A Travellerspoint blog

March 2019

Arrival in Cappadocia

Istanbul and Göreme


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At 03.15 am we got a shuttle to Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen Airport. Waiting for the shuttle at three am, we were expecting all the streets to be deserted, but to our surprise we saw several men sitting at tables in front of closed restaurants and cafés, chatting with friends. We guessed it might be something to do with Ramadan - I know that they can't eat until sundown, so they need to get all their meals in during the night.

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At the airport there was a beautiful exhibition of travel photography to look at while we waited for our flight, which took off half an hour late at about 07.30.

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An hour and five minutes after that we arrived at Nevşehir Airport, where we were picked up and taken to our amazing hostel/hotel in Göreme.

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Fantastic place, fantastic setting amongst lots of fabulous 'fairy chimney' rock formations. Our hotel is built into one of them! We were welcomed with free tea, coffee and plate of delicious, moist cheese puff things.

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After half an hour or so of sitting in the lovely courtyard, we were allowed to check in early. Our room is amazing! it's cavernous yet comfortable, with stone walls and ceiling, a tiled floor, cupboards cut out of the walls and archway over the head of our bed. There's a terrace above us with a spectacular view...

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We caught up on sleep for several hours, before venturing out to explore. It is so pleasant here! Just round the corner from our hotel was a large area of ground covered in piled-up blocks of white stone - a stonemason had clearly been at work here in the open air, though he wasn't to be seen at that moment.

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Five minutes later, just as we passed a mosque the muezzin began his call to prayer. After a lovely wander round town we had an early dinner at a café - a Turkish savoury pancake and some rice pudding for me, a sandwich for Dave and a chocolate milkshake each.

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Posted by 3Traveller 12:25 Archived in Turkey Tagged art night hotel airport cappadocia turkey istanbul dave turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

Modern Istanbul

Istanbul


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On Sunday we had a relaxed morning and didn't leave the hostel until early lunchtime. Our destination was the area of Beyoglu, the heart of modern Istanbul. We had spent 95% of our time until then in Sultanahmet, the historic area, so we wanted to see what the modern centre was like. Taksim Square, in the centre, is on a large hill, so we took the funicular railway up there from the tram station. We'd just taken the tram across Galata Bridge from Sultanahmet.

The funicular turned out to be underground, unfortunately, so we didn't get any amazing views on the way up. However Istikal Caddesi, the main pedestrian street, leads down the hill from the square, so we got some good views from there.

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Although part of modern Istanbul, Beyoglu still has some historic buildings. As soon as we'd crossed the square we found a small art gallery which turned out to be in the former cistern building used for Beyoglu's water storage in the 18th and 19th centuries when the population of Istanbul spread. The artwork there was of a good standard, all modern paintings with price tags; each section was dedicated to a different artist and in a couple of them the artists were actually there, working on paintings. It was interesting to look round.

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After that we wandered down Istikal Caddesi, taking everything in. Although filled with international shopping chains, it also has Turkish Delight and baklava shops, 'vitamin bars' (juice bars where the fruits are piled up at the front), cafés with Turkish ice cream stands at the front, shops with foil-wrapped slabs of chocolate piled up against the windows, and some other miscellaneous shops.

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We went into a sweet shop after I noticed a sign saying Marron Glace- I knew these aren't common in the UK so I bought some, and then we noticed the baklava counter so Dave bought us one piece each of chocolate baklava and walnut baklava, both of which were delicious.

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There was an antique book and map shop which we enjoyed browsing; we had a late lunch at café, where we both tried things we hadn't had before- I had a lovely springy textured wrap filled with spiced (not the hot kind) lamb, tomato and onion, and Dave had a similar thing but in a sandwich and with beef instead of lamb; we visited the Catholic church of St Anthony, where I lit a candle and we admired photos of papal visits over the last century.

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We ate lunch upstairs in the café, so we had a good view of the street outside. While we were there, we heard lots of loud chanting begin, and van loads of armed police with riot shields arrived and stood to one side. Part of a demonstration was going on just round the corner. Later on it passed us- very loud, but seemingly not dangerous.

