Have we got some advice for you! If you like us and your curiosity outstrips your taste for shopping in massive crowds, try heading to the Grand Bazaar on a Monday morning. That’s what we did and it worked out great (although we didn’t buy anything). Well, we did buy one thing, but it was outside the bazaar.
The vendors weren’t quite awake yet so all we got were a few halfhearted, “Welcome, want to see my rugs?” No pressure and we just kept walking.
I don’t want to discourage anyone from heading to the bazaar, but most anything we wanted to buy was also for sale on our street in Beyoğlu. We went back and forth on the idea of a rug, but no one wants to feel the fool and we just assumed we would get ripped off. Plus, we’re nomads, so what to do with a rug? I am sure if you love bargaining, you could buy anything you wanted and maybe even for a bit less than you could find it elsewhere. Istanbul is shopping heaven, with everything from bargain basement merch to high-end Fifth Avenue stores. (I suspect the $10 Nikes are not real, but….)
OK, now for the big reveal … We bought a suitcase! We went back and forth on this too. I wanted to be cheap (surprise!) and get a duffel on wheels from a vendor and Steven wanted (quality) to get a hard-sided case on Istiklal Cadessi. Guess who won. We only brought one suitcase here from Nice so we could buy a cheap one here. Then, we could buy gifts (don’t worry Mom, nothing for you) and send them home with our nephew, who is in Nice too. Of course, we then realized that he would be going back to Pennsylvania and many of the gifts have to come with us to Chicago. Oh well. We’ll make it work.
Most of the rest of the week we chilled out (and bought those gifts), but today it is beautiful out so we finally made it to the top of Galata Tower. Well, one of us did. Can you guess which one? (The one who isn’t petrified of heights.) We could see our apartment (oh, and lots of other stuff). Each floor of the tower also houses small museum exhibits, a model of the city and information. Definitely worth the price of admission (about $8.75).
Since it was so beautiful, we decided to head to a shoreline area at the tip of the Golden Horn, which we had seen from our ferry ride. What a view! Then, after paying our respects to the statue of Ataturk, we crossed the street into Gulhane Park, which houses the Column of the Goths and runs adjacent to Topkapi Palace. We walked the length of the park and then headed home to work. (She forgot to mention that we agreed to walk one way and ended up walking both ways – a mere 5.3 miles, 13,000 steps and 32 floors worth of climbing – good thing we had relatively light work days.)
The days here are long as we tend to get up by 9, head out for some sightseeing until 1 or 2 p.m., then home to work until 8 p.m. and then have dinner. We are generally getting to sleep between 1 and 2 a.m. Long, but really fun days. One thing to note is that Istanbul is built on a series of seven hills, however in a feat of geologic engineering, they have managed to make it so that no matter what direction we walk, we are going uphill.
Monday we acquired train passes. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but if Kafka were going to design a way to sell transit passes, he would have used the Istanbul system as a model, perhaps even deciding it was too complicated and bizarre for one of his stories. It started Sunday evening when we wanted to ride a bus to see a mosque about 40 minutes away.
You can only buy single ride passes at the bus/metro/tram stops and they cost 6 T₺ (which is about $0.67each — the Turkish lira is about 9 U.S. cents). However, the machines only take cash and gives no change. Our smallest notes were 50 T₺ and that didn’t seem worth it. So, we asked the guard where to find the InstanbulKart, the refillable train pass. He vaguely waved in the direction of another tram stop about 10 minutes away. We went there. Nothing. We found a sign to a metro station and walked over to it and it had a tourist information booth. It was empty. (We assumed because it was Sunday evening.) There were machines that apparently sold the pass. However, the language selection function didn’t work and the screen would go blank after about 20 seconds. So we tried a few times to translate as we went and then gave up. We planned to return on Monday. As we were walking out we found a sign that explained that due to COVID you needed a code that registered your card to you and gave instructions (in English!) to get them. We went home, got the code, logged into the app and tried again. Nope. That did work either.
The codes in the app were limited to numbers and ours were alphanumeric. Which brings us to Monday morning. We returned to the station hoping that there would be someone in the tourist booth, but yet again, no luck. We found a guard and asked him. In broken English he said you have buy the card from the IstanbullKart office, which was a few doors down. We found it easily, because it was the place with the line out the door. After about 30 minutes, we were able to purchase the cards and were informed that the card had no balance. To load it, we needed to go back to the station (technically we could load it at any station or tram stop, but the metro station was the closest place). We went back to the station, and tried our luck at filling the card. We were really lucky because after we tried and failed a couple of times, a mann wandered up and was waiting to refill his card. We stepped aside, figuring we would watch him and mimic those steps. He was kind enough to see that we were idiot tourists and showed us how to do it. Hurrah! We could now ride the transit system – at a discounted rate! The tram costs only about 3T₺ (we think).
Tuesday we took the tram (using our InstanbulKarts!) and visited the Turkish Archeological museum. The museum has three buildings. The main one has three floors, the other two are single story. Unfortunately, while the two smaller buildings were both fully open, only the ground floor of the main building was accessible as the others were undergoing renovation. The museum is really well done and houses an enormous collection of ancient statutes, sarcophagi, friezes and other antiquities. The main building’s collection is all from Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, with quite a bit from an excavation in Sidon (in what is now Lebanon). The other two buildings housed collections from Egypt/Babalyonia and Turkish ceramics. It was very impressive and well worth the visit. We purchased the audio tour (4T₺) and while almost all the signs were in both Turkish and English, it was worth having.
Tuesday was also our wedding anniversary, and we had a nice (early) dinner at a Mexican place called Los Altos which had a beautiful view overlooking the Golden Horn (thanks again Dana!). We spent the rest of evening the listening to the Bebop Project at a local jazz club which is about 3 minutes’ walk (uphill of course – both ways) from our AirBnb. It was wonderful.
Wednesday morning we headed for the Süleymaniye Mosque. It was about 25 minutes away on the top of one of the hills of Istanbul. We took the metro for the first time (using our IstanbulKarts again!). I think it took us longer to get down to the trains than the train took for the couple of stops we were on it. The metro is a DEEP subway system. I assume it is because Istanbul is built on hills and the trains run relatively flat, but I am not sure. Suffice to say the next escalator down had a sign over the top saying “Abandon hope all ye who enter.” When we left the metro, we walked (uphill, of course) to the mosque complex. It is only the third or fourth most famous mosque in Istanbul, but is was still extremely impressive. I am not including any of our photos as our amateur ones do not do the place justice. Please look at the photos in the link above.
After wandering out of the complex, we headed for a coffee shop that Dana (Sue’s friend) suggested. The directions were (I am paraphrasing); exit the back of the complex, go across the alley, head down a sketchy looking hallway, up the rickety stairs and the café is there. We followed the directions and found a rooftop café. We have no idea if it was the right one or not, but who cares. The place had huge windows and we had a great view from the Golden Horn looking back on the area where we are staying which is called Beyoğlu (it also had a roof deck, but it was a bit too chilly to eat outside). We ordered the Turkish breakfast, which was enough food for a small (or not so small) army. It included:
simit (a Turkish bagel)
Two types of jam, honey & nutella
five types of cheese
cucumbers and tomatoes
some sort of processed meat product that was vaguely smoky
spring rolls (which are like blintzes but made with filo dough)
and a pot of tea.
We also ordered coffee, because we didn’t think it through. We ate and ate and ate, and barely made a dent in the food.
After we finished we headed back on the metro, took it one extra stop and walked an extra kilometer or two to allow some of the food to digest, before we sat down to work. Needless to say, we had a very light dinner of yogurt, fruit and nuts.