We woke up Monday morning to rain, rain, and more rain. On top of that it was super cold too! We bundled up and headed for Topkapi Palace (where the Ottoman Sultans used to live) but on the way it started pouring. We were drenched by the time we got there and shivering cold. I bought an umbrella, but it was a little late at that point.
We walked around Topkapi Palace for a while, but it wasn't the best option for a rainy day. The palace is unusual in that it isn't all connected, rather it's a bunch of smaller compounds near each other. Not the warmest thing, and getting from one place to another meant lots of walking back through the rain. We did see some cool stuff though-those Ottoman sultans covered the surfaces of everything in rubies, emeralds, and diamonds, so even the most boring water flask became jewel encrusted finery. They had some of the Sultans' robes from the 14th and 15th century, as well as jewelry, thrones, household items...it was really cool to look at. We also went into the Hall fo Sacred relics which ahd things like Moses' staff, David's sword, Mohammed's beard, and a piece of John the Baptist's skull. Cool to look at, but you never know for sure if it's real, y'know?
We saw some other buildings-ceremonial halls, private mosques, etc. But it had been a few hours and we were too cold to go on. We went back to the hostel to get dry clothes and warm up. We had planned on seeing the Basilica Cistern but it closed right before we got there, so we scoped out the Grand Bazaar to get an idea of what we wanted and decided to save that for Tuesday. We discussed visiting a Turkish bath but we didn't want to split up and only one hamman allowed couples and that one was reviewed online as being very touristy. Oh well, I think I'll be ok without a Turkish bath experience :)
Tuesday was still rainy and cold, but not as bad as Monday. We had breakfast at the hostel (tasty Turkish white cheese similar to feta, olive spread, bread, jam, and lots of strong black tea) and then headed to the Basilica Cistern. I'm a total nerd about stuff like this, so I was in heaven.
The Basilica Cistern was built by the Byzantines so they could have fresh water. The giant arches and columns that hold up the ceiling were recycled from other ancient sites, and it's cool for history nerds like me to see such a hodgepodge of styles and time periods all in one, even a Medusa's head! You can walk around above the water via a platform, and it's spooky in a cool way.
We headed for the Grand Bazaar, stopping on route for some coffee and Turkish mosaic cake...
The Grand Bazaar is totally covered and kind of like a big maze. It's been around since the 1400s and the covered streets are beautiful, decorated in tiles and colors. Before I came to Istanbul a friend warned me there would be a million cool things to buy and to be prepared. She was right, and I lamented the fact that I'd only brought along a small backpack. They had so many beautiful things-handpainted pottery, colorful glass lanterns, rugs, wood work with mother of pearl inlay, scarves, everything. It was hard to limit yourself.
I am a big souveneir person, probably because I grew up with family members who traveled a lot and I loved looking at the colorful souveneirs they had collected. When I started traveling on my own I started my own small collection, thinking one day I'd have a house to display them in. Well, that day has come sooner than I expected so when I saw streets and streets of colorful Turkish stuff it was hard to remind myself I only had one small bag to take everything home in.
I was in love with their colorful tiles and pottery (I get that from my mom, she's got an enviable collection herself) so that was the first stop. The vendor we talked to had everything imaginable-bowls, plates, cups, platters, all in endless combinations of patterns, colors, and sizes. I just got one bowl, but it's gorgeous. Fionn picked out a tile with the word "sultan" written on it in Arabic calligraphy. Even though I was drooling over everything else, I left it at that. When packing time came I was glad my level headed husband intervened because our bags barely zipped closed as it was ;)
Fionn turned out to be quite the skilled haggler. I was pretty impressed by his ability to get even the hardest vendor to come down so fast on their prices. He laughed and said he perfected the art of the "walk away" when he visited markets in Jerusalem and Jordan. Worked like a charm though, and we picked up quite a few cool things, including a beautiful blue scarf for me :)
After wandering around for ages, we'd spent enough money in the Bazaar. We stopped for a pide, which is a boat shaped flatbread with spices, meat, cheese, egg or whatever else inside. So so so good :) We walked to the old Aquaduct in the city and then through a kind of sketchy neighborhood to the Spice Bazaar. There they had tables full of spices, Turkish delight, dried fruits and nuts, cheese, meat, everything! We just walked around trying the samples and eventually bought some Turkish delight and apple tea. So many good things to eat! Perfect for foodies like us :)