Sunday, July 19, 2015

Istanbul, Part 2: I Can't Stop Saying The Word Harem

As it was Sam's last day in Istanbul (cries), we packed everything we could into Day 2.  Seriously. Everything.  

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Started the day visiting Topkapi Palace, the royal residence where the Ottoman sultans lived for 400 some years.  The palace is really cool because it didn't have an initial layout or plan and it wasn't all built at once, so every successive sultan would add or change parts as time went on - which means it's a blend of the different styles of architecture/design and is a good snapshot of a lot of eras cobbled together. The grounds surrounding the Palace are gorgeous, and the interior has all the different residences and structures and kitchens and apartments and courtyards and mosques and fountains and administration buildings and terraces that a sultan would need. Oh, and a HAREM. Which was my favorite part.

Inside the harem. The tilework was SO PRETTY. Inside the harem lived the sultan's mother, wives, concubines, their servants and children, and eunuchs who watched over the women. It was estimated that the harem could house thousands
Unplanned, but everyone looks shocked to be in the harem. In front of the pretty tilework
Sam and I are being royal in front of the throne in the harem. Selfie stick = my scepter, obviously
View of the Bosphorus from one of the palace balconies
Another palace courtyard, another gorgeous Bosphorus view
  • After lunch we shopped at Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, a huge covered marketplace of indoor shops selling anything your heart desires.  It's so gigantic that it's sectioned off into sections, like all rugs are sold in one area, jewelry in another, etc., and you can spend hours winding through all its crazy little passageways. It's very cool but also very tourist-y - you can get the same souvenir trinkets at numerous stalls, and they are all radically different prices. 
    Grand Bazaar
  • Later on, we walked about 10-15 minutes down the road to another famous market, the Spice Market, which is slightly less touristy and traditionally has had a focus on spices (huge spice bins, teas, baklava, Turkish delights, etc.) - which was so fun - but it also still has fun souvenirs for tourists as well (at lower prices, I noticed).  To be honest, I did prefer the Spice Market a little more than the Grand Bazaar.
    Spice Market
  • One of Drew's friends had sent an e-mail suggesting we feed pigeons in front of the New Mosque, right outside the Spice Market.  Watching animals eat is in the top 10 of my most favorite activities, so I was the only one enthused about this. However, apparently this might be an activity best reserved for the mornings, because by the time we got there around mid-evening, the ground was littered with uneaten seed and the pigeons were fat and completely uninterested.
Eat your food, darn ungrateful pigeons
  • Another suggestion from this list was to go down to the water and try a typical street food item called a balik ekmek (or a grilled fish sandwich) at the waterfront. It was cool - they have these tiny boats tied up to the harbor, and you go choose your fish that's been freshly caught, and they grill it and shove it into a sandwich for you and season it with lemon. It's kind of delicious.  Most people were also drinking one of two drink options: lemonade, or this bright hot pink pickle juice with pickled veggies floating around inside.  We tried both - pink pickle juice, not my thing.
Drinking lemonade & pink pickle juice, and eating a balik ekmek
  • We topped off Sam's last night by heading to the new district Beyoglu and going down Istiklal Street (heaps and heaps of bars/restaurants/stores).  Istiklal Street is SO HAPPENING - it's totally trendy, and super packed - kind of like Times Square with the lights and the crowds, but not just terrible tourist things.  All the shopping, eating, dessert places, bars, etc. that you can think of. We had dinner at a rooftop called 360, that had sweeping views of Istanbul
Walking down Istiklal Street
View of Istanbul from 360's rooftop
And then later the restaurant turned into a nightclub and all these weird creepy performers came out
  • Our guidebook recommended a dessert spot off Istiklal called Mado. They had an entire section devoted to baklava. So naturally, I got an ice cream to eat while I waited in the baklava line, and then got an assortment of baklava. It was so delicious, but unsure I needed to have both the ice cream and the baklava assortment tray.....
So much baklava
My assorted tray of baks

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • Topkapi Palace had its own giant DESSERT KITCHEN. For mass-producing all the desserts. Want.
  • Moving from Rick Steves' Eastern Europe guidebook to Lonely Planet for Turkey has truly shown me that Rick Steves is a million, trillion times better. I don't know how I will ever buy Lonely Planet again. Why won't Rick Steves go to Asia. I love him. He is king.
Luckily our hotel offered Rick Steves' guidebook for Istanbul. RICK, I LOVE YOUR WORK
  • My guidebook claimed the right way to eat baklava is without a fork and just popping it into your mouth with your thumb and forefinger. My guidebook is wrong (it's the Lonely Planet obviously, not Rick. Rick is never wrong) . It turns out incredibly sticky.  However, baklava = delicious.

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