So much awesome stuff happened in Istanbul and we want to remember it all so we are going to write a lot, but for those of you who want the abridged version here is our top 10. More lengthy explanations Coming soon.
1. Getting scrubbed down at a 500 year-old, ladies only, Turkish bath by large Turkish women
2. Singing "Live" karaoke at a Turkish karoke bar (we found out "live" means a 6 piece band plays the music behind you while you sing- see video below)
3. Staying at Kim and Richie's adorable flat off Istiklal Caddesi
4. Dinner on French St.
5. Nargale (aka hookah), backgammon and chai w/ friends
6. Topkapi Palace and gardens
7. Fish sandwiches off the boat on the Golden Horn
8. Ayasofia and the Blue Mosque
9. Galata tower during prayer
10. Sunday market followed torrential downpours and awesome brunch
1. The Turkish Bath
Kim told us that we needed to go and we trusted her. Thank god, because it was the best thing that ever happened. We were led into some changing roomsm, given a towel, and told to strip down. We then were directed to a very large steam room. Erin saw that everyone else had panties on and was worried we had made a cultural faux-paux but then we found the bin of underwear to wear. So imagine a couple dozen ladies, all in the same one-size fits all, black panties, lying about on a giant slab of marble. There were many large Turkish women in black undies and braziere rubbing and sudsing them down. One at a time we got our turn for our scrub which was quite magical. It was so hot that when they poured the buckets of cool water on us it was divine. We were so clean afterwards, especially after the hair washing we received and then sat in a pool of hot hot water. Total relaxation. We got out a couple times to dump more cool water on ourselves, but eventually we couldnt take the heat so we wrapped ourselves in towels and drank water on some couches for a while, before we headed out to the street. Megan now plans to open her own style of Turkish bath. Id tell you about it, but I cant have anyone stealing my genius business plans
2. Singing LIVE Karaoke
We asked the friends we met on French St. (see below) where we could find Karaoke and they told us about Mask. We confirmed witha few other Turks that we could in fact sing there and went with Richie and his friend Stephen to Mask. We werent allowed into Mask until 1am and when we finally went in... wow. There was a guy singing some Maroon 5 type song but the music wasnt coming from a sound system. THERE WAS A LIVE, 6-PIECE BAND PLAYING THE MUSIC! It was intense. Also, there was no screen. They only had a few pages of songs, most of which were in Turkish, but probably about 80 songs in English to choose from. All of these songs had the lyrics printed in a book on the stage, so ... if youve ever been to karaoke you know how helpful the screen is with telling you to come in. wow. well we had a few more drinks and then worked up the nerve to triet (like a duet, but with 3 people) to Cant Take My Eyes Off of You (think Heath Ledger in 10 Things I Hate About You or watch the video below). Total magic!
3. Staying with Kim and Richie
Megans friend and former roommate Kim just moved about 2.5 weeks ago from Dublin to Istanbul with her husband Richie. They were kind enough to put us up for the 4 nights we stayed in Istanbul and boy are we thankful. Not only was it nice to see them and not be in a hostel for a bit, but their flat was SO cute and in the coolest neighborhood. It was in the Beyoglu district off of Istiklal Caddesi. Basically a place that always has people on it and from about 8pm to 6am itś difficult to get down the pedestrian streets because they are so crowded. Lots of restaurants, cafes, and shops. THANK YOU KIM AND RICHIE! We had the best time!
4. Dinner of French St.
After our first full day in Istanbul, and meeting up with Kim and Richie for drinks, Erin and I went out for dinner on an awesome street that Richie told us about earlier in the day. French St. is a pedestrian walkway, or really more of a stairway, full of restaurants and cafes and at night full of people, lights, and music. After a delightful salad and seafood pasta dish (so not vegan), we asked the waiters (who were dancing with one another) if they could recommend some karaoke. We talked for a while and then one of their friends came over: Jem. What a character Jem was. We learned throughout the night that he is the son of the owner. He first tried to say he was 25, then later admitted 22, but we still think he was more like 18-20. He had a lot of special things to say about Turkish men and American men, and things we should do in Istanbul. We spent a few hours talking with them, but finally left around 2am. Good times!
