One day we were talking with a couple of friends that we had over for diner and we decided to all go together in Istanbul for a transition vacation in the New Year. What a wonderful trip it was.
We took the plane from Quebec City and eventually made it overseas and landed in Turkey. The metro system there is linked directly with the airport, so there wasn’t any messing around to find cabs or busses. We got off the metro, onto a tramway, got off a block away from our hotel and walked a little. The transportation system is very well designed, easy and cheap.
After settling in our rooms, we chose a restaurant and walked a few blocks in the pouring rain to get there (we got lost a few times but made it for the reservations). The place we went to is called Giritli. Our first course consisted of about twenty little plates and had a variety of things like fishes, vegetables, meats and things I had no idea that could be eaten. The main course consisted of calamari and squid. And then there was another course, which consisted of a smaller version of a main meal. All four of us took different types of fishes and we shared. I think the meal was called a mezdé. The wine was constantly flowing for the whole meal and it was simply wonderful. We also had the chance to talk with the couple that was sitting next to us. They were from L.A. and were very nice and sophisticated.
Once we didn’t have any more room for food and wine, we walked back to our hotel, took a few pictures and made it to our rooftop. We opened a bottle of Champaign and watched the Istanbul new years fireworks. The hotel had arranged for a staff to come up and serve warm wine also and then we called it a night.
For day 2, we went on the Bosporus tour. As we woke up a little later than anticipated, we had to rush in order to catch the ferry on time. Along our way to the Black Sea, we made multiple stops along the river (or canal, I can’t remember). We also stopped on the ‘’Asian side’’ of Istanbul. That was a first for me. Also along the way, we could see very big bridges, old fortifications from the Ottoman Empire, Sultan’s castles, Porpoises, other palaces on the shore and beautiful houses with boat garages. Too bad it was a very rainy and windy day.
After our hour and a half boat ride, we got to the entrance to the Black Sea. The purpose of this trip was to climb the mountain until we got to the Castle ruins to visit, and also to have the best view possible on the Black Sea. As soon as we got off the ferry, we met a little buddy. It was a black dog we named after another friend of ours because it looked so happy and jolly and wanted to play with us and get belly rubs. It would roll on it's back and smile at us, tale wagging and excited. It had trouble rolling back over because it was pleasantly plumped. Along the hike, we saw quite a lot of dogs and cats in the streets. Some even decided to follow us for a while. The ones that had tags on their ear meant that they had had their shots and were somewhat healthy (for stray animals).
On our way back, we stopped at the train station to take pictures (the old Oriental Express’s final stop) and then went to a little Nargile shop for shisha. Tarihi Sultanahmet Koftecisi. It is a popular place amongst the locals and not many tourists go there. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped for Baklava. We then made plans for the next day and went to bed.For diner, we went to a restaurant called Kofte and had
Day 3 was the tour of our main interests. We were wide awake at 0100hrs local time and didn’t fall asleep before 0500hrs. After taking a look on Facebook, we realized that our friends were in the same situation. At about 0730hrs, we finally got up and went to breakfast and our friends eventually met us there. Both the couples wanted to see different things on that day, so we decided that we would go our separate ways for this one. We started off with the Blue mosque.
For some reason, it was closed to the public for that day so we went in line for the Hagia Sofia. This was one of the most amazing places we have seen during our trip and I would go back anytime.
We then visited the Basilica Cisterns (where James Bond goes in ‘’From Russia with Love’’) and were built during the Byzantine Empire in the 6th century.
We then went to have a quick look at the famous Gran Bazar and the Hippodrome. Next on our list was the Galata Tower, where we met a man from Texas and had a nice talk while waiting in line. From the top of the towe, we could see almost all of Istanbul.
On our way back, we stopped at the harbour for a look at the fish market. I have to say that it is the best kinds of foods that I have had in my life. We also took the time and stopped at the most popular Baklava store in all of Istanbul. The place is called Karakoy Gulluoglu and it is in deed the best Baklava ever!
Once back at the hotel, we relaxed a little and then went out for Pidé later in the evening. Pidé is a form of ‘’Turkish pizza’’, but so much better than pizza. I could have this every day for the rest of my life. But, one thing that we hadn’t discovered yet was that this was a ‘’tourist version’’ of Pidé. The real treat was going to happen on a later day. We had a few beers on the rooftop of the hotel with our friends, planned the next day and went to bed.
Day 4 started with the sun shining and blue skies. The first we had since we had arrived. We got up very early in order to have breakfast and make it to the Blue Mosque.
