Ummm did anyone else see this…Zeppelin’s getting back together! Jason Bonham filling his father’s shoes! Could this be an unreal reunion tour or a mistake…
Lisbon blew me away. I didn’t really know what to expect heading down south to Portugal’s capital. I had heard mixed things from the past (Paul in fact had a pretty bizarre experience during his Lisbon trip two years ago involving a drugged out crazy who chased he and two of our friends down a crowded street in the middle of the day) and wasn’t sure how it would compare to where I was coming from in Northern Portugal. The city was not only extremely different from anything else in Portugal (this makes sense since it is the capital and draws the most diverse crowd) but also radically different from any other place on this trip or in neighboring Spain.
I arrived by bus and immediately met two nice Dutch travelers, Janika and Clemens, who I met at the Metro station. We shared a train ride to one of the central stations and decided to meet up later in the evening for some drinks and dinner. Clemens knew a local Lisbonite from the Netherlands, Jao, and he ended up showing us around the city and taking us to an authentic Lisbon restaurant. I’ve learned from previous cities that hole-in-the-wall restaurants without trilingual tourist menus, that are predominately occupied by locals are the places to be. I had a grilled squid dish that Jao recommended, accompanied by a local red wine.
Lisbon is larger and definitely more intricate and confusing than I had anticipated. To start, the city is built on a series of steep hills very similar to what I would imagine San Francisco is like (there are also trolley cars at every turn which furthers my comparison to San Fran). Since it is fairly far south and a port city the sun is brutal and mere 30-minute walk along the river will turn your neck lobster color if you’re not careful. This said, the city is full of beautiful sights at every turn and is a great place to wander and get lost. On a number of occasions I put the map away, headed north or south (hard to say), and hiked around till I either was truly lost or I hit a beautiful overlook of the city or river.
Since the Portuguese empire once had reaches all over the world, not just Brazil, the city of Lisbon is also one of the most diverse cities I’ve been to. Local Portuguese make up the majority, followed by immigrants from Brazil, Angola and other former colonies such as East Timor, Macau, Guinea, and Mozambique. I learned from Jao that for the most part the Portuguese welcome most immigrants from former colonies since they take many of the undesirable jobs, however, there is an overall contempt for the Roma (gypsies) coming from Eastern Europe via lackluster Spanish border. Since the recent Orange Revolution in the Ukraine there has also been a surge of Ukrainian immigrants coming to Lisbon, which, according to Jao, has raised fear and questioning from locals since unlike the other immigrants in the city Ukrainians often come educated and ultimately take the more desirable jobs. I am very interested in Diasporas and waves of migrations. It’s fascinating that of all the European countries Portugal becomes a Ukrainian hot spot or how in the Netherlands, hands down the most liberal country in the world there are large populations of Moroccans (a predominantly Muslim country hardly known for its liberalism) and finally take the city of Chicago, which at one point had more Poles than the Polish capital of Warsaw. Fascinating stuff.
Back to some sights. Lisbon’s highlights include its Praca de Comercio, which are the main gates of the city via the industrial ports (see below), the Lisbon Castle, the Torre de Belem (also seen below), and a replica of the Cristo-Rei (Christ the King) statue that is situated above Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.
One the third day I visited the Oceanario de Lisbon, which has the second largest aquarium in the world. Since it had been years since I had last been to the Shed Aquarium in Chicago this was a bit of a treat to see. The third night I ended up meeting with Jao, Janika and Clemens again for drinks at some of the bars on Lisbon’s main nightlife hot spot. In Lisbon it is very common for people to drink in the streets, rather than inside the actual bars. Basically at around 2-4a.m. the streets of certain neighborhoods are flooded with people holding plastic cups of beer or mixed drinks making the area one big bar. Very cool to see. For you Indiana grads imagine if Kirkwood had no limitations on taking beverages outside and everyone walked around the street with a drink in hand. Very cool experience overall and one that I probably wouldn’t have taken part in had I not met my new friends.
