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Istanbul: Great Shopping, Nice People

Author: PenelopeCorelli (More Trip Reviews by PenelopeCorelli)
Date of Trip: July 2009

Thursday, July 23: Istanbul, Turkey

Left the ship soon after docking at 4:30pm. Walked all the way out of the pier and to the tram stop. Bought 9L ($6) worth of tokens for 3 trips each (1.5 Lire each person, each trip) -- (1L = 67 cents, so 3L = $2) and took the tram to Sultanahmet.

The taxi drivers at the port entrance were very pushy. The ship passed out landing cards for each of us -- required for everyone. The stench was bad -- once along the road by the pier entrance, and then getting on the tram. I had to hold my nose -- smelled like dog poop or sewage. First impressions for me were not good.

Hagia Sophia was 20L each to get in, 2 for 40L -- twice what it was a couple of years ago. It was huge, but nearly empty. I was expecting more, I think. It's a museum with no displays, a few photographs hanging, and a small gift area. The building is so large that Notre Dame can fit inside it, and the Statue of Liberty - minus the torch. The ceilings are painted and chandeliers hang down. Quite beautiful. The walls have frescoes. Much of it is under construction or repair.

After Hagia Sophia, we debated going to the Basilica Cistern, then crossed the street to photograph the Blue Mosque from the park & fountain in front of it. There was a couple standing right in front, where the best photos would be taken & the man was talking into a cell phone. DH noticed them and that when we moved, they also moved. As we were standing there, the woman asked us if we wanted our picture taken. We said no. As we continued walking around the walled park area, they followed, the man appearing to be talking in another language, probably Turkish, to someone on the phone, not directly looking at us, but always right there. When we stopped again, and they stopped, Jim got irritated, declaring loudly that they were following us & lifting the camera to take their picture. The woman hid her face with a water bottle. They walked on, then stopped and turned around to look at us, then walked back. JIm wasn't intimidated and told them to stop following us, which they, of course, denied it, saying they were American (He had a North Carolina T-shirt). "Then go on", said Jim. "Just keep walking", and he took their picture. As they slowly left, another man came up to us, saying that he knew the other man, and he wasn't following us. Obviously part of the group. This was in a major tourist area, lots of people, all of them tourists -- except for these types. They looked Turkish, in their mid-thirties, well-dressed.

I was not at all crazy about Istanbul at this point.

We then took the funicular subway from the eastern end of Tersane Avenue up the hill and arrived at Taksim Square at the end of Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Street) in the New Istanbul area. Much more pleasant looking and very modern. There were masses of people walking all along the wide pedestrian street that was lined with stores and cafes. As we left the station, we saw a grassy, park-like area with a large sculpture in the center, Ataturk Statue. It was then that we noticed a policeman armed with a submachine gun! Then we saw the police barriers around the area. Apparently this area is guarded heavily. It was the scene of a terrorist attack in 2003, and is still a place where protest demonstrations are held.

We bought a roasted ear of corn from one of the many carts (1.50L). They're every block or so all down Istiklal street. The heated but non-roasted ones were 1L, while the browned ones were 1.5L. After we ate it, we thought that the cheaper ears might be better, as the roasted ones were dry and chewy -- although hot.

We also noticed a lot of lottery ticket sellers at tables up and down the road. 4 Trillion was the sign, but I don't think it could be that much! There were Burger Kings and Starbucks along the avenue -- saw 2 of each.

I stopped to buy some pashminas -- Sirin Giyim (Sweet Clothing), Istiklal #73 (7) at 10L each -- 70L (really nice, I thought, all kinds - all the same price), and then we walked to see where to eat. In Istanbul they eat late, so if we wanted dinner with music, it would begin at 9 pm. It was not yet 7pm. We stopped for a snack of 6 meatball sausages with mashed potatoes, 3 honey-soaked cakes, and a tomato/cucumber/cilantro salad. Also a can of peach nectar for me, and apple tea for JIm. Total = 14L. Everyone at the cafeteria-style cafe would pick up the large chunks of bread at the end of the line. Lots of bread!

The streets were packed -- mostly locals, it looked like. On one corner, a group of young people was crowding around, & there were posters on the ground. Looked like a rally of some sort.

I stopped at another grocery-type store, Ozsoy at Istiklal No. 238 and bought a small box of Turkish delight for 2.50L, and a small packet of Turkish coffee for 2L. The receipts all show what the tax would be if we were locals, but they never charge tourists.

Then we had ice cream at Mado Dondurma– teeny scoops for about a dollar each. It was probably the kid size. Jim had 2 small for 3L; I had one for 1.75L. I Googled it and found that this ice cream is extraordinary -- made from salep powder - powdered orchid bulbs (you can get something similar to this at the Spice Market), high fiber, low calorie, very creamy. The chocolate tastes like fudge and is stretchy.

The street is really long. We had walked more than halfway down it, past the beautiful gilt and wrought-iron gates of Galatasaray Lisesi (Galata Palace School), which is a high school dating from 1481. Now we walked all the way back to the funicular station at Taksim Square (We could have gone all the way to Tünel Station). There we saw the ferry and bought 9L worth of tokens again, wanting to cross into Asia (thought it would be interesting to go to another continent), but then realized we would not be able to get back, as the last ferry was returning shortly. So we lost 3L on the planned trip (we had deposited it into the turnstile).

Found an elevator in each station for disabled travelers. Lots of people were using it, so we did, too, which made it easier than navigating all those steps.

Walked back from the tram stop to the ship. Always feels so cool as we walk in -- A/C -- awesome! It was sweaty hot today, even though it was evening.

Spent almost 83L = $53 (other than pashminas) and walked 5 miles today!

Friday, July 24: Istanbul, Turkey

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