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I also visited a dervish lodge, now a museum, where these followers of the Sufism sect of Islam lived until it was outlawed by the Turkish government in the 1920s. Dave didn't fancy it so looked round the attached historic graveyard while waiting for me. It was interesting to read the given information, see the artifacts from their daily lives (which included musical instruments, turbans, cooking utensils, coffee-making and serving utensils and walking sticks the dervishes used to lean on and sleep as they couldn't lie down on beds) and see the arena where they whirled during the ceremony that required it. They had a map of where else in the world these dervish lodges were; I saw the one in Plovdiv, now a restaurant, where Mum and I had dinner once in May.

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My wrap had been smaller than expected, so to keep myself going after I left the museum I got myself a chicken kebab from a cafe - it was very tasty and the bread had a texture very similar to a ciabatta. Then we walked past the historic Galata Tower and down to sea level. We got ourselves two different types of syrupy batter things from a street seller before we reached the tram station.

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Posted by 3Traveller 13:20 Archived in Turkey Tagged art turkey museum istanbul dave procession turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

The Spice Market & a taste of Asia

Istanbul


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The Spice Market was our morning destination on Saturday. Held within a building dating from 1666, it was formerly known as the Egyptian Market because the spices used to be shipped in from Cairo. As well as spices, it sells mounds of fruit teas, dried fruit, shelled nuts, Turkish Delight and wrapped and unwrapped blocks of olive oil soap. I couldn't wait to experience it...

Before we got there, however, we found ourselves wandering around the Main Market, which fills the streets around the Spice Market. In fact we had quite a job finding the latter due to the mazy street layout and all the market stalls! The Main Market was very interesting to look round in itself. It was filled with stalls selling a wide range of household goods, including wicker baskets, cooking utensils, tools, t-shirts, hats, headscarves, jeans, knives, plastic toys, towels, pets (cages of birds, green lizards and white rabbits), pet food, blocks of coloured soaps and some jars of live leeches in water.

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Needless to say, once we found the Spice Market I loved walking round, savouring the colours and the mix of exotic scents. I wished my family were there to appreciate it all, especially the piles of huge juicy-looking dates which they would have loved but were wasted on me. I bought some 'meatball spice' (which smelled genuinely lovely) and some 'Turkish saffron' which I've since found out is not saffron at all but a cheap imitation called safflower. I should have been suspicious about the price not being sky-high!

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These are the surroundings of the Spice Market;

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I had read somewhere that the Turkish Delight at the Spice Market is not actually that great, and the best place in Istanbul to get it is from a shop nearby. Before we set off to find it, however, we went to different shop nearby which apparently has the best baklava in Istanbul - at least we tried to find it, but didn't manage to - it was supposed to be in the main market, but around where it should have been we only found a baklava shop of a different name. We bought some from there anyway, as it looked good, plus some Turkish rice pudding. It was lovely, so no regrets.

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It was between one and two o'clock by now and we needed to move on to catch a ferry to the Asian side, so we decided to look for the Turkish Delight shop on our return to Istanbul before we go back to Bulgaria, instead. Before we got on the ferry we had a tasty 'Balik Ekmek' each; this is an ultra-fresh fish fillet thrown onto a grill and then stuffed into a huge crusty roll with some chopped lettuce and raw onion. Lemon juice and salt are optional condiments. These are made and sold on the seafront.

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The ferry trip was a great experience. It was a commuter ferry, not a public excursion one, so it only cost about 2 lira. It took about 20 minutes and we loved all the different views we got of the skyline. Minarets, skyscrapers, Topkapi Palace, Galata Tower... We passed a French destroyer docked at the headland next to the palace; Dave said he thought the small black and white flag displayed on it was the international quarantine signal.

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On arrival in Asia, we headed to Kadikoy produce market, where the locals go apparently. We just window-shopped instead of actually buying anything, but it was good fun to see all the different goods; fresh fish, containers filled with honeycombs, the biggest cherries I've ever seen, other fruit and vegetables, yoghurt and cheese, baklava, eggs, olives, dried peppers, crystallised and dried fruit...piles of colourful soaps, too.

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Something the Asian side had which we hadn't seen in the historic European area was sideless carts piled with antiques or secondhand books. These were wheeled about the streets and then set down for a while for people to browse at. Some if the books were in English, but none we wanted to buy, though I did enjoy having a look at a book for adult English as a second language learners which was published in the 1950s... I regret not buying that now, actually.