On the fourth day I took a daytrip to the mystical city of Sintra, which is about 45 minutes outside of Lisbon by train. The city is known for its Moorish castle, vast forest and national park range, and a majestic mansion estate constructed by a Portuguese millionaire that makes Michael Jackson’s neverland ranch seem like a local carnival. The area is also known for its heavy fog, which I got to see firsthand. Almost once every day the fog rolls in from the coast covering the forest and castles around Sintra. It’s a sight to see but also covers much of what there is to see. I met three Brazilian girls from Sao Paulo who had been studying in Southern Spain and were in Lisbon for the weekend. We ended up spending the whole day together, which was nice, and they definitely talked highly about Brazil putting the country on my current “Must See Before I Die List.”
The night I returned from Sintra I met up with Jao, Janika and Clemens once more before Janika and Clemens headed to Spain. We had a nice dinner (I had the Bacalao, which is salted codfish, a staple food item on the Iberian peninsula) and ended up walking around the city at night taking in the nocturnal scenery. The next day I had to switch hostels since the one I was at could only have me for three nights. I ended up finding one for the same place closer to the main part of the city (might I add the new hostel also had nicer rooms and free breakfast including fresh baked homemade bread, a first for my hostel experience!). During the day I headed to the Lisbon “suburb” neighborhood of Belem, which was a 20minute tram ride away from the center. Belem is home to the Torre de Belem, featured above in the photo but also has a great archaeology museum and is famous for the pastel de belem, a doughnut like pastry sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. Again, the Portuguese are suckers for pastries. Frankly I find most of them to be too sweet but still pretty tasty.
Later in the evening I met up with Pedro Dias, a local Lisbonite who Stephanie got me in touch with while we were in Turkey. Pedro is also a major player in the international Judo scene and is currently in the top 5 in Europe. I met Pedro in the Praca de comercio and we got something to eat and then went to a cool boardwalk area under one of the main bridges that is another youth hot spot. The bar was pretty cool since it was full of Portuguese, Brazilians and countless other people from other nations including some Eastern European countries. Again, a very cool experience that I would not have taken part in had I not met Pedro.
On my last day in Lisbon I took a daytrip to Evora, another city about an hour outside the city by bus. Evora is known mainly for its medieval bone church, a small church that is line with human bones on the inside. I had previously been to another far more fascinating bone chapel in Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic two years ago and was interested to see how this one compared. The church in the long run ended up being the least interesting part of the Evora, a city that was full of old cathedrals, beautiful plazas and squares, and a cool little castle. The city of Evora is also another UNESCO world heritage center because of the old medieval architecture, the roman temple ruins, and an aqueduct that bisects the city. Evora was a great final taste of Portugal, the country that I truly saw the most of this trip and truly blew me away.
The next day I caught a flight from Lisbon to Dublin where I had a night layover in the Dublin airport, which is actually a surprisingly nice airport to spend a night in. The area near the car rental places in the Eastern corner of the baggage level has a very comfortable bench to sleep on that is quiet and away from the busier parts of the airport. I’ll go more into this experience in my next entry, which will be a recap of the trip remembering the best parts. I will also finally be posting some photos from my trip!!!
Until next time…
Day 39, 40 & 41: Braga, Portugal + Day Trips to Guimaraes & Viana de Castelo
Braga was about a 2-hour bus ride from Santiago, located in the Northern part of Portugal. I chose the city kind of randomly but also because it served as a good hub for day trips around the area. The town itself is quite small but very beautiful with some fascinating history. I checked into yet another HI hostel, which was not only the best one I’ve stayed at but also super cheap (the room cost 9euro a night, which is quite cheap for Western Europe but still can’t compare to the budget dealings in the East).
