Istanbul – Day 6 – Farmers Market, Fatih Mosque, and Kadıköy

Day 6 – Wednesday – was a long day for me. I was out and about the entire day – from 10am to 7pm…  I did ride the tram once – which was excellent – but I spent the rest of the day walking. As it turns out, Old City Istanbul isn’t as big or as overwhelming as it may look on a map.

I was told by the chef at Cooking Ataturk that there was a small farmers market in the Hippadome area on Wednesday mornings. First, I couldn’t find this area on the map. The best way I can describe how to get there is for you to go to the back of the Blue Mosque and turn left and follow the curved road down.. You can’t miss it.  This was a very small farmers market – maybe a dozen farmers showcasing their beautiful fruits, vegetables, and herbs. I purchased some mint and went on my way.

I then walked to the tram and took it to the Aksaray stop. The tram is sooooo clean. So modern. It was 4 Turkish Lira – you purchase a token and use the token to get into the waiting area.  I was pleasantly surprised how civilized everyone is… when I was in Paris a few years ago, it seemed that all the locals would just hop the turn-styles. In San Francisco, no one pays any attention to others.  Not here.  People are friendly, they say hello to one another, and even let the older folks and little kids have the right-of-way. No pushing. No shoving. No jumping of turn-styles.  And this was the natural way – there were no police officers with guns. This is just the way it is.  Respectful, kind, genuine.

2015-11-25-fatih mosque door.3Once I got off the train I walked to the Fatih Mosque.  I was told there was a much larger farmers market there. There was nothing but another gorgeous mosque and beautiful grounds. Here is one of the many doors that invite you to the center courtyard.  Because there were no tourists there and it was out of the hustle and bustle of the Old City, it felt very peaceful.  I sat on a park bench for 30 minutes, soaked in the sunshine, observed my surroundings, and watched silently as regular folks went about their daily business.

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2015-11-25-fatih mosque tree3 Here is a tree that bewildered me. This is a Çinar Tree – they are long living trees, can live anywhere from 700-1000 years.  The Turks have a great respect for these trees, and some say they are marked as historical landmarks – Even after they die their trunks are left standing, protected, and thus continue to exist in the cityscapes and architectural complexes. This one, which exists on the Fatih Mosque grounds, is alive and well.  It is absolutely stunning.

 

Because the walk from the Tram station to the mosque was a short 10 minute walk, I decided to walk everywhere…  I meandered through the small winding streets from Fatih district to Eminönü where I planned to take a ferry to Katikoy – a city on the Asian side of Turkey.  I didn’t have a set path, I just headed in the direction I needed to go and let the side streets of Istanbul lead the way.  2015-11-25-fatih rubleI was definitely out-of-place in some areas… I felt safe, and was in no way in danger.  It was just clear to me and others that a)  I was the only woman, b) I was white, and c) with my new Louis Vuitton Tote, I was a tourist.  I didn’t want to do anything offensive so I was careful to not take many pictures.  There were blocks and blocks of buildings where there were openings like this one – where homes and buildings destroyed in the last few earthquakes.

2015-11-25-suleymaniye mosque When I finally got to somewhere I recognized, it was the back of the Süleymaniye Complex.  Somehow, unexpectedly, I stumbled across the tomb of Mimar Sinan.  Mimar Sinan was a major architect during the Ottoman years and is responsible for the creation of the Süleymaniye Complex.  Every local Turk knows who he is.  Anyway, his tomb is behind an octagonal sebil that occupies the corner of the site. Behind the sebil is the architect’s tomb and a little garden, sheltered from the streets on each side by a stone screen.  Here is a picture of 3 locals standing in front of the tomb.

FYI – I received my 4th marriage proposal since arriving in Turkey from the gentleman in the hat. 🙂

2015-11-25-yeni camii near Eminonu-1I was getting hungry so I worked my way to Eminönü to catch a ferry to Kadıköy for lunch.  The walk was wonderful. Of course there was a mosque near Eminönü – Yeni Camii – the New Mosque… 2015-11-25-yeni camii near Eminonu-Plazayes, the new one.  It was completed around 1660…  So yes, the newest one of them all.  I did not go inside (again, I was hungry), but here are folks washing up before entering the mosque and a quick snap of the courtyard area.  I just love how everyone hangs out, taking time out of their busy day to soak up the world around them, give thanks for what they have, pray for others…

2015-11-25-galata tower from ferry2The ferry ride to Kadıköy was nice.. about a 15 minute ride.  Here is a picture of the Galata tower from the ferry.  I didn’t like Kadıköy much.. nothing to really see there. Lots of little streets with shops… but nothing special.   I had lunch at a great little spot – Çiya Sofrası – food was excellent.  But outside of the great meal, I would not go back.  If you are traveling and have fewer days to see everything, Kadıköy can definitely be skipped IMO.