On our way back, we walked through the garden (If I am not mistaking, it use to belong to one of the former Sultans from centuries ago) and eventually stopped for my first Turkish coffee. We then took the tramway across the river and eventually linked up with our friends at the Dolmabahçe Palace. Which was the main administrative center of the Ottoman Empire from 1887 to 1909. A quick read on this places history would definitely be time well spent. While we waited for our friends, I had some Simit. Which is a hybrid between a bagel and croissant (simply awesomeness).
After the tour, we took the ferry and went on the Asian side to visit the Market, still with our friends. Waiting for the ferry, we had awesome baed potatoes (I forget the real name).
The Asian side was beautiful and the people were also nice. As it was not a tourist part, we got to see how people really were. We went to a restaurant (I forget the name but it is another popular one for the locals) but the food puts it on the top of my list. One we got back to the room, we opened two more bottles of Champaign, talked with ours friends and went to bed.
On Day 6, we visited the ‘’Wall of Constantinople’’. It was built in the 4th century with limestone brick and protected agains the Avar siege of 626, first and second Arab sieges, Revolt of Thomas the Slav, Fourth Crusades, Second and final Ottoman siege (Wikipedia). It surrounds the city from one sea to the other. The read on its history is also a good one. And I do recommend taking the extra time to visit it if you ever are in Istanbul. You can even climb the wall and walk along some of the sections.
We also saw the ancient aqueduct system, old ruins and statues. The architecture in this part is stunning. Finally, we got to the ‘’original Pidé house’’. Where the Pidé was invented and was as original as Pidé could be. You will not find any tourists at this spot. It is not advertised and it is way out of the tourist zone in the Fatih district. Even the local seemed surprised to see tourists come in the door. So I made sure to leave a nice tip at the end. This is the Pidé I would eat every day that I have mentioned.
Coming back, we stopped at the Egyptian Bazar. We were a little disappointed as we expected it to be bigger and to have more merchandise. But it was nice to walk through. We then walked across the bridge to the other side of the river and went to the ‘’rainbow stairs’’ to take pictures. Walking back, we took the back alleys and went through a variety of European style shops in the ‘’higher end’’ part.
Before crossing over the bridge, we stopped and had a fish wrap. Needless to say, it was indeed by far the best wrap I have ever had. Most of the time, it’s in the sketchiest places that we found the best foods. This place is located right next to the bridge and river at the end of the fish market. They cook it on a BBQ and serve it with the freshest fish of the day and it was very cheap. Later on in the day, we went at a restaurant for Black Sea beans and met up with our friends to go see a Turkish dancer show…(worst decision of the trip). 4 guys dressed in white robes, spinning around for about an hour…that is all. Expensive beer, expensive food, bad music. Tourist trap.
On day 7, our friends had gone to visit the cisterns and the blue mosque. So we decided to wait for them and took the morning off. At around 1130hrs, we all went to the Grand Bazaar to buy gifts. We bought nice Kashmir scarfs (Sarah impressed me a lot with her negotiating skills). The shopkeeper told us to have a nice day and to never come back again, once the sale was done. There are a lot of things I would have loved to buy to decorate our house with. Everything was beautiful. What particularly caught our eye were golden leaves that a man would paint on and a 3850 Euro Quran (gold plated borders around every page, stunning).
On our way back, we had stopped at the first restaurant we had gone to. This is the place to go for Kebabs. It was just as awesome as the first time. The bread, chilli, salad, lentil soup and the kebabs were all to die for.
We had separated from our friends in the Grand Bazaar and had met up to walk to Taxim Square. This is the ‘’Art and higher end shops’’ alley. We stopped at a shop and bought some beautiful art (that we still haven’t put up in our house)...
Coming back down, we decided to take the metro that was running deep inside the mountain that we were on.
After going down about 50 sets of escalator flights, we finally got to the platforms. As we were rushing to get our train, both the caps of the tube for the art pieces popped off (just my luck). I shouted to Sarah to wait for me as I thought I wasn't going to make the train (because I had turned around to get the tube caps). Never leave men or kit behind. Then, I noticed that Sarah was already inside the train. I started to sprint towards the wagon, as I knew the doors would start closing on me at any second. As I was getting closer the doors did finally start closing. As I was getting closer, the door crack was getting smaller pretty fast. So I did that leap trick that they do in the movies to make sure they can fit in the cracks and not miss the train. And so my body slammed against the doors and off the train went with Sarah.
I was left on the train pad all alone with the art tube container and the two caps.
