21.10.2011 - 21.10.2011 17 °C
Early start this morning (only problem with group travel is that I do need to get up that wee bit earlier than I have become accustomed to!) and we started the morning with a walking tour of the old town of Istanbul. We started by walking up the main street and behind the Aya Sofia. The thing I love about the old town is that it is surrounded by a wall which is also over a thousand years old! I find it amazing that its still standing in almost one piece. We went via the Topgakpi Palace and then back into the main square between the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia.
Blue Mosque was packed this morning so we didn’t do a stop inside (which didn’t matter considering I had seen it the day previous) before we headed out to the Hippodrome. We did go to the Hippodrome yesterday but I don’t think I mentioned it.. Today it is just a courtyard/ park to the side of the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sofia. Back in the Byzantine times it was actually an amphitheatre that was used for chariot races etc. All that really remains of this era is two Egyptian Obelisks which were donated to the Ottoman Sultan by the Egyptian pharaoh back in 390 AD and half a statue of two intertwined serpents (which is now sort of half a serpent). The serpents statue was part of an ancient Greek sacrificial alter and was donated to Istanbul by Emperor Constantine in the mid 3rd Century.
Our tour leader than took us back into the heart of the madness of the Grand Bazaar before leading us out and down some back streets towards the Spice Markets. On the way we stopped to see another two beautiful mosques. One of them is more blue in the interior than the Blue Mosque. Every square cm is covered in blue and turquoise tiles.. Amazing! The thing I liked about both mosques is the fact that they were almost devoid of tourists or locals.. It is so much more pleasant to be able to actually enjoy the spectacle of a mosque without having to crane your neck over the heads of others.
The roads leading into the Spice Market are also full of sellers (most of the streets leading up the hill are all shopping streets) so we had to navigate our way between very anxious sellers til we made it down to the Spice Market.. The street reminded me of a big two dollar shop with all sorts of crap that no-one in their right mind is actually going to buy! The Spice Market though was another story.. First impression is a welter of colour, sounds and smells…. Oh god, the smells coming from the market are just heavenly.. Pungent Cajuns, mixed with sweet smelling cinnamon and all of that rounded out with turmeric and saffron.. I can’t describe the smells or the number of people (both shopping and selling) but the Spice Market is certainly an experience.
At this point our tour diverged as we entered free time. Sue and I decided to head over the bridge into the new quarter of Istanbul and go and find some tasty local cuisine for lunch. Our walk took us through the hardware supply shopping district.. Its like one big Bunnings that is made up of maybe a hundred shops all next to each other all largely selling the same thing! At the top of the hill of the new town is a large tower which was once used as a fire warning building for the city.. Someone would see a fire and then warn everyone living in that area to get out etc. Around this tower are heaps of little cafes and tea houses and we were lucky enough to find this local haunt that sold absolutely top quality shish kebabs with tasty sides all for less than 5 dollars each… Bargain!
We made our way back into town after our lunch and headed back into the nut house of the side streets behind the spice bazaar hunting some ‘comfy’ pants for our trip. After trawling through countless streets, and a couple of hours later, we were just about to give up when we finally found what we were looking for.. 7 dollars later we both had a pair of Burberry knock off yoga pants and so we headed back to our hotel for a great night’s sleep and a light snack.