I got back onto the ferry and walked back to my hotel.  On my way I passed a small local mosque with the following message hanging on a sign outside for all to see – “None of you will believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself“.  In doing a bit of research, I found that this – Hadith 13: Love for Your Brother What You Love for Yourself.  It completely speaks to how the Turkish people are and my experience of them to date (outside of the Rose Water incident during- Day 4).. That to reach the highest level of spirituality and selflessness, they have to love their brother in humanity, Muslim or non-Muslim.

I also am really digging the call to prayer.  Why?  Because it sets a reminder to everyone in the community to think about these things. To stop what you are doing, remember what is important, and go about your day with kindness in your heart.

All in all I walked 6 miles today…  and I felt it.  I went back to my hotel, grabbed my bottle of wine, went upstairs to the rooftop terrace, and reflected on my day while watching the sun set.  I was so tired I feel asleep by 8pm… it was a great day.

 

Istanbul – Day 4 – Süleymaniye Mosque + Spice Market

I know, I know, what happened to Day 3?  I’ll get to that later.

Monday – Day 4 was a busy day for me –  a lot of walking. 5.5 miles of walking to be exact (thank you fitbit!!).  Because one of the grand mosques was closed (either Blue Mosque or Hagia Sophia), I decided to wonder the Old City and soak in the energy, the people, the streets, the City as I moved towards Suleymaniye Mosque and the Spice Market via the University of Istanbul.

First and foremost, mosques are everywhere, and even the small ones are grand in my opinion.  Here is me, covered up and doing my best impression of Carrie from Homeland.  I was in the mosque for 5 minutes, soaking in everything… the people, the prayers, the space… I was in awe.. I had not expected such beauty and peace.

Instanbul_11-22-FirstMosque - Carina

The mosque is an unknown mosque – its in a small neighborhood where local people stop in and pray…. it’s not on a tourists map.. it’s just there, in plain site for everyone to use. Look at the beauty of the stones, the craftsmanship, the architecture.  These pictures do not do it justice either – you have to see it to believe it.

I left the mosque and meandered through the neighborhoods and finally reached the University. University of Istanbul was founded in 1453. That is 39 years BEFORE Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue and stumbled upon America.  There is some history for you.

So my target mosque – Süleymaniye Mosque. Istanbul has 4 historical preservation sites, and Süleymaniye Mosque and its associated conservation area is one of them. Truly the site is something to behold – not just mosque, or the grounds, but the views and the story of the architect that pulled it all together.   Great story, beautiful place, and I’m glad that it will be protected for others to see and experience it for years to come.  Here are a few pictures that do not do it any justice but do give you an idea of what it’s like on the inside.  I also received quite a bit of literature from a volunteer at this mosque.  A lot of FAQ’s about Islam, Muslims, Allah, etc..  Once I read through the materials I will share what I learn.

Istanbul_11_22 -Süleymaniye Mosque-side Istanbul_11_22 -Süleymaniye Mosque2Istanbul_11_22 -Süleymaniye Mosque 1

IMIstanbul_11_22 -Süleymaniye Mosque-carpet

 

 

 

 

 

My next stop was the Spice Market.  The Spice Market is synonymous with the Spice Bazaar and Egyptian Bazaar.  They all mean the same thing..  I didn’t like the Spice Market. It was way too crowded.. and the stores that surround the spice market are cheap kid toy stores….  I just wandering around and I didn’t see anything appealing at all –  I was glad to wander out of the Spice Bazaar.  I went to storefront 55 – a recommendation from Turkish Carpet man – they are friends. He would give me a good deal.  I didn’t bother to negotiate – I handed him Turkish Carpet man’s card and purchased a few items.  The next day I saw what I purchased for 1/2 price somewhere else.   Specifically, I purchased some Rose Water for 30 TL… I saw it the next day at a pharmacy for 12 TL…   I did not negotiate with the owner of storefront 55 because he was good friends with my Carpet Man…  I definitely didn’t get a “friends and family discount”.  The lesson learned here – ALWAYS negotiate. Never settle for the first price they tell you.  Even if they come highly recommended and you have a “special” connection.