Braga is a fairly medieval town with hints of gothic and baroque architecture all over the city. Sight seeing in the city took only one day but was well worth the hike. Going solo (which is quite nice since I can go at my own tower speeds and find myself venturing off the map as much as I can) I walked the perimeter of the city checking out a cool old cemetery and monastery, a large 12th century cathedral or Se, the Braga castle, and two baroque palaces. The most beautiful sight, however, lay above Braga in the hills overlooking the town and beautiful countryside surrounding it. The Bom Jesus do Monte Sanctuary (or Good Jesus at the mountain sanctuary) is a breathtaking neoclassical church built during the late 18th century above a towering antique staircase the weaves and winds its way 400 feet above the main landing (it should be noted that to reach the chapel a ride in the Braga funicular, which is the oldest in Europe, or a 40 minute steep hike is in order).
The hike was actually quite nice as it allowed for some great scenic photographs. At the end of the day I ate a small cheap dinner in the main park of Braga’s busy placa and watched a Portuguese battle of the bands, which featured four high school age rock groups duking it out for the title of Braga’s Best! The first band was very Radioheadesque mixed with bjork/pj harvey on account of the female lead singer’s unique voice (they were my favorite and ended up taking first place). The second was an impressive act but really nothing more than that. The band’s lead singer was the core of the group; a sick guitarist with a righteous rock voice, however, unfortunately the rest of the group was subpar. These guys played originals that were clearly reminiscent of AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, and blues rock groups like ZZ Top. Like I said, this group had great showmanship but weren’t entirely together musically. The third group was a horrible punk band that played songs in English that not only bashed America, but were on the verge of being dangerous with their blatant discontent with George Bush. Lines like “Hey Mr President, Fuck You!”, which quite frankly lacked any originality whatsoever, were amusing at first but then started to make me feel more isolated than I already was (it should also be noted that Braga is not a tourist hot spot and I seemed to be one of the only Americans in the town and was definitely the only one in the hostel). Still thanks to my trusty fuzz stache and bronze tan acquired in Croatia, I again was mistaken on a number of occasions as being Portuguese. I actually had a nice conversation in Spanglish with an old man on the park bench who thought I was local and then wanted to tell me about his mission work in Australia when I told him I was American and spoke English.
The second day I day tripped to the town of Viana do Castelo, which is a small charming seaport city on the coast of Portugal best known for its stunning castle, Castelo do Neiva, that is perched high above the city presenting hikers with the following view.
The climb to the top of this hill was more brutal than in Braga but was definitely worth the work. There is an actual plaque at the top of the hill with a quote from a random National Geographic photographer who listed Viana as having the most beautiful panoramic view on the planet. While I found that statement to be a bit exaggerated, the view was quite lovely. Viana’s other claim to fame is its distinct pastries which were doughnut like balls of dough, fried, filled with custard and covered in Cinnamon sugar. I have come to discover that Portuguese people love their pastries and there are in fact more pastelarias lining the streets of every Portuguese city than there are in Spain.
The third day I visited to Guimaraes, which is said to be the birthplace of the Portuguese nationality as Alfonso I, the first Portuguese king, was born here. The city is another example of medieval gothic flavor and is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight (this trip has allowed me to sample a fair amount of these cherished landmarks). The town itself is even smaller than Braga and Viana but has the same charm. The most significant sight is its medieval castle (shown below), which is now a cool museum of the city and allows visitors to walk the towering walls and towers, which overlook the city below. Like Santiago and other Spanish towns Guimaraes also has its share of al fresco cafes and small plazas at every turn. A cafe com leite (milk and coffee) should be savored and will run you about 1 euro.
The last night in Braga I walked around to see some more of the city at night. Most small Portuguese cities have strings of lights around and take great care to make sure major monuments and buildings are properly lit. At night these towns glow and are beautiful to sit and stare at for long periods of time. It should also be noted that on the last night a dalmatian dog followed me around for a good 15 minutes but would never let me touch him. He just trailed behind until finally he was reunited with his owner.
After Braga I ventured down to culturally rich Lisbon, Portugal’s capital where I have lots of stories to tell.
George Costanza: What is Holland?
Jerry Seinfeld: What do you mean, ‘what is it?’ It’s a
country right next to Belgium.