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Another thing we noticed was groups of older men sitting around cafe tables playing a particular game which involved a lot of clicking, sliding about and picking up rectangular cream counters. Some other cafés had younger people playing backgammon and other board games.

The last thing we did before returning to Europe was to have Turkish coffee and a Turkish dessert called 'Kazan dibi'. I tried some Kazan dibi once at the Lucky Man restaurant in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria (a place with a small Turkish population); the stuff I had today proves that what I had in VT was genuine. It's delicious, if filling!

Some photos from the return ferry trip;

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On our return to Europe we decided not to get the tram back yet, but to walk across Galata Bridge to the other European side first for a look around. There were loads of fishermen on both sides of the bridge, using extremely long lines. One of them caught a fish just as we walked past him- it flopped around on the ground for a while before being captured and put into a container of water alive.

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The Strait of Bosphorus, while not crystal clear of course, was much cleaner than I was expecting for such a big city. We spotted a few white jellyfish and some small silvery fish (maybe sardines?).

For dinner we had another 'Balik Ekmek' each, from a cafe on the seafront; they were even better than the ones we had earlier!

When we were back in Sultanahmet and walking from the tram station to our hostel, we couldn't help but notice that hundreds, even thousands of people were pouring in from every direction and settling themselves and their families onto rugs spread out on the grass in Sultanahmet Park. We guessed that it was due to Ramadan- people sharing the breaking of the day's fast with their friends and family in a shared environment. It was nearly sunset by then, so this was more than likely.

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Posted by 3Traveller 08:58 Archived in Turkey Tagged bridges market turkey istanbul asia ferry bosphorus dave turkish_cuisine Comments (1)

Grand Bazaar and the Istanbul Archaeology Museum

Istanbul


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The Grand Bazaar was a wonderful experience, just as I expected. I almost couldn't believe I was finally there! It turned out to be like a giant covered market, with some courtyards attached and also some stalls spilling out into nearby streets.

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We arrived in the gold section, appropriately filled with goldsmiths and silversmiths, and after looking at the windows for a bit (there were some where the entirety of their windows were filled with glittering gold bangles), we made our way round the other sections. Leather, fabric, Turkish rugs and pillows, antiques, colourful lamps... It was so atmospheric. I bought a beautiful white and turquoise- patterned tablecloth/runner for 40 lira, haggled down from 150; then for Dave's birthday I bought him six skewers that he'd chosen, each one having a different shaped end (a duck and a pig were two). Then at a different stall/shop Dave looked at telescopes, but they were way too expensive to buy, even after haggling. One antiques shop had two massive globes which I was very taken by, but they looked extremely unwieldy and expensive, so I never even asked for the price.

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At this point we sat down for some Turkish coffee, which came with a mini glass of water held within a beautiful silver holder and a small platter with two pieces of Turkish Delight.

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Our last purchase from the interior was from another antiques shop; two absolutely gorgeous engraved cups, made from silver-plated bronze. The stall holder said they were made in Afghanistan.

After this we looked round lots of shoe and clothes stalls lining the streets on one side. I bought something I'd been hoping to find; a pair of loose cotton trousers. I bought them for 20 lira, down from 40 - he agreed so quickly I suspect I could have had them for even less, but no matter. It still worked out at about £5!

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After the clothes stalls we came across a large courtyard containing the book and paper market! The books were nearly all in Turkish, but I spotted some notebooks made from parchment, so I simply had to get myself one...

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We headed back to the hostel then to have a bit of a rest. On the way there we stopped for some corn-on-the-cob at one of the many street sellers who sell them. Each stall has a massive vat of boiled ones in water, and a grill with a pile of pre-grilled ones next to it. It also has a metal tray of cooked chestnuts.

After our rest we went to the Archaeological Museum.

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This consists of the main museum (with one of the best collections of Ancient Greek and Roman statuary in the world, plus an interesting 'Istanbul Through The Ages' exhibition)...

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...a tile pavilion...

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...a collection of Ancient Greek and Roman sarcophagy...

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...and the Ancient Orient Museum, containing fantastic artifacts from the Ancient Egyptians, Hittites, Sumerians and other pre-Islamic cultures.

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Special mention to a clay tablet with the oldest love poem ever written carved into it. This is Sumerian and dates from between 2037 - 2029 BC.

