11.12.2009 - 11.15.2009
On the night train we were awoken at 3am to get our visas squared away. To do this we had to step outside (it was freezing) and go into this tiny little office and pay up ($15 US), we got our passports stamped and it was time to go back to bed. We got to Istanbul around 8am and walked from the train station to our hostel. While we were searching for it, it started raining, what a day for a birthday.
Our room wasn't ready yet, so we headed out to eat with a few people we met in the lobby of our hostel. We had some delicious apple tea, Darren had an omelet and I had a flavorful curry. Once we had finished our food we headed back to the hostel and our room was ready. We were pretty tired from the train ride, so we took a nap. When we woke up we decided to walk around the Sultanhamet area for a bit. Sultanhamet is a great area to stay because all of the major attractions are right there, as well as many restaurants and markets.
We saw Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque from the outside, we knew we'd be visiting the inside of those later:
We went back to the hostel in time for a free supper of sausages and rice and of course a couple of beers (it is my b-day after all) Then we got a recommendation of a place to go for good dessert, and we ended up only a block away from our hostel, but it was perfect. We ordered a sample platter of desserts and some wine. Sounds good huh? Candied figs, baklava, bananas and ice cream. It even came out with sparkler on it. They sang happy birthday to me in english, then a South African couple sang to me in Afrikaans. It was pretty cool, a very memorable birthday.
The next day we were tourists, first thing was to visit the Blue Mosque. A guy just came up to us and said he wasnt a tour guide, but would be happy to show us through the Mosque if we would just check out his store later. He didnt give us a bad vibe, so we said ok. He gave us a great history lesson about the mosque, he was actually a great guide. The Blue Mosque was named for all of the blue tiles adorning the interior walls.
In the courtyard of the mosque
After leaving the mosque he took us over to his shop, which turned out to be a carpet store, and we politely told him that we were not an the market for carpets, let alone be able to carry them with us; We thanked him for the free tour and left.
We then headed over to Hagia Sofia and went inside. This place was a former orthodox patriarchal basilica before becoming a mosque and now a museum.
We had some delectable turkish food:
Then we walked down to the Grand Bazaar, where they sold anything and everything. It was kind of like the souks in Morocco, but much nicer. We only ended up making one purchase, Darren bought a Turkey t-shirt. We made our way back to hostel to chill out some before the nights festivities.
Darren got an amazing picture of the sunset just down the street from our hostel:
That evening we had kebab's from a street vendor just outside the hostel, it was delicious. He had everything very organized on his cart, the meat, veggies, and spices.
Our hostel had a free belly dancing show that night. While we were waiting for the dancer to show up, we learned to play backgammon. A very common game amongst Turks.
Then the belly dancer arrived, and guess who got pulled up to the floor? Nope not Darren:
We hung out in the upstairs lounge area with some of the other guests in the hostel and we met a couple who were fantastic to hang out with. Cat and Philip. Cat is from Canada and Philip is from Switzerland. We drank a couple bottles of wine with them and hung out until about 1:30am.
The next day we visited the Basilica Cistern - it was built in 532AD and is still intact.
We then made our way to the water front because we wanted to get on a Bosphorus river cruise. Low and behold as soon as we got there a guy asked us if we wanted to join a cruise, they were leaving in one minute. He hauled us into a van and drove us to the boat. The cruise was pretty cool, figuratively and literally, and it was a great way to see the city because its such a huge city.
We walked through the spice market on our way back to the hostel and for supper we enjoyed more kebab from the street vendor.
The next morning we ran into Cat and Philip as they were about to head back home (currently outside of London):
We decided we wanted to see Cappadocia before leaving Turkey so we made arrangements with a travel agency that would get us back to Istanbul so we could make our flight to Cairo.
We lounged around most of the day, part of which was spent dismantling a fresh pomegranate (its not easy, now we know why it mainly comes in juice form). We split a kebab for dinner, then we took a very long overnight bus ride to Gerome in the Cappadocia Region.