George: No, that’s the Netherlands.
Jerry: Holland *is* the Netherlands.
George: Then who are the Dutch?
It’s hard to tell where the Dutch prefer to be from, maybe they just don’t care. Our flight from Istanbul to Amsterdam was hands down the worst flight I have ever taken. To begin: We flew on a an extreme budget airline, Corendon, from the Asian Istanbul Airport, which was a hike, a boat ride and a bus away from our hostel. Our flight was originally scheduled for 11:59pm (not sure where they pulled that number from). A week before the flight we received a poorly constructed, fairly unprofessional email from the airline telling us that we would arrive in Amsterdam three hours later than originally projected. We were unclear whether this meant we were taking off later or magically adding 3 hours to the trip. Anything was possible. It turns out the flight was bumped up till 1 A.M then not till 2 a.m. Boarding was a debacle in itself since, like most Euro budget airlines there are no seat assignments, there was a rush of Turkish and Dutch travelers alike trying to get the best seat. I was amazed that I managed to snag the last bulkhead seat, which is pretty righteous considering budget airlines are also unforgiving to those with height. I was seated next to a cool guy from Morocco who had lived south of Amsterdam all his life. He and his girlfriend and two other friends had just taken a “holiday” to Istanbul but really they were there to take advantage of low-cost laser eye correction surgery. Probably not the place I would’ve chosen to let some doctors beam a high powered laser into both my pupils, but hey, the guy seemed okay, save the fact that every 10 minutes or so he sorted through ten different eye drops to “freshen his wound” as he said.
We waited for approximately an hour and half for the plane to, you guessed it, refuel. Refueling a plane while it is loaded with passengers is what the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration would call a big no no. Eventually we finally took off but then my friend with the dilated pupils next to me informed that this was not a direct flight by any means and that we would actually be stopping in the Turkish city of Bodrum, which if you look on the map below is in the other direction about 40 minutes or so. We landed in Bodrum, dropped off a couple people and picked up a couple more. Then we sat on the runway, again, for about 30-40 minutes before finally taking off for Amsterdam (strike two). A crazed woman 5 rows behind me at one point started off on a rampage of Turkish rants at a flight attendant. For a second I thought they would for sure have to remove her but then again, it was Corendon airlines so I guess that shit flies.
We landed in Amsterdam at around 9a.m. I had been able to sleep for the majority of the flight, which was pretty wicked on my part. Sam forgot to bring a fleece with him and as a result was freezing his ass off for the entire flight (Corendon also does not supply pillows or blankets). After taking a commuter train to the center of the city we headed to our hostel in the rain (strike three Istanbul to Amsterdam trek). Our hostel, Bob’s Youth Hostel, was located in a perfect spot for sight seeing and was conveniently situated near the infamous Red Light District, which I will discuss later.
Originally I debated even going to Amsterdam as I had more time to kill before heading to Spain and was interested in checking out either more of Eastern Turkey or going into Bulgaria, possibly meeting up with good old Janel who just started her two year Peace Corps stint in Bobov Dol, a small town in southwestern Bulgaria. Since flights from Istanbul to Amsterdam were cheap (I know now the reason for this) and since I figured it would be more fun to do Amsterdam with a friend than by myself we decided to head over.
As most of you know Holland or the Netherlands is one the most liberal countries in the world. To start, natural drugs such as magic mushrooms and weed are Kosher, as is prostitution and absinthe. The country also has a wonderfully tolerant attitude towards minorities, gays and lesbians and from what I hear they are eco friendly to top it off. As comedian David Cross once put it, “If the terrorists hate OUR freedom so much and 9-11 was a result of this as Bush will tell you then the Netherlands would be dust.” So as you can imagine a large portion of travelers to Amsterdam are there to dabble in the sticky-icky and oogle at the girls on display on the red light district.