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For dinner that evening we returned to the café at Arasta Bazaar. Dave had a lamb kebab, I had a mixed one and we shared Turkish yoghurt with honey for dessert. Just outside the bazaar we stopped at a calligrapher's stall and Dave got him to write our names on a piece of white leather.

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Posted by 3Traveller 08:35 Archived in Turkey Tagged market turkey museum istanbul bazaar dave roman_remains unesco_world_heritage_site turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

The Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern & more

Istanbul


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After breakfast we set off to another must-visit destination, a famous site I was really keen to visit; the Blue Mosque.

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There are two entrances to the main building; one for Muslims who come to pray (it's a working mosque) and one for tourists. It's free entry to all. Our queue was quite long, but moved at quite a decent pace, so we didn't have to wait for that long. Our wait was enlivened by a tour group behind us being given a talk in Spanish by their leader - he spoke very quickly and his Spanish sounded quite different to Ecuadorian Spanish, but I made out something about Ramadan, no drinking and no smoking.

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All women who didn't have something to use as a headscarf were given one to put on; men wearing shorts were also given one, to wrap around themselves like skirts. Dave didn't have to because he was wearing trousers. Before we stepped over the main threshold everybody had to take off their shoes and put them in a clear plastic bag.

The interior was just as large, airy, beautiful and elegant as I'd always imagined. It was full of blue-patterned Iznik tiles which gives the mosque its name to Westerners (out of interest, to locals it's known only as Sultanahmet Mosque). We admired the place for ages before eventually leaving.

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I gave back my headscarf, we put our shoes back on and we went into the courtyard adjoining the main building. This was also beautiful and we took a few more photos.

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From the Blue Mosque we headed over to the Basilica Cistern nearby. We were extremely hot by now, but the Basilica Cistern cooled us down. This huge column-supported underground cistern, used to hold 80,000 cubic metres of water for the imperial palace and other local residents, was built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527-565). It has been renovated on more than one occasion since then, and is no longer used as a cistern, but still holds a foot or two of water, enough to support lots of fish.

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The only light in there came from lights shining onto the bases and tops of the columns, so the atmosphere was ever so slightly eerie, even with the high volume of visitors walking around on the wooden pathways raised above the water. I enjoyed watching the fish. In some parts of the water, people had thrown coins. Right at the back of the cistern there were two sculpted heads of Medusa; each one was at the base of a column. One was set sideways, the other upside down! Apparently nobody is entirely sure why they were placed there.

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After we left the cistern we went into a shop where we bought postcards, a book about Istanbul and a fridge magnet, and Dave picked up a free book of cartoons by a Turkish cartoonist.

After this we went back to our hostel to shower, have cold drinks and rest for a while. We went via Sultanahmet Park.

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When we stirred again, it was to the Great Palace Mosaic Museum down the road. This was relatively small, but excellent, with a great long floor mosaic taking the centre stage. The palace has now gone apart from this mosaic and several smaller ones arranged on the walls around it. The mosaics were magnificent, with pictures of animals, trees and human figure.

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When we left the museum we came out into the Arasta Bazaar. This bazaar is different to others in that it's hassle-free and lots of the goods have fixed prices. I saw some very intricately painted beautiful unframed pictures on special paper, including one of two world maps, but it was extremely expensive so I didn't get it. We wandered up and down the rest of the bazaar, which was small, but didn't buy anything.

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After another short rest at the hostel we went out for dinner at one of the two cafe-restaurants attached to the Arasta Bazaar. We shared bread and hummous and each had a different type of kebab; to go with them I had a lemonade with honey and Dave had some mint tea and a glass of lemonade & banana juice. For dessert I tried Turkish rice pudding, which was cold and had been made with ground rice instead of grains - it was delicious! Dave had baklava, which he also found delicious. We each had a Turkish coffee afterwards; it came with two mini chunks of Turkish Delight.

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As dinner drew on, we noticed the waiters setting out cling filmed plates of food on the other tables. These tables started filling up with locals; we asked our waiter what the event was and he said that it was for the breaking of the day's fast for Ramadan. The food I saw on their tables was flatbreads and bowls of salad.

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Posted by 3Traveller 06:56 Archived in Turkey Tagged art mosque market turkey museum istanbul spanish bazaar dave roman_remains unesco_world_heritage_site turkish_cuisine Comments (0)

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