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Friday, May 13, 2022

Life in Istanbul, Never a Dull Moment

Aloha Everyone,

J.J.’s prefers to use money changers away from from the main tourist belt. In addition to getting a slightly better rate, It takes us nearly 2 miles round trip, contributing to our daily walk.

McDonalds and Starbucks are located a few businesses away from each other. Both entities are always filled. It took J.J. nearly 20 minutes to get a McCafe to go. Here services are generally painfully slow. Employees are not trained for American customer service and efficiency of time management.

Do you know cats don’t like vinegar? To prevent them from approaching our table and even jumping up to your seat, one of the employees of the restaurant sprinkled water with vinegar on the alley way. 

The proprietor insisted on serving us complimentary Turkish tea before J.J. paid the bill.

Aloha -- Cathi

Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Grand Bazaar

Aloha Everyone,

Our hotel concierge gave us a walking map to the Grand Bazaar. His instructions was to go left, go right, go straight, cross the tram street, go left, go right, and you are there. Here, oftentimes, directions are confusing. A kind couple walking next to us overheard our conversation. The husband said it is next to the mosque. There are so many mosques. Behind my mask, I grinned and thanked him. His wife added that the Grand Bazaar is not next to the mosque but behind the mosque. Again, we were expected to know which mosque?

Established in 1481, the Grand Bazaar is unmistakably a big shopping complex. Compared to the Muslim shopping areas in Jerusalem, this place is beautiful. Exteriors and interiors of each stores are brightly lit. The indoor/outdoor maze of streets are great for sightseeing. Turkish carpets, glittering gold jewelry and other precious stones, leather goods, scarves, clothes, shoes, bags hats, all displayed to feast your eyes. We found that merchants were not very aggressive. Maybe our lack of shopping bags showed that we are not potential customers.

Although entertaining, the Grand Bazaar is not a place to linger. Seeking for fresh air, the two of us exited quickly. Just outside of one of the Grand Bazaar entrance led to a wide pedestrian street dotted with name brand stores and 5 star hotels with outdoor cafes. Well maintained area with park benches, I was able to get additional exercise while J.J. took a break.

Over lunch, we shared interesting observations about Istanbul with a couple from Canada. Experienced travelers, they came on Regal Princess to enjoy the city for a few hours.  One of their complaints was that they were insulted by Turks on a couple of occasions.  It happened when they declined to look at whatever merchandise was offered.  In retaliation, the merchant said, “We don’t like Canadians. They are rude.” J.J. and I assured them that from our personal visits to Canada and meeting Canadians during our travels, they are kind, polite and friendly.

Aloha -- Cathi

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

A Typical Turkish Meals

Aloha Everyone,

Turkish foods are rich, often spicy and flavorful. Today we went out in search of typical Turkish meals.

Returned to the neighborhood fruits shop, I stocked up on pears, bananas (Del Monte brand) and roasted almonds. Although the pear is juicy, it is unsweet, crunchy and tart. It tastes more like a green apple.

For lunch, J.J. chose a restaurant that specializes in seafoods. Our waiter carefully checked the menu before he handed us ones with new prices pasted. Perhaps the reason is to offset the continuing devaluation of the Turkish lira. Some restaurants are making modifications on their menus while others have menus with no prices and suggest that you ask for the cost. 

The grilled seafood platter at US$45 is on the high side. But we were happy with the quality and large variety of seafood.

J.J.  purchased a Turkish sandwich from a very popular restaurant. It has sit in, takeaway as well as dining along the side of a steep hill. It’s amazing how many people sit on the sidewalk with cars and pedestrians passing by. I had to wait for a few minutes to take this photo for taxis, motorcycles and pedestrians to pass by.

Aloha -- Cathi

Visiting the Blue Mosque

Aloha Everyone,

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, is an Ottoman-meta historical imperial mosque. Constructed between 1609 and 1616, there is no charge to enter, but since it is still being used as a mosque, one have to observe certain protocols. First, female must cover their heads and no shorts or short dresses showing their knees are allowed. You must remove your shoes as you enter the mosque. J.J. and I carried ours with us which was allowed. Photography is permitted.

Our honest observation: We could not truly appreciate the regal beauty of the mosque due to on going extensive renovations of both the exterior and interior. Interior pictures in brochures are nicer.

Weather has been cool and breezy. Yet inside the mosque the air was stale and musty. We can’t imagine the heat and humidity during summer months when the mosque gets packed with visitors.

Aloha -- Cathi

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Hagia Sofia Grand Mosque

Aloha Everyone,

Hagia Sofia Grand Mosque, formerly Church of Holy Wisdom is a magnificent structure with hues of pink, yellow ochre and orange that changes with the weather.

Hagia Sofia has withstood a violent history. It started as a Byzantine Christian Church (369-1204, 1261-1453), then a Catholic Cathedral 1204-1262), and Muslim Mosque (1453-1931). Today, it’s considered both a Mosque and Islamic museum.

The two of us arrived at Hagia Sofia entrance in the late afternoon. While J.J. decided to wait for me in the inner walled area of the mosque, I placed a scarf over my head and stepped over the shiny and slippery stone threshold polished by worshippers and visitors.

As I stood gazing at the ornate walls and ceilings, the 2 hours prior to the sunset call for prayers was broadcasted. Hearing it in the dome of the mosque where sound reverberated was a spiritual experience. However as in the Blue Mosque, the stale air, smell of humanity gave me a headache.

Aloha -- Cathi

Monday, May 9, 2022

Walking to Find Tourist Attractions

Aloha Everyone,

Just stepping out of our comfortable and safe hotel environment gives us an adrenaline rush. Istanbul is chaotic and strange. Add to that the huge crowds hurrying in different directions. We are determined to stay safe and enjoy the city while keeping an eye for thieves and pickpockets.

A carpet vendor spreads his products right on the sidewalk. It’s difficult to pass without stepping on them. He greets us with, “Hello. Want to buy a village carpet?” To which we reply, “No thank you.” Responding serves as a sales challenge. He follows us for half a block with a sales pitch.

Most of the streets in the Old Town are narrow and hilly. We navigate between cars, vans and other pedestrians avoiding big cracks in the sidewalk and mismatched tiles.

J.J. and I were able to identify several mosques and museums we would like to visit. Maps in Turkish and access time and day changes without prior notice. Turkish tour guides just shrugged their shoulders and say, “Maybe next day.” when we ask for information.

We enjoyed great meals today. My breakfast selection at the hotel was healthy. 

For lunch and dinner, J.J. chose fish dishes with veggies and hummus. A view of the Bosporus and an ancient fortress during lunch was very enjoyable. If it wasn’t so cold, we would have lingered. Restaurants in the Old Town cater to foreign tourists. They use printed menus that are same. What’s different are pricing and portion.

Our dinner was unexpectedly good. We usually choose 2-3 dishes plus one bottle of water. The average meals cost 300 Turkish liras inclusive of tip which is equivalent to US$21. With inflation of 70% since a year ago, Turkey badly needs tourism. Interesting that restaurant barkers aggressively go after foreign tourist walking while ignoring Turks who stop to flip menus.

Aloha -- Cathi