Our hostel was full of wooked up hippies from across the globe, many of which had already started to blaze when we checked in at 10:30am (later that afternoon we returned to the hostel and found our room full of more passed out wooks). Sam needed a nap so I headed out to check out the Foam Photography Museum, which had a really cool exhibit by this Israeli photographer whose work was comprised of shots of random Israelis and Palestinians making goofy faces in front of the camera. His goal; to show unity between the two conflicted nations. You can check it out here http://www.foam.nl/index.php?pageId=9&tentoonId=118
After waking up Sam we explored the city a bit. Most people I talked to said that Amsterdam was a filthy city that was worth seeing for a couple day but after that you wanna get out. I actually didn’t find this to be true at all. While the city has a gritty, sleazy underbelly in the Red Light District, the rest of the city is actually quite nice. Similarly to Venice the majority of Amsterdam and the Netherlands in general, is under water. Amsterdam is a maze of canals and streams the weave around in almost perfectly linear patterns. The old part of the city is quite charming and despite what people told me I found the city to be fairly clean overall.
We also checked out the Rembrandt house and museum, which has a large collection of his sketches and etchings (very cool) and visited the Van Gough museum, which also has an impressive collection. The majority of the pieces were done during the last two years of his life (his madness years) when he painted roughly 200 paintings. He also I believe lost his ear during these years and later took his own life. It makes you wonder what the rest of his career would have been like if he hadn’t comitted suicide so early on. The self-taught painter went through a number of different styles and phases in his career and seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of someone like Picasso, another multi faceted genius.
Finally there is the Red Light District. This “district” is really one main drag with some smaller streets on its outskirts. A canal bisects the street in two and its about a 10 minute walk around or 40 minutes if you stop and stare along the way. The area got its name due to the fact that the stretch is red from the glowing aura of neon lights that line the street. The area is concentrated with sex shops, sex theaters, and brothels of all sorts. We spent a good hour walking around the whole area on our last night stopping to watch brave\creepy souls enter the establishments. Each time someone entered or exited there was a crowd of judgemental tourists outside waiting. Kind of unfortunate for the people who regularly take part in this sort of thing but then again, these people are creeps in my book. We stumbled upon a stoned dude from Colorado who was staring around like a kid in a candy store. We started talking and at one point he casually said, “yeah I’m not sure how this works.” I believe my response was, “I think you go up to the girl in the doorway and pay for sex.” Sam and I both agreed that the guy was for sure shopping around especially since he told us he was staying at the only hostel on the drag. I’ve never been to Las Vegas, which may be the U.S. version of Amsterdam, sans legal drugs, but I would imagine its a very similar experience. You know its wrong and dirty but yet you can’t take your eyes away.
The next morning we killed time before catching the train to the airport by exploring the city some more, checking out a number of cool parks and some monuments. On the way to the hostel we stopped at the red light district again to check it out during the day. Definitely not the same experience but still amusing to see. Like most businesses there is a night shift and a day shift on the red light district and the day shift is some kind of interesting.
In terms of food the Dutch, like the English, aren’t really known for the cuisine. The Moroccan fellow on the plane told me that the fries are really the only good thing in Amsterdam. He was correct. We went to the Amsterdam’s “Number 1 Chip Stand,” which had pretty damn good fries served with over 20 different kinds of toppings. I refuse to put mayonnaise on anything other than tuna so I opted for the surprisingly delicious curry sauce. Sam was lame and ordered ketchup.
All in all Amsterdam was a fun city to visit but I don’t know if I’ll be going back anytime soon. I’d much rather explore more of Holland, which people who I met told me is much nicer and still has the same liberal attitude. When I’m older and have some money to burn I think France and the rest of the Low Countries (Belgium, Netherlands) would be a cool trip.
We flew from Amsterdam to London Stanstead where Sam was to catch a return flight back to L.A. and I was headed to Santiago de Campostelo in Spain. Both our flights were the following morning, which meant we spent the night in the airport. Stanstead is a small cheap airline hub airport with not a lot to offer for the poor American backpacker. There was no way I was heading into London, which cost roughly 10 pounds or $20 to get to by bus one way, so we stuck it out in the airport. I found a nice nook behind a closed down coffee stand where I laid down some garbage bags I stole from a cart near the bathroom and proceeded to sleep on my backpack on the floor. Not my finest moment but was somehow able to get a couple hours in.
