Three days in Istanbul. Three wonderful days of walking, sightseeing, eating and more eating. Flying over Turkey was exciting enough: undulating mountains, lakes, snow, I was already regretting that I wouldn't be exploring more of the country.
We kicked off Friday by visiting Hagia Sofia, which is undergoing some refurbishment in preparation for Istanbul being the European city of culture for 2010.
It's an impressive structure from the outside, not quite as beautiful as the Blue Mosque, but the inside was stunning. Lots of mosaics and an interesting mix of Islam and Christianity.
The exit also proved an interesting place for photography:
We headed off to find the Grand Bazaar and to say we were devastated to find it would be closed for the whole long weekend would be an understatement. So we consoled ourselves over a traditional Turkish stew, and lazed on a couch in a little side street.
The day wore on and soon enough it was time to make our way over the bridge to find a restaurant that had been recommended to us. Since it had gotten dark by about 5, wandered and wandered, our map not proving too useful. After trudging up many flights of stairways that intersected roads, we stopped and asked a man who thankfully knew where the restaurant, 5 Kat was. After taking the elevator up to the fifth floor, we realised that that was exactly what the name 5 Kat meant...no wonder other people we'd asked looked at us like we were crazy asking for 5 kat restaurant!! After having a drink on the rooftop terrace overlooking the water, we made our way down for (the tiniest ever) entree and delicious normal sized dessert in the very cosy restaurant.
On Saturday morning we headed back to that part of town to explore the tiny antique shops and boutiques that Ingebjorg had thoroughly research, and were again disappointed to find most things shut. We instead found a funky little cafe that was open and lazed around with our coffee and slowly but surely, other places started to open up.
As we continued walking through tiny streets it became obvious that there's a coffee table book in the making on the cats of Istanbul. I've never seen so many fat and friendly cats roaming the streets.
We found our way to Taksim Square and shopped till we dropped, stopping of course for more sustenance at another rooftop cafe, where we both agreed it would be lovely to have an apartment overlooking the water.
We carried on with the walking, winding our way back down to the bridge that effectively distinguishes between Europe and Asia.
It was a pretty long walk home, but we got there and then basically turned around again to make our reservation at Leb-i-Derya. We gorged on parmesan and pancetta crusted sea bass and followed it up with a very nice dessert and cocktail. We'd passed a little jazz club earlier in the day, so we ventured back to find it. Along the way I spotted a few interesting clothes hanging up in an alley, so we investigated and found a fantastic vintage shop, full of fantastic clothing, jewellery and other bits and pieces. We both left on a high with some goodies and quickly found the Nardis Jazz Club.
There was a quartet of guitar, drums, bass and piano playing standard jazz, and it was a very civilised way to end the evening.
Sunday morning came all too quickly and we weren't too phased to find it raining, as we'd planned a few indoor activities. Our first stop was the epic Blue Mosque, which looks fantastic during the day and night.
It's a bit of a reverse TARDIS, in that it looks smaller on the inside, but it felt a lot warmer than the interior of Hagia Sofia.
Our next stop was the famous Cemberlitas bathhouse, but we knew we should get a bite to eat beforehand, so we tried out another recommendation, Rumeli Cafe, and had a cosy meal. We liked the place so much that we made a reservation for that night, specifically requesting a table by the fireplace.
The hammam was a wonderful experience. The men's and women's bathhouses are apparently identical, but obviously separated. We were given a wrap and some one size fits all underwear and then we entered a beautiful round room, with a domed roof with circles cut out of the roof in circular rows. In the centre of the room is a giant circular hot stone, where we were scrubbed, soaped and massaged. It was a wonderful place for women to be women, of all shapes and sizes, without modesty, for families, for girlfriends, for individuals. It was extremely relaxing.
We left feeling happy and somewhat dehydrated, so stopped off at Cigdem's Patiserrie (I have a lovely Turkish friend named Cigdem so it had to be that one) where we enjoyed a range of baklava and turkish delights. And by range, I mean when the waiter brought our selection over, he asked if it was all for us!
We decided to check out the underground cistern, which was built in 300AD odd, and it was very unimpressive, stinky and thankfully there was a photography exhibition which saved it from being a total waste of time!
Our walk continued as we found a little artisans showroom. The shops were open but the artists away, so it was a quick stroll through there and then through an arch into a magical European garden cafe. As we entered, Vivaldi was playing through the speaker system, which was then overpowered by the call to prayer.
We carried onto the little bazaar near the hostel where we fatefully entered Aydan's carpet shop. Ingebjorg fell in love and had to make a purchase. Meanwhile, I was practicing some of the photography tips she'd given me.
There were so many beautiful carpets, I'm now regretting not splurging and buying one for myself. But I know I can always go back to Aydan, or one of his two brothers who are also in the business and get something special.
We had to rush home and rush back to the restaurant for our dinner reservation, and spent a good three hours sitting in front of the fire. As a Queenslander, it's not often that I get to sit in front of a fire, so I was quite entranced and happy to watch it all night.
This morning brought the realisation that it was time to go back to reality but as we flew back over Turkey I knew I'll be back there soon enough.