Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Grand Bazaar and Other Sights

June 13- 14th, 2014

Not all of our sightseeing centered around churches and mosques. Another highlight of Istanbul is the Grand Bazaar.


The Grand Bazaar is the shopping center for the historical district of Istanbul. In past times, it was the only place to shop.


Inside, are streets (and side streets) of stores where you can buy almost anything…..for a price!


There were LOTS of jewelry stores…….


And GOLD! Gold necklaces, bracelets, even gold coins. Our guide, Senem, told us that a bride had the right to ask her future mother-in-law to buy her a whole set of the gold jewelry as a wedding present. Have you ever heard the expression “Worth your weight in gold”? Well….a bride could ask up to her weight (pounds converted to ounces) in gold! Another custom in Turkey would be for the grandmother or mother to greet her children with a kiss and a gold coin. Gold is used as a common currency in Turkey. The stores in the Grand Bazaar must pay their rent each month in gold.

The Spice Bazaar was another, much smaller shopping area.

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It specialized in spices of all kinds……


And teas and other bulk goods. The smells as we walked through the Spice Bazaar were intoxicating!

Another site that we toured was the underground cistern, the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul


This cathedral-size cistern is an underground chamber approximately 453 ft by 212 ft-  about 105,000 sq ft in area - capable of holding 2,800,000 cu ft of water. When full and in use,the cistern would be filled to the ceiling with water. This allowed the city of Istanbul to keep water in reserve for when they might be under siege.


The ceiling of the cistern is supported by a forest of 336 marble columns, each 30 ft high.  The capitals of the columns are mainly Ionic and Corinthian styles, with the exception of a few Doric style with no engravings. The majority of the columns in the cistern appear to have been recycled from the ruins of older buildings, likely brought to Constantinople from various parts of the empire, together with those that were used in the construction of Hagia Sophia.


The bases of two columns reuse blocks carved with the face of Medusa. The origin of the two heads is unknown, though it is thought that the heads were brought to the cistern after being removed from a building of the late Roman period. Tradition has it that the blocks are oriented sideways and inverted in order to negate the power of the Gorgons' gaze,

The cistern was used as a location in several books and films. It was featured in the 1963 James Bond film From Russia with Love, and the  cistern with its inverted Medusa pillar was used prominently in the climax of the new Dan Brown novel Inferno. Fred had read Inferno, and recognized the setting by its description in the book.

Along our walk through the city, we passed through this famous train station.


The Orient Express was the name of a long-distance passenger train service which operated from 1883 to 2009 Although the original Orient Express was simply a normal international railway service, the name has become synonymous with intrigue and luxury travel. The two city names most prominently associated with the Orient Express are Paris and Istanbul, the original endpoints of the timetabled service.

I would be remiss if I did not talk a bit about the food that we enjoyed in Istanbul……Breakfasts at our hotel were interesting and delicious. A typical Turkish breakfast included cold cuts, tomatoes, cheeses, olives (and more olives), breads (not necessarily sweet rolls), and maybe a small egg based dish. The food was plentiful, but not ones typical ‘American’ fare.And the coffee was great! Strong and flavorful, like I like it!   : )

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Our lunches while touring with our guide were included in the package, and consisted of local and traditional Turkish foods. Our first day, we stopped for lunch at The Pudding Shop, a cute little place that had become famous as a ‘Hippy’' hangout in the 1960’s (when, I guess, it was hip to go and hang out in Istanbul). Our next two days, we also ate locally and sampled many different dishes, many using yogurt in some fashion. Almost every meal was served with a basket of bread and some form of spread or toppings, like a tomato based bruschetta or a yogurt based sauce.

Our evening meals we ate locally…..walking just around the corner from our hotel to sample the different outdoor cafes. Here, as in Athens, one could almost be knocked down by the café waiters trying to get you to stop at their café. With “Hey lovely couple…..” or “Would you like to look at our menu?” or “Maybe just a drink?” You could find yourself drawn into a café and seated before you knew what had happened!

But, we were there to eat….so we sampled the menu. We tried grilled dishes (served with bread) and a clay pot baked stew (also served with bread to use for dipping) and felt very adventuresome as we sat and watched the world go by (and the occasional traffic jam on these very narrow streets!)

And each meal ended with a wonderful cup of hot tea……


The tea was served in these cute little tulip shaped glasses which held just the right amount. They looked delicate (and maybe a bit ‘touristy’) but, everywhere we went, we saw people….from ladies to big burly men….sipping hot tea from these glasses. We decided that this was a custom that we might just have to take home with us.   : )

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