What to say about Istanbul? Where do I start? It is BY FAR the most culturally different place I’ve ever been. And this is after I’ve just visited 17 countries. It is sensory overload! The sights, the smells, the noise! People are constantly yelling at each other. Not angry yelling (I don’t think) just communicating. And the throngs of people! I walked over to Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque area tonight and there are literally thousands of people walking around, having pic-nics and generally just enjoying being outside. Evenings are beautiful here. It is still nice and warm but comfortable. No sweaters or jackets required. The main thing that has struck me is the tea culture. Whether it’s a hotel, a restaurant or a shop, mostly everyone has a stoop where they sit and invite you for an apple chai. The offering of the tea is an offering of their hospitality and friendship. You sit and chat for a while, then move on. Inevitably you’ll soon get another invitation for a chai and chat a little more. I had heard how friendly the people are here, and it is indeed true. Yes, they want to sell you something most of the time, but if you make it clear that you’re not interested in shopping, then they’re still happy to have a chat. That doesn’t mean they won’t stop *trying* to sell you something, but if you stick to your guns you’ll be fine. I’ve really enjoyed most of the conversations I’ve had, and the tea is wonderfully refreshing! You wouldn’t think hot tea would be tempting in 37 degree heat, but somehow it just is! This is by far the most interaction I’ve had with the locals. I’m sure some of them have something else on their mind as well when they approach me, but I know what I’m here for, and it’s not to find a date! And the other funny thing is that EVERYONE seems to have a cousin or a brother or some long lost relative in Canada. And I’ve had two people ask me if I was from Red Deer when I said I was Canadian. Is it just me or is that weird?
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My day started off a bit slow because I wanted to sort out my transportation to Goreme on the 19th. I had planned to take the bus, but couldn’t really find any good information online about how to book my ticket without having to slog over to the bus station, plus it takes over 10 hours. My hotel is right near the train station, so I popped over there to see about taking the train. 18 hours. No way… So, I looked online for airfares and it’s only 75 CDN and takes 1 1/2 hours. Sold. I fly to Kayseri then take a bus to Goreme (which takes an hour) then my hotel will come and pick me up. Sweet!
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They are very serious about their baklava here. This is a shop called Hafiz Mustafa, it’s been around since 1864. I was full both times I walked by, but will try some tomorrow. LOVE baklava!
I had a 2 hour lunch at a little place around the corner from my hotel. The guys will stand outside the restaurants and if they see you looking at another restaurants menu they will come over and *steal you away* to try and talk you into their place instead. I watched this happen over and over again as I was sitting there enjoying my shish kabob. At the end of my meal the waiter brought me a complimentary apple tea and dessert of what looked to be an unbaked cookie with pine nuts. It was actually quite good, really moist and nutty. Check the foodie tab for photos!
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I tried some of the Turkish ice cream. I had a chocolate, vanilla, pistachio mix. It is quite different than
gelato. It’s, well, chewy! They call it dondurma, and it tastes pretty well the same, but it’s thickened with something called salep, which is a flour made from the root of the Early Purple Orchid, and mastic, a type of resin. The chocolate flavour kind of reminded me of Jell-o pudding pops. Remember those? Yum!
There are grilled corn stands all over. I’ve been told by a couple of people that despite how good it looks it kind of tastes like crap, so I haven’t tried any yet.
View of one of the mosques by the spice market.
Looking across over towards Galata Tower.
Some beautiful things in the Spice Market.
Loose tobacco for sale.
Fruit & Nuts!
More pretty things…
The entrance to the spice market.
Sea sponges and spices.
The Turkish Delight is truly a delight here. Fresh and chewy and flavourful. I bought some pomegranate with pistachio and honey with pistachio.
Leaving the spice market.
I’ve never seen so many cats and kittens in all my life. This guy was really friendly and affectionate.
My evening walk over to the Haghia Sophia and Blue Mosque area.
This was right near a construction site. There were oodles of kittens everywhere. It was breaking my heart!
Got a free sneak peak at a Sufi Whirling Dervish show.
The Blue Mosque at dusk.
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What a great first day in Istanbul.I don’t think the culture shock was as bad as it would have been if I had come straight from Vancouver rather than Bucharest. Bucharest may have slightly prepared me for it… I really don’t feel like I *accomplished* all that much today in terms of seeing sights. It was enough for me to just have a good wander, stop and chats, snap some shots and eat some good food. There is so much to take in here (and it’s so damn hot) that I’m just enjoying moving slowly and soaking it all up.