After the Hagia Sophia and the Tokapi Palace, our next stop was the spice bazaar. The spice bazaar is a huge covered shopping space filled with spices, teas, oils, caviar, lanterns, clothes, almost anything. The structure belongs to a mosque, so the rent from the stands goes to the upkeep of the mosque above. Everything was laid out in an aesthetic way, and the smells of the spices were savory and enchanting. I spent about 10 minutes at a wall of teas trying to find the one that I could smell from 5 feet away. The salesmen are a little bit more than I could handle, and I found myself chasing Jeff to stay away from them. They would stand by the door of their shop and if you so much as glanced at them, they would start saying things in different language until they got a response from you.
The next day our little troupe relaxed a bit more and spent the day wandering the city a little bit. We made our way to a dock that ran a commuter ferry from one side of the city to the other side across the river. What is across the river you may ask? Well, as it turns out, Istanbul is partly in Europe, and partly in Asia. The two sides are seperated by the River Bosphorus. The river is very important for trade because it has access to the Black Sea. Closing of the Bosphorus would be similar to the closing of the Panama Canal. Currently the straits are particularly important for oil trade.
After lunch on the Asian side of the city, we all boarded a ferry boat that took us up and down the river. The Turkish flag could be seen flying all over, above every mosque and government building. There are a lot of government buildings along the river because of the importance of the river itself, as well as it being prime real estate. The turkish flag is red with a white crescent moon and star. The story I was told was that the red represents the blood of the Turkish people during a war, of which they were martyrs, and the creator of the flag saw the moon and star reflected in the blood. The moon and star are the traditional symbol of Tengriism, an ancient shamanistic religion practiced in the area. The color of Islam is green, and the government did not want any religious affiliation, so they kept with the red color.
During our last day, we went to a new part of town and went to a cafe my classmate Onur recommended. The cafe is called Kali Cafe and which means Castle Cafe. The breakfast was delicious, we got their “sprinkled” breakfast which means they bring out a bunch of different pieces that you put together as you like. There was honey butter, a peanut butter like sauce, cheese, olives, bread, meat, and other tasty things.
Ever since college, I’ve become a fan of all sorts of ethnic foods that I didn’t have growing up. It wasn’t my parents fault, it’s just that every restaurant in my hometown was some corporate chain, and we didn’t get a thai restaurant until my junior year of High School. I had never had Turkish food (I’m not counting kebabs/gyros) until I went on this trip, and boy, was I missing out. Turkish cuisine varies from region to region, drawing influence from central Asia and the Middle East. There is the traditional kebab, which most people know and have enjoyed. There are meat plates that are a few pieces of grilled meat with salad and rice to accompany it. My favorite dishes though are the noodle/bread dishes that use yogurt as a sauce. These dishes usually have a spice to them, but the yogurt balances it out in culinary harmony. I had a hard time saying no to the desserts, which are also unique and delicious. They usually involve some pastry soaked in honey, for example Baklava, and accompaniment by some chopped nuts. The pastry can change, from a flakey dough to a rice-noodle like texture, but the honey is usually featured
After breakfast we went and checked out the Rumeli castle next to the cafe. It is a small and modest castle built in 4 months and 16 days. It was built during the Ottoman siege of Istanbul to gain control of the city away from Byzantine control. Another castle on the other side of the river was joined to Rumeli Castle by a thick heavy chain. When boats tried to travel through the strait to aid the Byzantine empire, the chain would be drawn taut and thus prevent the boats from crossing it. (Sound familiar Game of Throne readers?) We spent most of our time climbing the castle walls and taking silly pictures.
After the castle, we split up and Jeff, Fred (Jeff’s pop), and I went in search of the Sapphire Skyscraper. We walked a lot of the way, and found some more friendly stray cats.
We managed to get to the area that we believed the skyscraper to be in, but we didn’t know exactly what the building would look like, or where exactly it was. When you are below a bunch of tall buildings, it is surprisingly hard to figure out which one is the tallest. We stopped by a mall that we thought could of been the building, but when we asked for the “Sapphire Skyscraper” no one knew what we were talking about. We walked down the road to a different building we thought could be it, but when we crossed the parking lot, a security guard started to yell at us. When he found out we were traveller’s he became much more friendly, and pointed us in the right direction. A parking lot attendent was more helpful in our search than the information table at the previous place. We finally found the tallest skyscraper in Europe though, and went to the tippy top!
Once we were at the top, we discovered that while this may be the tallest skyscraper in Europe, it is still shorter than other structures. The observation deck at the Eiffel Tower is taller than the top of this building. The building is mostly residences, with a shopping mall in the bottom 3 floors. The observation deck had an overpriced cafe, and you could also get photos as a souvenir in a Disneyland-like way. It’s a good thing it took us so long to find the right building, because we arrived just in time for sunset.