Sam and I parted ways the next morning. And then there was one.
Santiago, the mecca for European pilgrims, is up next.
Some thought it could never happen, others (like myself) were too afraid to see the outcome. Here is what I look like with facial hair.
I haven’t shaved since I started this trip, which is actually kind of pathetic since it’s obvious I really don’t have much facial hair. Still funny to look at and a hell of a lot easier than having to shave every other day!
Notice the rugged, light haired stache, combined with the erratic, yet dark hairs on my chinny chin chin.
Then there are the side burns which have officially stopped growing all together and only cover a very small portion of the cheek.
Also the wavy Warner hair piece is back in full force since I haven’t had a hair cut in a while and it’s fairly windy in Northern Spain.
Funny that all this time I haven’t once tried to upload images with my new Nikon digital camera and when I finally figure out how to do it this is all I can come up with.
the lowdown is I look creepy but it’s help me fit in some more. The other day I was mistaken for a Spaniard. Now I’m not saying that all Spaniards are fuzzy looking but apparently I pass as one. When I get back I’m shaving so cherish how ridiculous i look while you can.
Shit I just realized I can’t rotate these images. I’m useless with a PC.
Day 29, 30, 31, 32 & 33: Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul was the final city for our group. It would be the last city for Paul who returned to New York to start school, Steph went on to Italy and Sam and I flew to Amsterdam where we too eventually parted ways. While planning this trip Paul and I both agreed Istanbul would be the perfect closer to our trip. In terms of Europe it’s about as far east as one can go (the city is actually divided into the European and Asian side by way of the Bosphorus river). The city and culture was a complete 180 to everything prior, save of course Sarajevo and from what I had previously read/heard the city is supposed to be one of the most beautiful and unique places out there. This is not far from the truth.
Turkey is a country that is 99% Muslim, which right off the back made it a completely different experience for me. We flew in after a rocky flight from Sarajevo and caught a shuttle bus to our hostel. The Bauhaus hostel was located in an area near the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia that was littered with backpackers hostels, many of which were run by Aussies. In fact, of the tourists we met while in Istanbul the majority were either from the UK or Australia. To date, this was hands down the nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed in and the price was definitely righteous. Our room was a bit hot but by now stuffy rooms cease to annoy me. The hostel had a really cool rooftop bar/lounge area that had a cool view of the city and was a great place to unwind over a beer or hookah after a long day. Above all though the staff was absolutely great. The hostel was run by two Turkish brothers who were happy to answer any annoying tourist questions one might have, they offered very cheap cold water bottles (Istanbul was the one city that I dared not drink the water mainly since it became apparent early on that not even the locals drink the stuff, save when used in Turkish coffee/apple tea).
After dropping our bags at the hostel on the first day we went and got ourselves a Turkish coffee at a cafe outside the Blue Mosque. Turkish coffee is similar to European espresso style coffee, however, in Turkey they do not strain the grinds out so what your left with is a sludgy black liquid that is actually really good. Turks use a lot of sugar, which didn´t interest me that much, however, the coffee itself was very tasty. After this we headed straight to the famous and gigantic Blue Mosque (see below), our first sight of the trip.
The Blue Mosque, or Sultan Ahmed’s Mosque as it’s formally referred to, is unique for its use of ornate blue tiles lining the interior and its 6 towering minarets, the most of any Mosque in the world, with the exception of one other in Turkey and the Ka’aba in Mecca, which has seven. The story behind the minarets is when the Istanbul Blue Mosque was built Sultan Ahmed was criticized for his grandiose choice of building six minarets since the only other mosque at the time with six was in Mecca. His response was to complete construction and pay for a seventh minaret to be built at the Ka’aba.