My last activity for the day was a cooking lesson from CookingAlturka.com.  Rocco, our host, and the chefs were amazing – I learned how to make some of the more popular and two of my favorite foods – Red Lentil Soup and Lamb and Beef Stuffed grape leaves. Yum!  The secret ingredients – red pepper paste and equal parts of mint, parsley, and dill.  I am going to bring home the red pepper paste and this Z knife to chop up my herbs (since I cannot find it on Amazon).  Here is a great site to see the Zihr in action.

I finally got  back to my room at 10pm.. I was exhausted.  I brushed my teeth, put on my pajamas, and went to bed.  It was a fabulous day…

There are 2 lessons today:

1 – Cover your blue eyes.   The day was not sunny but cloudy and warm. It was a perfect day. But I still had to wear my sunglasses. I found that I was not approached to purchase items or enter stores nearly as much when I had my sunglasses on vs. off.  I think that blue eyes are a bit of a rarity here in Istanbul (maybe all of Turkey I don’t know), so the hustlers see blue eyes and assume tourist.  Just a FYI for those of you blue-eyed folks traveling to Turkey… take your mirrored sunglasses and wear them. You will be glad you did.

2 – Always negotiate.  As with the rose water – even a friend of a friend will try to take as much money as possible. The Turks love to negotiate…  so give it to them.  Educate yourself on the cost of something then go for it.  If you are not a negotiator, well then, you will need lots of money.  🙂

O.k. I will do my best to catch up on Day 3 AND finish up Day 5 with a bang so there is something really fun to write about.  Day 5 is my day with Turkey Carpet Man…  all day…  I did also learn that he is Muslim.. so that is something. A very different culture, I’m surprised he is even interested in spending time with a Christian (although not all that Christian IMO) American…

Last but not least, I love the Call To Prayer.  LOVE IT.  I’ve recorded a few that I’ve heard.. I’ll try to share them. I don’t even know what they are saying, but it sounds great.  O.k. I have to go now…

 

Istanbul – Day 2 – Grand Bazaar and Kumkapi

2015_11_21_Grand Bazaar- entry Gate 1Wowza… yes, it’s some ridiculous time in the morning of Day 3 (Day 2 is way over, Day 3 has officially started)…

What a day.  I enjoyed breakfast at my hotel, went to the Grand Bazaar, then had dinner with a local.  Each of these experiences was like a lifetime in a good way… I am going to write an entry about what to pack/wear at some point (please don’t hold your breath), but this entry is just about my experience on Saturday Nov. 20th.

First, I went to the Grand Bazaar. It’s like an US Outlet Mall on super steroids. Halls and halls of the same thing – jewelry, bags, shoes, carpets, etc.. Don’t forget to look up, the ceiling in the Bazaar is incredible.  Before you go, practice saying “no” a thousand times. The shop owners are not shy, they really really really want to show you their goods. Often times the store front in the Grand Bazaar is very small and to see more items they will take you to a spot that has a lot more of what you are looking for. I went to the Bazaar looking for a few silver bowls. I walked out with a Channel purse.

Channel has never been my style, but when I saw this bag I fell in love.  The kind of love that makes the heart skip a beat, or stop beating all together… the kind of love I’ve not felt in a very long time.  Yes, I know, it is a thing (vs. a person or experience), but now it is in my possession.  I have a small, super special bag for all those formal events I never go to.  🙂

 

2015_11_21_musicians - google translateSecond, experiencing Istanbul with a local is very different from experiencing the city as a tourist.  Tonight I had dinner with a local at a place that isn’t touristy at all.  We went to Kumkapi – the locals call it the “fish market”.  It is an area with lots of restaurants, musicians, and singing and dancing.  My local, let’s call him Carpet Man, is very well-known in the community – people just love him.  He owns a carpet store (who doesn’t right?!?).  Here is a picture of the his friends, a few musicians, hanging out at our table. None of them had a sheet of music – they would pick a song and they would all start playing.. they looked at each other and felt the music.. Yes, the men here play instruments, sing, AND they DANCE. No, they are not gay. The are super manly men who cherish the important things in life –like friends, fun, and music.  I’m even more convinced that confidence is super sexy.  While I was there having a great time, it made me sad that music is no longer a part of the American education system.  It is not just about learning to play an instrument, it is also about sharing a passion with others, learning to listen and feel the music.. Never to late to learn right?!!?

So the way I’m getting around and communicating with locals is via pen and paper and Google Translate.  You can see in the picture above the gentleman is writing down the name of the instrument that he plays – It is called the Kanun. To see how it is played and hear some lively street music go here.  Simply amazing.

