Upon arriving in Istanbul's airport, the feeling was instantly different from that of Cairo. Even though it's not officially a part of the European union, it felt so much more western than Egypt. Not to say that a bit of culture shock isn't warranted once in a while, but it's always nice to 'go home'. Mind you, Turkey is still very different from the US, but the airport seemed much more organized and official than Egypt's in that when some kind of detector beeped they checked up on it, where as in Egypt they waved you through. It was a long hot ride on the metro to get to the center of Istanbul. At one point the tram car was so packed that more people were unable to enter. It turned out that we had, once again, arrived during the breaking of the fast. When we arrived to Sultanahmet (the old city of Istanbul around the Blue Mosque) there were hoards of people scattered atop picnic tables and blankets breaking their fast. It was lively. There were stages set up, ready for music, and there was a semi permanent craft fair set up along one side.
We asked around to find our hostel for the night. Although it was in a pretty neat little area, just below the Blue Mosque, we were pretty happy we only reserved one night. See, what we've been doing is booking one night in a place that is cheap and seems good enough. Then, we either like it and stay, or we find a better place the next day. This was not going to be a place we stayed in. The floors were quite dirty, the shower was awkward and kinda flooded the bathroom, you couldn't put toilet paper in the toilet, there was a smell of sewage constantly emanating from the bathroom, and to top it off, it was really difficult to close the door.
Whatever. We rinsed off and headed out to 'break our fast'. First, we found kebab. Every place does it a little differently. They all have the shaved meat, but the toppings and receptacle vary. Here it was placed in a baguette like bread with tomatoes, a little lettuce, and pickles. It was alright. I liked the crunch of the pickles.
Then we made our way to the stalls. We hit up the little food and crafts fair, and there were many local treats for us to try. We began with some artisan ice cream. I noticed that it had a different consistency. It turned out that it was made from goat milk. I tried the vanilla and pistachio, while Seth ordered vanilla and caramel. I think I liked the vanilla the most, which is uncharacteristic for me.
Next, we found a traditional yogurt stand with interesting toppings. It was not a sweet, thin yogurt like in the US. This was a hearty savory treat topped with a honey and blackberry reduction. Man that was so good!
Finally, we happened upon some girls with an odd colored drink with what looked like cabbage in the cup. We found the stall and came to find that it was a cup of pickles with a beet red pickle juice that you were to drink if you liked. I liked. The pickled cabbage was so crunchy and good. And the pickle juice was a salty treat as well.
I'm not sure if you've been keeping track. Goat milk ice cream, cow milk yogurt, then a cup of pickles with pickle juice. I think we made cottage cheese in our bellies. Though they were all really good one at a time, they were not an ideal combination in our stomachs. Oops!
The next day was really hot. Standing in line for the Hagia Sophia was not that long, but felt like a torturous hell to me. I think Seth thought it was funny how miserable I was feeling. I was sweating buckets. Once in the Hagia Sophia I cooled down a bit. It is such an impressive mosque.
We then went to the underground Cisterns. The Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred under the city of Istanbul. It was built in the 6th century under the Byzantine rule of Justinian. They were filled with water and fish and were used to sustain the walled city for months, if not years, while under siege. The Cisterns were forgotten to the world for hundreds of years, until 1546 a scholar in Istanbul researching antiquities came across some locals who were able to miraculously lower a bucket into their basement floors and come up with water, and sometimes fish. The cisterns were found and eventually restored in the late 1950's and were finally opened to the public in 1987. This place has an eerie calm and quiet. The lighting is perfect and there are fat fish in the water below the platform. At the back of the cistern are two columns with interesting bases. One base is a Medusa head upside down, and the other is of her head on its side. There are legends as to why she is in the cistern and in such positions, but historians have only guessed. But, they believe they were placed in that manner intentionally.
That evening we made our way to our night bus to Cappadocia.