Megan and Erin
Erin and Jem
Bilal and Megan
5. Nargale (aka hookah), backgammon and chai w/ friends
We finally got into the European lifestyle of spending hours at one restaurant/cafe, while in Istanbul. Our third night in Istanbul Kim and Richie took us to what is becoming one of their favorite cheap spots off of Istiklal. We smoked some apple flavored nargale and drank chai (how do you really say it, Kim?) for quite some time before we ordered some amazing turkish food: kebabs, an assortment of grilled vegetables topped with cheese, yogurt with eggplant. MUAH!! We also learned how to play the very popular game backgammon from the guy sitting next to us. We actually bought a travel sized version to play on the road and are loving it. We did about the same thing the next night and our new friend Stephen (see karaoke video) came too. That night we partook in some peach nargale though. This is defnitely a new favorite pasttime.
Megan and nargale
Erin and nargale
Stephen and his new best friend
6. Topkapi Palace and Gardens
Our first day in Istanbul we discovered (just like Christopher Columbus) the Topkapi Gardens around Topkapi Palace. It was so lovely to be in a place with trees again. The next day we spent many hours inside the palace looking at the robes of sultans past, massive jewels, and sparkly gifts from one empire to another. We toured the harem where women and the sultans slept. It was a seriously impressive place.
7. Fish Sandwiches
When walking over the Galata Bridge you will note the hundreds of fisherman casting their lines into the Golden Horn (psedo river). As you approach the other side of the bridge there are boats anachored with grills, grilling those very fish and selling them on a sandwich with lettuce and onion for 4 lira (about 2 Euro). After checking out the Hayia Sofia and Blue Mosque, we walked over to the bottom of the bridge with Richie and Stephen and met Kim for some of those delicious sandwiches. You wait in line and there is a middle man guy that gets the fish from the boat and hands the sandwich to you. There are small tables set up all along the water. We all sat down and chowed down on the sandwiches, aside form pulling out a few bones here and there they were delightful.
people fishing off the bridge
8. Hayia Sofia and Blue Mosque
We were told we had to check out these 2 popular tourist attractions. We started the day off at Hayia Sofia which was once a Christain Church and then converted to a Mosque before it became a museum. It was constructed in the 11th century with beautiful mossaics, large pillars and an enormous dome. Very impressive, words really do not do it justice. After Hayia Sofia we walked to the Blue Mosque. Because this is a traditoinal mosque, we had to take our shoes off and cover our heads before entering. The archecture was incredible. It was built in the 16th century by Sultan Mahmet. Please see pictures below to fully grasp its beauty!!
blue mosque lamps
inside Hagia Sofya
9. Galata Tower during Prayer
One of the first things we did when arriving to Istanbul was climb to the top of Galata Tower to get a better sense of the city. We took an elevator to the top of the nine story tower and got an incredible view of the city. We could see the Golden Horn and the Galata Bridge as well as Asia! While we were at the top of the tower, prayers started sounding from all the neighboring mosques. Songs from the Quran were sung and we could make out people on the street stopping to pray. It was quite a remarkable site.
10. Sunday Market followed by a delicious brunch
(Kim, send us pictures please!)
On Sunday morning, we decided to head to a market that Kimś friend had told her about. Kim wanted to get food for the week and Megan and I wanted to incoporate some fruit into our diet. The market had table after table of fresh produce, fruits, spices, olives, cheese, dried fruit and nuts. Kim conversed with a few of the vendors in Turkish and we ended up with a lage melon at one point, but all in all we got some pretty good deals. We purchased a plethora of items before heading back to Kimś flat. On our walk back we encountered a bit of rain, but continued to trek on, but the rain got worse and worse until finally there were literally buckets of water falling from the sky. We made it home safely, changed into some dry clothes and made a delicious brunch of fruit salad and yogurt.
WE LOVE YOU ISTANBUL!!!