(written by Dave)
We almost didn’t post today as we spent the morning planning the route ahead and that is never very exciting, even for us. But then I thought I should make a few notes about dinner last night with my cousin Bruce and later our boring day turned into a very interesting afternoon. So, here you go…
First dinner with Bruce. I figured out that the last time I saw Bruce was 37 years ago. I was a bit worried about spotting him as we were meeting in a fairly open area and I had no idea what he looked like. No need to worry, I guess I look just like my father did and Bruce spotted me a mile off. Bruce has aged well but he looked nothing like the early seventies “hippy” that I remembered. Dinner was great. We talked about our families and recalled family events from our two completely different perspectives. I always thought of Bruce as the super cool older cousin. In contrast, he remembers our family because my father was always the super cool uncle who travelled the world. Of course we knew the same people and attended some of the same events but memories seen through the eyes of the youngest and nearly oldest boys at those events are pretty different. Bruce has now lived 12 years outside the USA, only a little less than us, so it was interesting comparing expat notes. All in all, a very nice dinner and a great trip down memory lane – I only wish we could have timed our schedules better so that we could have spent more time together.
This morning we spent some time planning our route from Turkey to Bulgaria to Macedonia to Albania. Details to follow in future posts but we should have some interesting times ahead.
We headed out after lunch on the tram and funicular railroad to reach Taksim Square, based on some tips from Bruce. Lonely Planet describes this area as “ultimate” modern Istanbul scene. We had a coffee at Starbucks (there are quite a few out in this area) and walked back towards Galata along Istikial Caddesi, a pedestrian street filled with shops and cafes, many of which you would find in big cities anywhere and from the number of people shopping it looks like the economy is going well here. At the end of this street we continued onto the so-called “music street” (not the official name but what everyone calls the street because of the many music and instrument stores). Before long we reached Galata Tower (also known as Istanbul Tower). We paid the fee to ride up and take in a nice 360 view of the city. The tower was built around 500 AD and it is still pretty impressive, though I think that the lift might be a more modern addition.
From the tower we headed for Galata Bridge. Walking across this bridge is on the list of “must do’s” in Istanbul. It has three lanes each direction but the outside lane each direction is filled with parked cars belonging to people fishing from the bridge (imagine one of the busiest bridges in a city of 15 million people freely giving up a traffic lane to probably illegally parked cars – only in Turkey). There are literally hundreds of people with lines in the water and today they really seemed to be on the fish. I took some photos of folks fishing, then some of buckets of caught fish. One guy spoke particularly good English and we got to talking. He informed me that they sell the fish for about $2.5 per kilo and they always catch lots of fish. I was watching them pull up 4, 5 and more little fish per time (there are several hooks on each line) but a kilo would take quite a while to catch. Well, one thing led to another and before you know it, the fellow handed me his pole and I was reeling in his catch. Wow, 6 fish on the line. Quite fun. Nancy got some photos for later blackmail as I had no license but then again, this is Turkey, I’m not sure that I needed one. It was a bit of a “Tom Sawyer” moment as while I was reeling in the fish, the pole owner had a smoke. Funny, get the tourist to reel in your fish while you take a smoko. All the same, it was fun.
We continued on across the bridge where there are a number of floating boats with fancy BBQs. You guessed it, cooking up the fish. Nancy said, “let’s have a fish sandwich for dinner”. She didn’t have to ask me twice. What a treat, fresh caught fish sandwiches, right on the river, complete with lettuce and enough onions to stop a truck. The only problem was looking at the BBQ boats as they were bobbing like crazy. It didn’t seem to bother the cooks but both of us had to look away before we became ill (if only we’d had Nancy seasick bands). We followed up the fish with some kind of fried doughnut-like dessert but passed on the weird red drink filled with pickles, onions and other unknown items. We didn’t really need it, we were stuffed at this point. I can’t imagine that we smelled all that great but we only have each other to impress so whatever.
From the bridge, it is a pretty short walk back to our hotel but for the third time in three days we found ourselves at the New Mosque. Today, we had to go in and have a look around. New Mosque was built in the 1500s so we would not really consider it new but here in Istanbul, it turns out that a 500 year old mosque is a pretty new mosque. The inside was quite a treat, a little smaller than the Blue Mosque but it seemed to have more detailed tile work and it was very peaceful – as it’s not the Blue Mosque, there very few tourists. We lingered and took some pictures before heading back outside. While putting our shoes back on, we spotted a couple ladies surrounded by heaps of shopping bags – they appeared to be waiting for their husbands to return from prayers – quite a switch as it was usually the husbands waiting while the ladies did their shopping.
Still full of fish and sticky desserts we waddled our way back to the hotel. We managed to choke down a couple Turkish delights for dessert but that was more out of respect than hunger. We have decided to stay one more day here in Istanbul as we still have a few chores to get done and there has to be another 50 or so mosques that we can look at. Istanbul has been a great place for a break, though you have to know before you get here that you’ll only see a fraction of what’s on offer, no matter how long the visit.