Shades Of Words

Istanbul : Travelling in buses, getting lost and eating bakalavas

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Getting around in Istanbul is seriously easy. One can take the train, the funicular, hop into the buses, the dolmus which are shared taxis, or the ferries. While knowing Turkish would help in navigating through the city, it’s not required. Just pointing and remembering the names of the destination works.

Istanbul 2012-432On our third day we had to get across town to the Chora Museum, one the last standing churches of the Byzantium Empire famous its largest collection of gold mosaic work. As we boarded a packed bus at Galata Bridge, I was a little nervous because crowds and new places do that to me.  A small LCD screen placed in the front spelled out upcoming stops and I sighed in relief – well we were not definitely getting lost with that. Yes, you can see I have quite the pioneer spirit  J !

A ride through the city was just what we needed to get away from the tourist district and into its heart.  It was nice to watch people drive to work, drink chai and eat donurs in small eateries on the roadside, or walk leisurely on the cobbled streets without the accompanying maniacally clicking of pictures. One place that made an impression was Fevzi Paşa Caddesi which apparently is in the bridal shopping district because we were soon passing by rows and rows of shops with extensive displays of bridal dresses. It was one of the most exquisite collections of lace, chiffon and satin I had ever seen.

Once we got off at our stop, a good ten minute walk through an ancient neighbourhood led us to the Chora Museum.  The air was filled with the smell of burning charcoal and barbecued meat. The cobbled streets that winded up and down the hill reminded of San Francisco.

Istanbul 2012-435The Chora Museum is at the edge of the hill and if you stand on tip-toes near the boundary walls you get a fantastic view of the city.  Unless one is an art student, it shouldn’t take more than an hour to walk through the place. Longer than that, your neck is mostly going to hurt by all the staring at the ceiling.  Most of the beauty lies in the interiors, where larger than life mosaics have been preserved on the walls and domes of the erstwhile monastery.  I am no artist myself but I found it easy to appreciate the beauty and complexity of design made from these fragments of painted stones and gold. The exteriors structure is similar to Aya Sofiya, only much smaller in scale. The gardens are over grown and unkempt and cats weave in and out of the grass.

Istanbul 2012-510

Back at Galata Bridge, the chaos of the Spice Bazaar beckoned us. As we walked towards the Spice Bazaar, a van careened right in front of us and dumped sacks of pistachios on to open cane baskets.   Before I knew what was happening, a dozen people materialized from nowhere and engaged in a haggling match with the vendor. Pushing our way through the crowd, we made it under the arched complex of the Bazaar. A heady mix of spices was in the air and my eyes took time to adjust to the colors on display. This is the place buy every day to exotic spices, un-imaginable variety of tea, Turkish delights and baklavas. It’s like a giant candy store.  Coming from India, I found the spice variety and prices to be just okay but I think loading up on dry fruits made a lot of sense. Figs, pistachios, almonds, raisins – just buy as much as you can.  The other thing that you must stock up on is Turkish Delights which is nothing like the packed stuff that you find in the US. The variety, the taste and the richness of flavor of each piece is heavenly. We ended up buying almost 5 pounds and I still think it was not enough.

Day 3

Green tea is also a steal, especially since you can get unusual varieties and mix and match your own combinations.  I bought myself a combination of green and tea and citrus with some lavender thrown in. It’s got the loveliest scent and tastes nice too. The only way to drink Turkish tea is of course in those adorable curvy Turkish tea cups. Available in literally every tourist shop, getting the perfect design and perfect price can be bit of a pain.

Istanbul 2012-530

From the Spice Bazaar, we climbed up hill to Sulemaniya Mosque. After having been to so many mosques in the last few days, I was a little underwhelmed by the grandeur of this one. The steep uphill walk did nothing to endear the experience and was a bad reminder to how unfit I was. The one thing that I did like was the view of the sea.

Our next stop was at Grand bazaar. I had a general idea of direction and a sketchy map. Obviously, we were soon lost in the winding streets of the bazaar which was fun for a while. It’s always nice to walk the markets where the locals come to shop. We passed streets that only sold scarves, another that just sold cotton bedsheets and bath towels. Then there were the street vendors selling dirt cheap clothes. Had I any space in my luggage, I would have definitely bought a dozen scarves, but alas it was just window shopping for me.

Soon our legs gave way and we managed to ask our way out of the maze. Grand Bazaar is much larger and you can spend several days here just browsing through the merchandise. To be honest, I found it too touristy and sometimes tacky. Considering the fact that ever since I landed in Istanbul, I had seen all women carrying Louis Vutton or Burberry purse, it should not have been a surprise to see knock-offs being sold off by dozens in Grand Bazaar. We bought ourselves at tea-set but realized that we had atleast overpaid by 30%. Bargaining is the norm and lowball as much as you can. These guys are experts and there is no way winning the deal.

Eating Baklava was high on my list of things to do, especially since I had been passing sweet stores with dazzling display. One store that really caught my attention was Hafiz Mustafa – not only it was always crowded, but it’s display window had the most interesting variety of Baklava as well as rows and rows of multi-colored rice puddings. They looked so pretty and yummy. We rounded her day off with a meal of perfect tasting Baklavas at Mustafa’s. For dessert we ate the prettiest looking Pistachio Rice pudding with most delicious pastel green color of pistachio.

I swear there are days when I still think of that pudding.

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Author: Vipula

Before talking about who we are, we’d like to tell you a bit about how and why Shades of Words came into being. It all started with the idea of “A place where we could share with likeminded people about things we enjoy. From books to music to movies to travel; Shades of Words was to be a place about the best of our experiences” We thought about why should anyone read us? The answer was that whatever we review would be a mix of our experience of the thing along with interesting and useful information about it. So in case you are reading us regularly or even checking us out once in a while then we have succeeded in our efforts someway somewhere. Who are we? Known as Kapil Sood and Vipula Gupta, we thought of Shades of Words on one fine Sunday afternoon. Tired of writing interesting RFP’s and project documentation; we decided to give this a shot. Yes! We work in Indian IT industry. Cupid struck us while were innocently slogging together on the highly intricate job of formatting and beautifying documents! And since then, we have been working together to establish Shades of Words as a place that we can claim as ours. (Because buying a house is still years away!) What else? Kapil also writes some blogs which you can read here and here.

7 thoughts on “Istanbul : Travelling in buses, getting lost and eating bakalavas

  1. oooh you have my head swimming with spices, tea, pudding and so many other treats Vipula!
    Thank you for that and for these wonderful travels you are sharing …
    my imagination is racing and I am officially hungry and thirst too …
    thank you very much 😉

    Looking forward to more of your adventures!
    oxo

    • @You know when I was buying tea, I was thinking of you and how much you would have loved it. I did not even understand half the variety they had..some stuff I had never heard of. The colors and the scents were just heavenly. Ever since I have come back I am also on the look out for the perfect Baklava in the US

  2. howdy Vipula!

    It was really interesting to know about the Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar. I’m assuming you didn’t have trouble bringing the tea set, turkish and other delighted dry fruits to US 🙂 Can you recommend any specific stores for scarves, tea sets, spices? It would delight readers like meself to no end.

    • I dont have any recommendations at all..just whatever catches your fancy and if the price is right. But I do recommend the stores on the outer side of spice bazaar because they have better stuff and are cheaper

    • Howdy ??? Seriously??

  3. Thaat is very attention-grabbing, You are an overly skilled blogger.
    I’ve joined your feed and look ahead to looking for more of your magnificent post.
    Also, I’ve shared your site in myy social
    networks

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