We managed to get up in time for breakfast at the hotel this morning. There were breads and cheeses and eggs and waffles – I’m not sure how authentically Turkish the selection was, but all the food was really good, so I can’t complain. The hotel is right on the Marmara sea, so Jeff and I got to enjoy our breakfast on our patio, watching the boats go by.
We started the day by seeing the Aya Sofia, which is a church built in 537 AD by the Roman Emperor Justinian. That probably makes it one of the oldest buildings I’ve ever been in, since even the amazingly old Cathedrals in England were usually built after 1000 AD. It was turned into a mosque when the Ottomans took over, and then turned into a museum by Ataturk in 1935, so its history seems to parallel Turkish history fairly well.
The next stop was the Blue Mosque, which is also one of the most well known, and most beautiful buildings in Istanbul. It’s still an operating mosque, though, so we had to hurry to be out before the noon prayer.
From there, we made our way back to the grand bazaar and the spice bazaar. It’s a bit chaotic, and everyone wants to talk you into taking a closer look at their booth, but the only thing we ended up buying was a little Christmas ornament and a pair of earrings.
The spice bazaar is very close to the Galata Bridge, which spans over the “Golden Horn” – the waterway on the European side of Istanbul (the nearby Bosphorus Straight is the waterway that separates Europe and Asia). We walked across the bridge, and feeling very hungry and not up to a hike, we bought a ticket to the funicular to take us up the hill. The funicular was actually the 2nd underground railway in the world (after London). The funicular dropped us off on Istiklal Caddesi, the main walking street in the newer part of Istanbul. We quickly found a cute little café for lunch.
After lunch, we were energized, and walked the entire length of Istiklal Caddesi and then continued into the Taksim Square and the park behind it. I wasn’t a big fan of the park though, because it was hard to navigate, and we kept seeming to go downhill (which meant a big walk uphill a little later), so we headed back to explore some of the lively alleys around Istiklal.
After meandering, we found the restaurant where Jeff had made a reservation – and it was lucky he did, because all of the tables sitting out on the side-street (I don’t think there were any tables at all inside) were covered with ‘reserved’ markers. The restaurant is called Antiochia, and it’s famous for having food from the town of Antakya, which is a unique take on Turkish cuisine. The waiter basically ordered for us – telling us to choose the meze plate (which samples all seven appetizer dips) and share the kebab and a durum (sandwich). (It seemed like he did the same for everyone else, because everyone seemed to have the same things). All of the food was really great. I think Jeff and I may not be knowledgeable enough about Turkish food to really appreciate the subtle spice differences between standard Turkish food and the food at Antiochia, but we really loved everything we tried, which is really the main goal, anyway. We even had their dessert – which was icecream with candied walnuts and eggplant, and was much better than it sounds.
After dinner, we walked down the black to the Hotel Marmara Pera. This restaurant houses one of the nicest restaurants in the city – Mikla. On its roof is the bar accompanying this restaurant. The view from the roof was amazing. And our timing was perfect – we saw the whole city in the day, then saw the stone buildings turn golden as the sun set, and finally saw lights flickering on as darkness set in. Jeff and I drank Turkish wine, and the bar provides cherries and some other small, green fruit we didn’t recognize as snacks.
As our last drink, we shared a glass of Turkish champagne (it’s our official honeymoon drink!), and enjoyed some olives. Sitting on this elegant rooftop bar, drinking champagne, and watching all of Istanbul laid out in front of us, was probably the most romantic moment of our time in Istanbul.