As we were driven from the airport to our hotel in the old town of Istanbul, one thing that struck us was how contemporary the city appeared to be, with lots of high-rise buildings displaying large modern signs. Perhaps this was the effect that arriving in the dark had.
We spent the following morning catching up on admin, awaiting the arrival of Juliano and Karin at lunchtime. It was great to see them again and thanks to the help of friends back home (Liz and Lionel, Fiona and Valentino) they had an adults’ weekend ahead of them.
After our hellos, we headed off for some much-needed lunch. We found a local place not far from the spice market where we were amused to discover our meal was to be decided by the owner rather than us! Although we soon realised that this was more to do with the fact that they only really had one option as opposed to his arrogance. Fortunately it was a tasty lamb skewer/wrap concoction, so we left happy.
We then headed into the spice market and surrounding streets. It was a sensual delight. In addition to all the colourful and aromatic spices there was a huge assortment of teas (jasmine, rose, apple to name a few), sweets (Turkish delight, baklava), nuts, dried fruits, plus the usual fare of scarves, t-shirts, lamps, chess and backgammon sets and suchlike. It was nice just walking around – particularly at this stage where we just wanted to get an idea of what was on offer and what prices were starting at, rather than wanting to buy.
That evening we enjoyed an array of mezze dishes and a couple of glasses of “7-up” (wine, but they didn’t have a licence so we had to pretend) and were entertained by our waiter’s tall tales and banter. The speciality on offer, both here and in other restaurants, appeared to be a type of casserole fire-cooked in a clay pot which is brought to the table (including some of the fire) where the waiter dramatically chops off the top of the pot to serve it up. Fun to watch but something we left to others to over-pay for.
The next day we took a walk over to two of Istanbul’s most famous mosques: the Hagia Sopia and Blue mosques. They’re incredible structures that dominate the old town. When we were finally able to go inside the Blue Mosque (the first time we’d all forgotten to wear long trousers etc, then the second time prayers were taking place) we could see how it got its name. The interior is decorated with blue mosaics and tiles and the stained-glass was predominantly blue. Very different to the many churches we’d visited across Europe, but no less impressive.
After our first attempt to go in the Blue mosque we went over to check out the Grand Bazaar. It had a very different feel to the spice market area, partly due to its size but it also felt more overtly touristy, so we were soon itching to leave. From there we headed to a deli we’d discovered the day before. It had a fantastic range of local products (and some not so local), including a variety of delicious dolma, the best being a stuffed aubergine called Kuru Pathcan. Yum! The photos should give you an idea of what was on offer and why our mouths were watering so much.
Our last full day together we set off early to secure our holiday treasures now that we were surer of where the best places to buy were. However, with little room in our luggage we limited ourselves to a few meat spices, nuts and, of course, a few samples of the Turkish delight. We also got ourselves a lovely dark wood and mother of pearl combined backgammon/chess set: something to keep us amused at those border controls ahead of us.
After dropping our wares at the hotel we set off across the river to look at the tower, but were soon heading back to enjoy a few beers and a spot of football. (Well, it was Saturday afternoon …) On the way back over the bridge we got a good view of the old town and it was quite something to see just how many mosques there are all over the city.
It was fantastic to have the chance to catch up with Juliano and Karin again and we thoroughly enjoyed spending the weekend with them. It was obviously great for Marcello to see at least some of his family and there’s nothing like a bit of male/female camaraderie every now and again!!
Before we knew it we were back on a plane to Athens as we needed to collect the car keys and shipping documents as well as Marcello’s Egyptian visa. Thankfully that all went smoothly and we were reassured that Charlie had made it onto the ship.
Our second sojourn to Athens was pretty limited in terms of sightseeing unfortunately as Karen had picked up the first, and probably not last, stomach bug of the trip. However we did manage to pick up a few useful items and have a wander around the Monastiraki area, enjoying the view of the Acropolis at night.
And so our time in Europe had come to an end – or next destination was Cairo and therefore the start of the African leg of our journey. Exciting times.