O.k… so that is it for my second day in Istanbul – first full day.  Hard to believe that I have only been in Istanbul for 24 hours.. I feel like I am at home.  And one more shout to the wonderful folks at Hotel Sari Konak.  I LOVE these people .. so helpful, so kind.. My room is awesome.  But it is the people who make this hotel so special.  They get great reviews – Trip Advisor Hotel Sari Konak… You cannot go wrong staying here.

Lesson for today:

1 – Go ‘Old School‘ and carry paper and pen.  It is the best way to communicate – the Turkish Language is complicated and doesn’t translate one for one into English.. I found that writing the words down helped when I couldn’t understand what was being said… and was very useful to spell the word correctly when using Google Translate.

 

Istanbul – Day 1 – Arrived Safe And Sound.

2015-11-Turkey_Smokers Die YoungerI just arrived in Istanbul earlier today.  My plane landed at 4:30… I picked up a bottle of wine at duty free.  Above is a sign taped to wall that leads to the cigarette display. See how simple the message is when the Tobacco industry and government isn’t involved?  The only improvement would be a picture of a 50 year old smoker who looks 80.

I arrived at my hotel around 6:30pm. I took a quick nap then went out to eat.  I flew United because I wanted the points so that I could gain my Premier status back (and get points to purchase a ticket to Utah)..  I would never fly them otherwise – they truly do not care about the customer experience. Planes are old, seats are old, wireless doesn’t work, the flight attendants are rude (and must be union because they act so entitled).   I will do a blog on United Airlines experience.. and it won’t be good for them.  So many small things they could do to improve their service that would GREATLY improve the customer experience.  In simplest terms, they should just follow Virgin America’s lead. O.k. enough of that. On with the good stuff.

The city is so much quieter now than when I was here in September.   I’m staying in the heart of the Old City – at a very small hotel named Sari Konak. I found it on TripAdvisor… a great little boutique hotel, off the busy roads yet centrally located.  The room is nice sized (I’m in room 201), bathroom is nice, and the folks are super friendly and helpful.  I will not spend my entire trip here as I want to get out of the tourist hustle and bustle, but this is a GREAT little spot to stay while exploring the Old City.  The only bad thing I can say about the hotel right now is that the wireless is either spotty or very poor.  There aren’t many tourists around so I’m surprised that the wireless internet isn’t blazing fast.

2015-11-20-Dinner with cat

Above is a picture of me at dinner…  Here I am with wine and cat…  as Jon Kabat-Zinn would say, “Wherever You Go, There You Are“. Yes, I am half-way around the world but I’m doing what I love – enjoying great food, good wine, and the companionship of a furry friend.  This is why I LOVE Turkey – I feel so at home here.  It is safe, people are ‘old school’ in the sense that they care for one another and for other living creatures (vs. tech, money, what school you go to, etc).  Example – at dinner I was going to have my meal packaged up so I could feed the strays but there was no need to do this. The restaurant puts all leftovers out for the strays…  There are no homeless (that I have seen) and the strays are well taken care of – they are spayed/neutered and well fed by restaurant and shop keepers.  It is in their culture to take care of all beings.

My plan is to organize my days in Istanbul and go to the Grand Bazaar tomorrow and just browse… I hear you feel the history just by being there.  I am looking for a few items –  a couple of small silver bowls to store jewels and such…  and a nice necklace for my friend Jewels who is going through tremendous heartache right now.  I don’t have much money but I hear the Turkish merchants love to negotiate so there may be many winners tomorrow.  🙂

O.k. I’d better go to bed.. otherwise I may not get up and enjoy my free breakfast and a full day at the Grand Bazaar!

If you have been to Istanbul and have tips for me please share them!  I have 8 days and would love to see/do things that aren’t currently on my radar.

Heading to Istanbul!

Istanbul-blue-mosqueI know, can you believe it – I did it! I’m going.  Back to Turkey I go.  I booked my flight yesterday, and just finished my hotel and apartment accommodations.  I will be there the week of Thanksgiving.  My plan is to:

  • Live like a tourist the first 4 days – I will be staying at Hotel Sari Konak, in the historic district of Sultanahmet, where I will visit all sorts of historic sites, visit the Asian side of Turkey, and cruise around like a typical tourist.
  • The second half of the trip I am going to live like a local – I’ve rented a beautiful apartment via Airbnb – cozy flat near Galata Tower.  I plan to take a few cooking classes and try my hand at some real Turkish cuisine (along with some wine) while in this lovely flat.

I have no expectations with this trip except to enjoy my solitude and the immense amount of history this amazing city has to share.

I will be putting together my itinerary, or at least a list of things I want to see and do while in Turkey in the coming weeks.  If you have been to Istanbul, I would love to hear your thoughts and recommendations on what to see and do.