Four Continents Down - Turkish Thanksgiving Day 4

November 24, 2012

The first thought on our mind this morning was breakfast. Actually, the first thought on my mind was, "How in the holy hell do we figure out how to turn the heat off in this apartment??" Really. It's a sauna in here. So the second thought was about breakfast.

There was a fantastic website we used to plan out the trip. Istanbuleats.com. It was here that one of us read about brunch in Istanbul. It's a big deal. And the list of foods was epic. Gloriously epic. The phrase, "I want to go to there" was used multiple times. (The phrase "I want to go to there" is used a lot of times for various things. And not all food-based.) we had decided, based on the joy of our first dinner, that we would go back to Akdeniz Hatay Sofrasi for an encore of breakfast.

We ended up there at a decent enough time. Not too early, but there also wasn't a huge crowd yet. The spread was immense. Nothing was in English (why should it be??) so there were a lot of choices picked based on gut instinct. Some ended up being good. Some, not so much. But it was great to try everything. I dug the cheese dipped in honeycomb (real honeycomb!!). So much that I need to remember to combine those two when I get home (though I'm pretty sure I'm going to go on a vegetarian cleanse when I get home too...oof...it's meat-a-palooza over here). There was also a Turkish cookie that has to be made with just sugar, butter and flour. It was glorious. I need to find the recipe. Then again, I need to find the name of the cookie. Overall, it was an good breakfast for a great price, but it is the same issue I have with any buffet. Too many choices means I don't eat as much. I don't eat as well. It makes for a harder breakfast. But I also wasn't hungry again until the mid-afternoon. So, I guess it got the job done.

The first stop for the day was Topkapi Palace. Or, we tried to stop there first. We got off at the station we needed to and walked through the entrance and up the hill to the palace. Well, we walked up "an entrance" not "the entrance." As we got to the top of the bill and saw armed guards, we realized we were not where we were supposed to be. We were actually in the Gulhane Park. This park is actually a very lovely area where people can really go to get away from it all (and there were plenty of couples there canoodling). Unfortunately, this got us to the palace an hour later than we expected. And it made us climb some hills we didn't need to climb.

Once we finally made it to Topkapi Palace, we learned what all of the fuss was about. The palace was both the symbolic and political center of the Ottoman Empire for multiple centuries. We started with the important area...The Harem.

We paid a little but extra to go into the Harem, but this was definitely an area to visit. We walked from room to room, getting the stories of how the Harem worked or where the ladies stayed. The building itself was expansive. There were rooms that seemingly went on forever. As we walked through the rooms, we read descriptions of each room. The signs read of eunuchs and harems and sultans...this just doesn't seem familiar in any way. There was also a section in the Rough Guide Istanbul that talked about The Cage. This was where brothers of the Prince (the dude who would be Sultan) were held in captivity instead of just being murdered. The captives would go insane in The Cage until they became Sultan themselves (if the Sultan died, a brother would succeed him). That didn't help the harem any as the insane Sultans seemed to do crazier and crazier shit.

Once we finished with the Harem, we moved our way over to see some of the artifacts. The best quote ever was in one of the buildings housing religious artifacts. The quote said the artifacts would be "protected as long as there was a world." So you should be able to go here at least through the start of the Zombie Apocalypse. We saw a staff of Moses (don't know if it was the Red Sea one) and a hat (or something else) from Joseph. I did go through the rest of the palace singing songs in my head from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat ("Sha La La Joseph, you're doing fine...you and your Dreamcoat, ahead of your time...").

The queue for the museum section...not the best at organization. It was more of a scrum instead of a line. People just crammed in through a door, then a bit of light shoving as you strained to see the piece of beard and tooth of the Prophet Mohammad, or the Spoonmaker's Diamond (5th largest diamond in the world). The fun part was when the people cut in line or crammed in close to see the dagger wanted to get out of the crowd that was three or four people deep. That's where they tried to elbow their way out. No way, chickie (most cutters seemed to be the ladies). You shoved in, you wait your turn to get out. I hate when people think they are the center of the world.

We walked through most (if not all) of the museum rooms and found an area where we could see a view of the skyline. This was a time for picture-taking and figuring out our next steps.

Our next steps included a tram-ride to the City Ferry Terminal area. This stop included lunch (though brunch was still keeping me satisfied). As we saw the water and all of the men fishing, we scoped out the area. Underneath the bridge were a line of restaurants (ummm...nicer than it sounds). We knew Fish (Balik) Sandwiches were something to get from Istanbul. And at 5 Turkish Liras (about $2.50), we knew we couldn't go wrong.

