full action.
After being fully fortified with a delightful Manti meal (which also sounds like a fish or maybe Barnies cousin), we headed out to get a start on our very full four day schedule in Istanbul (yup we made a full on day by day schedule for this stop because there were too many exciting Turkish things to do -- like haggle over prices, hang out with a guy who reminded us of our grandfathers and could have beaten Oprah for the speed walking champion of the world, and eat the worlds best clamari).
Below is a picture of Mustafa -- Mustafa is the live version of an Audio Guide Tour (which Erin is in love with - the Audio guides, not Mustafa). Mustafa gave us a private tour of the Aya Sofia -- the once Muslim, once Christian, once Muslim, once Christian, once Muslim, once Christian church, now a museum. By the way, private tours rule.
Since the Christians love to put up pictures of Mary, Jesus, God and all those other prophetic type people the Muslims had to keep thinking of creative ways to cover them up because when they pray they do not like to be distracted by human figures. Therefore, large discs with the name of the Muslim Khalifahs. Which results in an interesting mix of Muslim and Christian cultures co-existing together peacefully and visited by millions of people a day.
The Aya Sophia
In the Aya Sophia there is a spot that is known to bring you good luck (apparently these spots are mandatory at every UNESCO site). The trick is, and there is always a trick, you have to put your thumb in and turn it all the way around (clockwise or else you bring destruction to all your friends offspring -- dont worry we got it right) while making a wish and if you pull your finger out and it is wet then you got your wish. Fortunately, Mustafa was smart enough to carry around a bottle of water and if it wasnt wet then he would immediately douse you with his water. Phew.
After the Aya Sofia, Mustafa took us to the Blue Mosque and gave us a tour of that and the Hippodrome. He probably would have given us a personal tour of the whole city but our money ran out and then suddenly so did our time with our new friend Mustafa.
The Blue Mosque. The Mosque had tons of speakers attached to the spiral columns shooting up into the air and 5 times a day they would fill the air with prayer. It was actually a very moving experience to hear.
That night we met up with Mike, our friend Ana's sister's boyfriend. He was studying in Istanbul for the summer. He took us to the main drag where all the cool kids go for dinner and to hang out at night. When we got there we were greeted with a full on essemble playing for us. After experiencing a couple of great live music performances we went out to dinner with Mike and the best clamari in the world. I kid you not, Istanbul has got it on lock down. You cant get any better.
See photo above to drool over worlds best calamari
Other incredible things we experienced:
Turkeys aqueduct system. Basically a gigantic under ground well. They ran pipes from about 8 miles north to this spot where the water comes and then hangs out until it is pumped out to its next location. They built walkways so you could tour these underground wells and put in some cool uplighting which made for great photographs (probably intentional).
The President of Iran heard we were in town and decided to visit us, so there was all this crazy security surrounding our hotel and all the major sites. They had police lining the streets as far as you could see and helicopters hovering above. We usually like to keep a low profile but is hard when you are being visited by a president. It was all cleared up in a day and we went back to being our regular selves.
Grand Bazaaring it up. For real, Devin is the real McCoy when it comes to the haggle. They said 170 she said 15 and 30 minutes later we walked on with new item and only 15 lira (the Turkish currency) poorer. All we can say is that if you are Erin's mom or Devin's dad (or have a love of finding or haggling your way to a good deal) dont ever visit Istanbul without a large cash flow to back you up. We haggled our way through an entire afternoon and are now traveling with about 30 more pounds of weight on us and a big dent in our bank accounts.
This is the Spice Bazaarr (see paragraph above for rave reviews on Devins haggling ability)
No day of haggling would be complete without an evening of Turkish bathing. That night we treated ourselves to a Turkish bath. Devin added an oil massage to hers and Erin added a mud mask to hers. Needless to say, it was an incredibly intense experience (the details of which are too private to go into but were hilarious).
Almost finally and most tragically - Mevlevi or Whirling Dervish Dance - a form of prayer that involves poetry put to music and spinning while praying. We purchased tickets to this event only to find ourselves in a auditorium that resembled a high school and ensuing was a production that could easily be out done by an middle school with a very limited budget. Devin insists the dancing was good but Erin was too distracted by the power point presentation shown on the white backdrop (that had stains) and the bottle of water rolling across the stage during one of the musical performances.
You win some you lose some and then you have a really good laugh when you get outside...or in your seats when you can't help it.
Finally, we took a boat ride up the Bosphorus river to the mouth of the Black Sea (which we thought would be pretty cool because this is the farthest East either of us have ever traveled). The boat took us to the mouth and then dropped us in a town to eat and hang out for a couple of hours. We sat and thought about deep stuff and then headed back to Istanbul to pack up and get ready to take off for Dubrovnik in the morning.