One simply amazing thing about Istanbul that I’m sure not every soul appreciates is the vast number of cats that populate the city. They are mostly stray, but they don’t appear stray. Most look healthy, well-fed and happy. From what I could gather they survive by depleting the city of its rat population, which is fine by me! In Istanbul, instead of squirrels or pigeons there are legions of cats. I loved every second of it.
We woke up a little later than we had hoped on Saturday and missed the free breakfast at our hostel. Undaunted we rallied our tired selves to walk to the Spice Bazaar for lunch, which we had come to understand as the bazaar with all of the food. We were still mapless, but this did not stop us from charting a relative course and departing from the hostel. One of the workers at the hostel told us to follow the street with the tram tracks, so we did! It took about twenty minutes but we walked (Brian almost getting hit by the tram several times) all the way down to the water, near where we hoped the bazaar would actually be. On the seaside we were immediately accosted by endless salesmen attempting to entice us into taking a boat cruise of the Bosphorus. It was endless! But this is not something unique to the seaside area. Istanbul is a city of street vendors. People constantly hawk goods at you, no matter where you are walking. Men scream things at you in loud, repeated voices, the same proposals over and over. They push goods towards you and gesture at their products. If you even look at their wares or stop for a second to merely peer at an intriguing item you are immediately treated as a buyer. They sell, the bargain, they plead with you. It’s intense. They treat you so much as a buyer that its hard to resist. You feel bad! But in the end, you walk away and they understand, immediately on to working on the next person. Istanbul is a city of hawkers.
Walking along the seaside we stopped for a sandwich of fried fresh fish with some lettuce, onion and on an Italian loaf of bread. Simple. Delicious. Unfortunately for us the Spice Bazaar was on the other side of the road (which was a highway) and we had to figure out how to get there. We followed the crowds and happened upon an underground passage from our side of the road to the other side of the road. But this passage was not simply a passage; it was another bazaar. Stores lined the sides of the underground way and per usual people hawked at us. Also, this place was packed to the brim as people hassled each other, some walking through and the others trying to shop. We managed to come out on the other side unharmed and entered the Spice Bazaar.
This place was awesome. Spices were everywhere! Food was everywhere! Meats, cheeses, teas, sugary delights. Everything (except vegetables). There were tea sets and table cloths among the similar spice stalls, each one attempting to convince you that their particular batch of spices, dried fruits or teas were better than the others even though most seemed exactly the same from stall to stall. I bought some apricots and dates. We tried some apple tea, which was amazing. We tried some cool goat cheese aged in a goat’s stomach and some pastrami type meat. It was wonderful and amazing to smell everything and see everything but we didn’t find a place to eat inside that looked delectable enough. On our way out we bought some baklava from a place that happened to be from a New York Times reviewed place! We ate them after a lunch of kebab. They were spectacular!
After lunch we odysessied (yes I’m making up a word) across the water to the other side of Europe, stopping for some bridge pictures. Luckily Jackie has a friend from BC, Ji, who grew up in Istanbul and is currently studying abroad there. We were going to meet her in Ornekoy, a well-to-do part of Istanbul near the bridge to Asia, to take a boat cruise of the Bosphorus. We had iffy plans about where to meet her once there (she told us to meet her near the potato stand), which is fairly vague, but we succeeded at finding her once the taxi dropped us off. The area is gorgeous! There is a small bazaar and tons of food stalls. Also, it’s right on the water, which makes life all the better.
After we met Ji, snapped some photos and walked around the neighborhood a bit, we hopped a nearly empty ferry to take a one hour boat cruise of the Bosphorus for 10 Turkish lira (Love Turkey!). It was a great time! Besides getting a beautiful view of parts of Istanbul to which I would normally not go because they are quite far from the city, we had a blast sitting in the under deck and talking about BC and our different abroad experiences. We sipped on some apple tea while the boat made its way in a circle from the so-called “first bridge” to the “second bridge” (these are the two bridges to Asia). Most importantly, though, the boat came within a stone’s throw of Asia. We were technically in Asian waters. I was in Asia. It happened. It’s official!
Once our boat cruise finished we went to the bazaar and explored the small bazaar of Ornekoy. I bought some presents for Courtney and the friends and even contemplated buying myself a scarf. The goods were beautiful so I couldn’t resist getting people a couple of things. Luckily Ji speaks Turkish well enough so we relied on her to help us haggle (something quite easy to do in Turkey). I felt a bit bad, though, because Brian, Jackie and I constantly asked her to come help us at various stalls. The vendors continued to speak to us in Turkish and give us clothing to try on, regardless of the lack of Turkish that we spoke. At one point a lady wearily asked Brian and I, in English, if we understood anything that she had said. When we said no, she started to ignore our presence. Whatever. We didn’t want her things anyway!
Once we had exhausted the mini-bazaar, we wandered a little bit into the town to try some of the local street foods that Ji said we had to taste. First up were fried mussels, in some sort of beerish batter and served with a creamy, mayonnaise sauce. The mussels were big and juicy and became even better when fried! At the same stall they had little fried fish that could have either been anchovies or sardines (I’m inclined to say anchovies), served with a simple bit of lemon juice. Awesome. By this time I was a little full from the massive amounts of food that we had eaten all day, but still Ji insisted that the four of us share two stuffed potatoes. These are the most ‘loaded’ baked potatoes in the world. You fill them with cheese, meat, olives, pickles, sauces, corn, everything in the world. They were massive, and not the greatest things in the world, but still they were an experience.
We went to a hookah cafe to eat our potatoes, have some tea and play backgammon! Ji and Brian played while Jackie and I watched. Ji also ordered a hookah (something in which I don’t usually partake and did not this time either, but I figured since I was in Istanbul I had to at least try it!). Backgammon is a lot of fun to watch and now that I know how to play, I will be playing at any opportunity! In Turkey the nightly activity of many youths is to smoke hookah and play backgammon. Seems like a relaxing way to spend the evening! After the cafe, we returned home, where we hung out on the rooftop bar for a while before heading back to Taksim once more. This time, though, we found ourselves in some sketchy bars, and left early! Great night!