We ended up at a place that was slightly crowded and had seating inside (it's getting colder), and the fish sandwich was pretty good. I also came to a realization. We are catnip to Turkish dudes. They seem to flock around us. Actually, I think they flock towards Adele because she attempts to speak a bit in Turkish (I have a massive mental block when it comes to languages, though will have to step it up when I finally go to Germany. I learned a little German in Junior High). Our waiter (the owner??) bought us a glass of tea ("on him") after lunch and kept asking us to come back later or to meet him for drinks (not wine...what else is there??) later. We got his card (that makes...three??) and he was very persistent. We don't expect to meet up with him, but if anything it seems to help the self-esteem. Though it does beg the question...why the hell is this not happening in Chicago?? Not that we need dudes to be aggressive with handing over their number and asking us out, but come on!! Don't make a lady move to Turkey...

We had talked about taking a Bosphorous Cruise before we got here. These cruises could take many hours and go up and down the Bosphorous Strait. But we were coming at a bit of an "off" time of year and Adele and I don't always do the traditional tourist things. So we rode ferries instead. They were 2 Turkish Lira each way, so fantastically cheaper than the cruises the guys on the street were peddling.

As we traveled to the Asia side of Istanbul, I started thinking about a few things. The last trip I took with Mom, the trip was very structured. It was choosing excursions and being told exactly where to go every single day (including food). This trip, completely the opposite. We had no set plans for any day (well, except for Sunday, but I'll tell that story tomorrow) and we played most things by ear. Neither way is a bad way to travel. I'm actually happy that I seem to thrive in both versions. Though I will say, the structured trips are fine, but I do think I could eat significantly better if I chose the restaurants myself. Just saying...

We stepped on the Asian side of Istanbul. Four continents down. Three to go.

There were no big plans for what to do on the Asian side. We walked down the main drag, then decided to turn right. We walked right through a very busy street market. Where VERY fresh fish were being sold. It was pretty cool. Very crowded. This is where Adele saw the sign. Nargile and Tea. She declared this was our stop in Asia.

Nargile is the Turkish word for water pipe. We stopped at a hookah joint. (Though I will say, joint is probably the wrong word to use right now.) The place was kind of hippie-ish. A place I would expect to see love beads and fringe being worn. But it was kind of fun. We ended up with a hookah filled with Apple Tobacco. And tea. We have consumed a lot of tea. Adele gave me the 101 on hookah smoking.

So there we go. Those who know me know I'm a total square (other than my heavy consumption of wine, that is). This is the first time I've smoked anything (feel free to let that comment just exist in the world without comment). While the hookah wasn't a big deal, it's not something I'm going to need to do again. I told Adele maybe I'm not totally a square anymore. Maybe I'm more of a triangle now. Meh...

That was the only stop in Asia as we caught the next ferry back to the European side. Then, we hopped on the tram to the Spice Market. By this time, it was raining and kind of cold and miserable. As we walked to the market, I looked at a shop at the corner of a not so busy street. I asked Adele, "Hafiz Mustafa?? Isn't that the bakery I wanted to visit??" Sure was. Later, Adele told me I scoped out this place "like a fart in a car." Well, yeah. It's a bakery. You're damn well right I'm gonna find a bakery on our trip. The market closed at 7p. I declared we would go here after the market. Adele couldn't say no. I just smoked a hookah.

The Spice Market was very similar to the Grand Bazaar, but for whatever reason, I felt much more comfortable here. Maybe because it was a little smaller. Maybe because I just understood the racket this time. Maybe because it was more foodie. Who knows?? But I was kind of ready to shop. The problem...we both needed to find a restroom and we were wet and tired. We found out the market was open on Sunday (the bazaar is not), so we decided to take off and come back in the morning.

Which brings us back to Hafiz Mustafa. This place is ranked #1 or #2 on TripAdvisor every time I look. It's a small bakery/candy shop where they serve drinks and desserts. There might be food too. There seemed to be an upstairs section. There seems to be a lot of upstairs sections that we've missed out on (or don't quite understand how they work). Anyway, the place was pretty cute. The service...meh. They didn't seem to care we were there, but we did get some goodies. I tried to get a Creme Caramel, but they had sold out. I ended up with a rice pudding that was very good. And we both got a hot drink that weren't tea (already had three glasses today). I got the Sahlep (again - love this). Adele got the hot chocolate. I know Adele is not a dessert person, so I'm glad she could find something at this place. We actually both commented that this was like our visit to Angelina's in Paris. Excellent bakeries and excellent drinks. I could do this every day.

But we were tired. We made our way out into the rain and went back to the hotel. We had another long day. There is just so much to see and so little time. Tomorrow is our last real day in the city. We have an excellent tour planned for tomorrow, but we are still trying to figure out exactly what we want to do during the rest of the day (other than a quick stop back at the apartment for a break...it's gonna be a later night and an insanely early morning on Monday). We do know there will be shopping back at the Spice Market (Mom yelled at me this evening during our FaceTime chat for not buying anything for myself). We know there will be food. We just need to figure out the logistics before we fall asleep. I think we're both nodding off right now, so that could be tricky at this point...

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