The Blue mosque is one of hundreds of equally fascinating mosques in Istanbul, but is definitely the main tourists hot spot, which was a bit of a let down since I couldn’t help but feel like we were intruding on the people who were actually there to pray. At the same time this, along with several other stand out mosques in the city, were some of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen. On a number of a occasions we sat in a mosque for up to 30-40 minutes just soaking in the beauty and grandeur. On the second to last day we couldn’t resist revisiting the Blue Mosque for one last peek.
Another major sight, which I was apparently the only one to appreciate, was the Hagia Sophia. Once a major Cathedral built in the 6th century (it was the world’s biggest until the 16th century when the catedral in Seville was constructed) the building is now a museum but is really noteworthy for its architecture and incredible dome.
The Grand Bazaar is another famous landmark in Istanbul. The massive indoor/outdoor market is a maze of more than 58 streets and 4,000 shops, that used to be a place to trade and buy goods such as leather, jewelery, fabric etc but now is nothing more than a depot for cheap knock off items and touristy chotchkies. In all fairness there are some cool shops with Turkish rugs and silk fabric, however, in the grand scheme of things we were all a bit disappointed. I did buy some goods from one small shop we stumbled upon on a tiny backstreet. The owner was extremely courteous and patient with us and when our transaction was finished he invited us into the back room to enjoy some orange tea and talk. It was a very cool experience. He was more than happy to tell us about his country and some of the other cool places that we should visit some day. Turks love tea favoring a sweet apple cider like tea and orange tea, which is what we were served. Again it was sweet enough but still came with two sugar cubes on the side. Turks really do like sugar.
We were fair more partial to the Egyptian Spice Market, which was smaller than the grand bazaar but far more interesting. The streets of this covered market were loaded with barrels and racks of spices, herbs, teas, Turkish delight candies, fresh fish, heaps of saffron, nuts, cheeses, olives (soooo many delicious looking olives), and much more. We spent a great deal of time just strolling around the maze of smells and sights and on many occasions were able to taste items. At the end of the visit we each had bought some tea (I opted for a bag of orange and something called “love tea,” which the shop owner said “would make girl go crazy.”
The spice market was located off the harbor, which was also a cool epicurious sight to see. There were countless fishermen with lines off the pier, little stands selling fish sandwiches (not as good as they looked) and standing merchants selling fresh mussels served in the shell, stuffed with rice and drizzled with lemon. Two for 1 Turkish lira. They were pretty wicked although I’m still not quite sure how the rice was stuffed inside the mussel since the guy had to pry open each shell before consumption. Very cool.
The following night we returned to the harbor to catch a boat down the Bosphorus, which was very pretty and showed just how big and vast Istanbul actually is (most sights and areas of interest lie on the European side whereas the majority of Turks live on the Asian side).
While there is so much more to write about like playing backgammon at a nargila bar, getting lost on the Asian side of Istanbul, taking part in an old, traditional Turkish Bath (which was an interesting experience I must say), and many others, I will leave you with images and descriptions of probably the prettiest sight in the city.
The Basilica Cistern, (seen in the photo above) is the largest cistern in Istanbul (one of hundreds that supposedly still lie beneath the cities surface)and is one of the most beautiful and enchanting things to set eyes on. Used as a way to save and preserve water for a city these former Constantinople era cisterns have large pillars, shallow pools and in the case of this particular one some odd statues. Towards the back of the elaborate underground cave like pool are two stone heads of Medusa, which still puzzle historians as to how and why they ended up in the cistern. The darkly lit area was also used in the Bond flick “From Russia with Love,” although I really can’t remember the scene. Still, a wicked sight and definitely one of the highlights.
So like I said there is so much more I could write about and quite frankly when this trip is over and I write some reflections I’m sure I’ll add some more. Istanbul was like I said the city where we said goodbye to Paul and later Steph. Sam and I still had Amsterdam ahead of us (which I will go into next time) but since Paul and I had started from the beginning back in Dublin it meant an end to the a big chunk of the trip.
Until next time, keep on keeping on