After running around a few stops, a few points and getting lost, I decided to go back at the Hotel room (in case that was also Sarah’s idea), only to find that Sarah was not there. I started to panic a little. I really did not like the feeling of Sarah being alone who knows where on the streets of Istanbul at night. I put my running shoes on and left to backtrack our night’s itinerary all the way to the subway station. As soon as I stepped out of the Hotel, I turned on my beast mode and booked it towards my first checkpoint (the bridge to crossover the river). As I got to the bridge, I fell face to face with Sarah. Such a relief after making sure she was ok. Right then and there, we elaborated and established a plan in case something like this ever happened.
After a few minutes of not talking, Sarah giggled because she thought I had no idea where she was and that I seemed like I was running into the city randomly. I replied that I didn't really know where I was going after the bridge, but I knew I wanted to get there fast and that I would of knocked down every single door in the city if I had to.
On day 7, we went back to Taksim square during the day and walked back down. We stopped at Ficcin restaurant (place in the wall of an alley) for Dumplings and Ficcini (kind of Turkish meat pie). By this time, it was snowing a lot. We took the ferry to go back on the Asian side to visit a little more and came back to the hotel, as there was a blizzard. I think it was Mother Nature’s way of telling us it was time to go back home.
Getting back, I saw that our travel agency had sent us an email stating that our flight had been changed without our approval. Whoever rebooked did not make sure that the connecting flight was also good to go. Our plane in Istanbul was now book for a departure at the same time as our connecting flight departure in Geneva. So we would have to spend a day and a half in Geneva (making us late for work by a day). After 10 hours of being yo-yoed around between being on hold with them and two different airlines, we finally were able to get on a flight that would bring us back home for the right date. Luckily, Sarah and I worked as a team and once she took over on the phone, I was able to go out and get us diner (late diner) with my buddy. Getting fresh air sure helped out to let a little steam out also. With the entire phone waiting, we went to bed later than anticipated.
Day 8. After sleeping for about two and a half hours, we woke up and got ready for our shuttle to the airport. We got dropped off at the airport and that is when we walked right into what I now call a fresh hell.
Getting in, there were no line-ups, no waiting anywhere, security was quick and there was no line-up at the check in desk. And that is where the fun started all over again. We ended up by explaining and fighting for another 5 hours to arrange it all. Turns out that the woman that had apparently fixed the situation for us the night before had not notified anyone or updated our flights…
After a 9-hour wait, we got on the plane and left. The ‘’inconvenience’’ in this was that we still had a 14-hour layover in Geneva. We went to the info desk at the Geneva airport, booked a hotel, got our luggage and took the train on over to downtown Geneva, which is a 6 minute walk from our hotel to the Old Geneva. We checked into our hotel and went for a walk in the old Geneva. It resembled a lot like le "vieux Québec" but a little nicer and the city in general was very clean. We walked over the river to see the mega water fountain but it had temporarily shut down. We saw different species of ducks and swans on the river, stopped at a chocolaterie and bought very nice Swiss chocolate, went on to a little Swiss restaurant and back to the room to finally get some sleep.
On day 9, we took the train back to airport in the early AM. Getting to the airport, we got our tickets and realized that the woman in Istanbul had upgraded our tickets to First class for the trans-atlantic flight. Business class, don't mind if we do! From the airport, we had an amazing view of the Alps. Sarah really wanted the isle seat so she could stretch out!!! But we had more that enough room to stretch while sitting down. And the seats could turn into beds!!!
If giving us the chance to see Geneva and giving us business class was our previous air company's way of saying sorry for the 10h wait on the phone and another 2h wait at the airport...apology very well accepted
The food menu was quite something also compared to the economy class. It varied from tenderloin beef to ricotta and parmesan-filled rolled pasta to executive dining! And the menu kept on going for another 4 pages. I think that the only downside is that Sarah and I could not finish our scrabble game on the plane, as there were no wi-Fi connections. I guess this is what you call "first-world problems"!
Also, the screen tv was too far to touch so there were remote controls for it. We flew over the peak of England and a part of Iceland (saw mountain peeks over the clouds). We definitely could of stayed in the plane for another day! (Food and service was awesome). Our meals included: warm nuts, salad with smoked salmon and warm bread, tenderloin steak and pasta, cheese plate and crackers, ice cream, biscotti, warm cookie, chips, and all the water and coffee we wanted. Sarah had 1 glass of the real deal Champaign.
We eventually got home, and were 1 day late for work. Luckily, we both had awesome and comprehensible bosses.
A little long of a read, but hopefully you enjoyed.
Until next time,