Posted in Travel

Istanbul – part 4: Blue Mosque & Cistern Basilica

Blue Mosque (called Sultan Ahmet Camii by locals) is a beautiful mosque with six minarets, as opposed to the usual two or four of most of the city’s mosques (by some linguistic mistake, legends said). I liked it even more than Hagia Sophia.

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The interior is decorated with tulip motifs and handmade tiles (by the way, do you know that tulip was originated from Turkey, although the Netherlands made it famous worldwide).

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If you’re only a tourist, be sure to avoid praying time of the mosque, you can find daily praying schedule on internet.

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The mosque and Hagia Sophia face each other across a grean and pretty square, with a fountain and mosaic of whirling dervishes:

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A friend of mine scolded me when he saw this picture of a group of girls. He said Muslim girls don’t like to be taken pictures by strangers. While he might be correct, I’m sure this group of girl were happily selfie-ing  at that moment and looking smilefully into my camera.

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Don’t they look shining?

Women should wear head scarf and cover their shoulder/legs while inside the complex. The center of the basilica has a mark said in english “No tourists in this area”, but I suspect it was “No woman” instead, because I saw no woman in that center, and there were some separated “Woman prayer zone”.

You should also take off your shoes inside the mosque. That can cause a little bit of stuck crowd in front the entrance, all moving shoes at the same time, but it’s no way a long queue. Now I must confess a sin: while inside the mosque, all I can feel was the different smells of people’s socks on that carpet. I wanted to admire the tiles, the painting, but the smells were so impotent in such a close place, and my nose is more sensitive than I needed it to be. Sigh.

After the mosque, I wanted to visit Cistern Basilica nearby (called Yerebatan Sarnıcı by local), after reading Dan Brown’s Inferno. Seems like many Asian tourists think the same. There were a big group of Chinese, a group of Korean, then only me, in the cistern. Beforehand I had thought that people hadn’t liked Dan Brown…

Cistern Basilica was at first a basilica of Early Roman Age, then converted to a underground cistern of old Constantinople. You can still see both, the water reservoir was intact and full of slowly swinging fishes in the darkest place of the basilica. Really eerie place, no less thanks to “Inferno”,

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or to the Medusa columns

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(no idea why this one was turned sideline:

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or to the Column of Tears, which, as legends said, is never dried of tears. You’ll see its surface never dried indeed. It is engraved with eyes and tears motifs. As if that’s not eerie enough, the column was meant to be a tribute to the hundreds of slaves who died during the construction of the Basilica Cistern.

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… are you still there?

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Posted in Travel

Istanbul – part 3: Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia is a fascinating architectural complex in Istanbul: first, it was an Orthodox church; then, it was converted to a Catholic basilica; next, to an Ottoman mosque. You can see the traces of all those conversions inside the complex. It is a representation of Istanbul’s rich and intervened history itself. Nowadays, it’s a museum and everybody can visit it. Even a cat.

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The Paradise Gate, or something like that, I eavesdropped from a tour guide 😀

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This huge marble jar, higher than a grown man, dated from BC, used to serve wine to everybody after the mass.

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View from 1st floor of the building

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The interior has some great mosaics, which are left un-repaired:

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Trace of the original church:

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Hagia Sophia is under restoration at the moment, so I couldn’t see it in all of its glory, or take deserving photos. But at least the sun was shining bright that day, so I got some nice exterior shots.

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If you don’t like queue, come to the gate 5 mins before opening time. There will be 10 people at most before you (and that’s a weekend day). But if you arrive 1h after opening time, that might be a long queue. Buy a simit (turkish circle bread) or a grilled corn for breakfast from hundreds of food wagons around the attraction. Try to stuff all of it into your mouth when the gate opens and the ticket starts to sell. You’ll see, it’s hilarious.

Posted in Travel

Istanbul – part 2: Where to eat and where not to

Let me add my voice to the many people praising Turkish foods. It’s abundance and fierce. You can eat constantly during a week and still miss lots of signature dishes.

My hostel is in the Sultanahmet district – the Old City, the most touristic district but also very beautiful. After checking in, I went out for diner and was immediately invited into this “Bistro chef”, just 100 meters away from Topkapi Palace. It happened to be a good restaurant, with reasonable price. I tried Adana Kebab, one of the dishes that you should taste in Turkey.

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After the meal (25 tl – 6 euros), they offered me a free tea and I took my time. Then I left and wandered the streets; 1h later, I passed by that restaurant again and they offered me a 2nd free tea. I had to say no this time. That happened to me in every shop. Whether I bought things or not, they genuinely offered me tea ^^

However, I don’t recommend the “Topkapi” shop next to it, it looked fancy but it sold Turkish delights at the highest price in town. Also, when I asked to buy 1 gr of saffron, the guy packed 5 gr for me and insisted on me to buy it. You know how expensive saffron is.  With my style of eating, it’ll take me 50 years to use all that saffron.

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Fruit juice everywhere, cheap and fresh. Don’t buy it inside museums or palaces, it will be of 3x price than small shops on street.

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Turkish icecream (dondurma) with the smiling icecream-batter man, it may sound like a tourism cliché but the icecream tastes good:

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Turkish food: grilled pepper, and feta-spinach flatbread, near Topkapi Palace.

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Ok quality but a little bit over-priced, as with all restaurants next to tourist attractions. If you must eat near Topkapi Palace, or Hagia Sophia, I recommend the “Bistro Chef” above.

There’re some quite good cafe+sweets shops near Topkapi Palace. “Efezade” is one of them, they have a sweet baking oven just next to the window that you can admire. Of all the baklava shops I tried in town, I prefer this one.

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At “Osmanlizadeler” confiserie shop nearby, very good too, it’s quite popular:

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Then, when I walked to the sea port, I randomly discovered this small eatery which turned out to be great. “Sirin Kofte” located in a small alley which posted “Shortcut to train station, the sea, Galata bridge and Everything”. I took that shortcut everyday and literally had to walk through the eatery. Inevitably, the patron made me promise to eat there once, I did, and got hooked (with the food, not the patron!).

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My Turkish breakfast there, fried anchovies one day (18 tl – 4.5E) and cheese/egg the other day (14tl – 3.5E):

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While I was eating my fish, this kitty came and waited on me. How can you resist this face? So I threw her an anchovy head.

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The patron, who said his name was Antonio Banderas. I told him my name was Catherine Zeta-Jones.

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It’s not far from Hagia Sophia either. I regret I didn’t know it the first day.

Under Galata bridge, there’re a dozen of restaurants, eateries at one side of the bridge and dancing/live music bars at the other side. I don’t remember the name of this restaurant, but under the bridge they were all of the same caliber:

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A plate of fish/seafood there was 25 tl – 60 tl (6E – 15E), depending on what kind of fish. A little bit more pricey than others in town, but you pay for this magnificent view:

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The area around the water bank is the best bet for seafood (a must in Istanbul). I heard the small restaurants along the bank in the Karakoy district, just across the Galata bridge were good and cheap too, but I haven’t tried them.

One fancy dish that I saw and told myself to try, but then I forgot: Cerra Kebab. They seal meats & vegetables in a flaming claypot and serve it to you sizzling hot. You can order it at both Bistro Chef or Sirin Kofte. Do not order it near Topkapi Palace: 3x price, as usual.

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(Only these 2 pics are from google, the other pics are mine.)