Cruise on the Bosphorus, Beyoglu, Taksim Square, Istiklal Caddesi, and the Grand Bazaar
09.21.2013 - 09.21.2013
Our Seasong itinerary for the day says we will start with a "private cruise on the Bosphorus." We're not sure what that will entail, but we dutifully show up in the hotel lobby at 9 a.m. to meet Metin. It's a beautiful day for a cruise so he asks us to wait outside on the hotel waterfront terrace while he finishes up a cell phone call. We enjoy sitting outside watching the passing boat traffic and Metin arrives soon to report that our tour boat will arrive in a few minutes and pick us up directly from the Four Seasons dock. Sounds good to us. We figure it will be one of the numerous ferries or sightseeing boats that we have seen passing by us, and that Metin will provide a running commentary from the boat about what we are seeing.
OMG. "Is that our boat? You must be kidding!"
Ladies and gentlemen, we get to play "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" for a little while. Woo-hoo!
Yes, we get all of this thanks to Karen at Sea Song (who arranged it), Metin (who provides narration and history), and our charming Captain and First Mate (the latter of whom serves delicious tea and cookies during our tour, the former of whom keeps us from running into all of the other boats whizzing past us). This sure beats the hell out of what Frank and I were expecting. We are beginning to get spoiled.
So...we have no trouble pretending we are the idle rich, just cruising on the Bosphorus, taking in the sights.
Here's a view of the Four Seasons as we are pulling away:
These old 19th century wooden homes, called "Yahs" are so pretty:
Here's the Rumeli fortress, built by Mehmet II in 1452 as a prelude to his conquest of Constantinople:
The second of two current bridges over the Bosphorus:
And how about this, the Beylerbeyi Palace, which was the Sultan's summer lodge and a residence for visiting royalty? Not bad digs, I'd say.
And here's Dolmabahce Palace. If we had more time in Istanbul, we'd tour it:
As we approach the end of our tour we pass this man whose boat reminds me of my beloved little Duffy electric boat at our lake house:
Oh well. Back to the real world. Our boat cruise completed, the crew drops us off at one of the docks, where Josef has magically appeared with the mini-van to transport us to our next destination.
Having seen many of the top tourist sites in the "old city" we are now given the opportunity to browse through an area known as Beyoglu which is located across the Galata Bridge (spanning the Golden Horn) from where we were yesterday. Starting in the 13th century this area was largely settled by immigrants, and is now the home to many embassies, churches, art galleries, and trendy restaurants. It is also home to Taksim Square, the site of protests and demonstrations that erupted in May 2013. We've seen it on CNN and now we get to see it in person.
Today it is a peaceful place, with sightseers milling about, and no sign of the unrest that haunted it a few months ago. We begin our stroll and part of the way down Iskstiklal Caddesi, we see a small gathering of protestors and some riot police standing nearby, watching. Metin tells us that the protestors are friends and families of protestors who died during the May demonstrations, and that they come most weekends to mount protests. The police stand by "in case things get out of hand." We discuss the politics of what is currently unfolding in Turkey, and it's interesting to get the viewpoint of someone who lives there. But it's also clear that we have different opinions on some fundamental issues, so I decide to drop politics as a topic of conversation and stick to travel narrative. We browse for a while in a bookstore, sight-see and then walk through a popular restaurant and market area. At the end of Istiklal, Josef and the mini-van magically appear again, and transport us back across the Golden Horn to Sultanhamet.
The Grand Bazaar
No trip to Istanbul is complete without a trip to the Grand Bazaar. At least not in the book of this inveterate shopper. But it is mid-afternoon and we haven't eaten lunch yet, so Metin suggests that we duck into an out of the way family restaurant that he knows of in the neighborhood. It's one of those places you'd never find on your own, up a flight of stairs from the main street. As soon as we enter, he's welcomed like a long-lost-family member and the cook is called to tell us what she's serving today. I'm more interested in the magnificent copper hood over her cooking area than I am in the food, so we suggest that Metin order first so he can explain what the various dishes are.
At lunch we repeat the ritual we observed yesterday, and which I learn we will repeat during every meal we share with Metin. I eat until I'm full and if I leave anything on my plate...anything...even a scrap of parsley...Metin says, "What? You didn't like it? It wasn't good? What was wrong with it?" I insist everything was delicious (as it always is), but I'm just full. He quizzes me some more, scratches his chin as though thoroughly perplexed, and asks me again if I'm finished. Once assured I'm really satisfied and not going to eat anymore, he takes me up on my offer to finish whatever is on my plate. Mind you, he's solidly built and as a former wrestler, he's mostly muscle, not fat. I honestly don't know how he does it. When I subsequently learn that his last name means "large-bellied" in Turkish, I have to chuckle!
Fortified by our hearty lunch, we then head to the Grand Bazaar, the grand-daddy of modern malls, a shopping center on steroids:
The bazaar dates back to the 15th century, and is comprised of over 4,000 shops covering more than 75 acres. Originally specific areas of the market specialized in similar types of goods, e.g. leather, carpets, gold and silver, but there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the organization of the current day Grand Bazaar. The shops display a dizzying array of goods, and merchants stand out front trying to entice you to come into their shops to "enjoy a little tea." Bargaining is the accepted and expected norm. Although the aisles have clearly marked street names, it's extremely easy to get lost here. But if you do, stop to appreciate the beautifully decorated ceilings!
I have to confess that I am simply overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the Grand Bazaar. Before I make a significant purchase I'm used to canvassing all of my favorite stores to make absolutely certain that what I'm about to buy is the best choice, at the best price that I can find. If I used that strategy at the Grand Bazaar, I'd still be there today. And tomorrow. Ad infinitum. So rather than succumbing to the temptation and visiting store after store in search of a bargain, I decide to take the high road, do some research in advance of the trip, and buy only something that I can't buy anyplace else in the world....at least, within reason. Lest I sound too noble (or thrifty), I must confess that my (n)ever patient spouse who is accompanying me absolutely hates to shop.
I find my treasure, an Anatolian antique tinned copper plate, at Murat Bilar's copperware shop, L'Orient in the Cevahir Bedesteni section of the Old Bazaar. I read about his shop in this article in the New York Times. (Fair warning if you try to locate him: the address in the article is incorrect. Phone him at 90 (212) 520 7046 for directions. And don't mistake his shop for that of the similarly named well-known Turkish rug dealer.) His son, Sayat, poses for a photo with the plate I finally decide on.
Our shopping mission completed, we call it quits for the day and walk over to check in at the Four Seasons at Sultanhamet, our third hotel in as many nights. But what a wonderful hotel it is, and so convenient. We enjoy a delicious dinner at Mikla Restaurant. I have to laugh and think of Metin when the waiter says, ""What? You didn't like it? It wasn't good? What was wrong with it?" when he sees a tiny bite of my entree left on my plate. The perfect ending to a great day is taking in views of the Istanabul skyline from Mikla's rooftop bar after dinner.