After a fantastic stay in Safranbolu Ottoman town, we headed toward Istanbul.
But the car needed a mechanic – again. It has a loud noise in the front wheel. We had already had a service in Kalkan. There the mechanic promised us he had attended to all on the list. The next day, we had discovered the rear brake shoes were completely worn out and it was metal on metal, so we came back. So after getting those fixed, I thought it was all complete. Alas, when we hit the snow, we had to buy new wipers, snow chains, and anti-freeze for the wipers – more money again.
Now today, here we sit, waiting for this time the front brakes to be attended to and machined.
By the time we reach the main bridge of Istanbul it is peak hour. And we knew never to cross the bridge at peak hour. I was all prepared, and we had been to the bathroom at a service station earlier. We have been caught in traffic before.
The GPS is loaded with the hotel address, and we know it is in the Europe side of the old city, between the Egyptian Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar. But we didn’t realise most of the streets are blocked off until 6:00 pm with an electric barricade where the posts only auto-retract after this time.
So the GPS takes us down a brick lane way, and I think ‘yay, this must lead to the hotel’. Soon we are twisting and turning and we find the lane ways filled with shoppers. The crowd grows thicker, and as it is mainly one way, we get deeper and deeper into a mess. Soon there are crowds everywhere. Not since a James Bond movie, has anyone driven in the Bazaar !
Locals all tell us different ways to go. Clearly no-one knows.
Then out of no-where, an part English speaking Turk appears, and helps us to back up and perform a U-turn at a tiny T-junction. He then walks in front of the car, guiding us with which way to go. Next he is running. This goes on for about 20 minutes. We hit a barricade area, and he takes off and tells us to wait.
We wait 20 minutes and he re-appears. He has been to the hotel and worked out how to get there.
The barricades go down, and we allow him to get in the car, and Explorason sits on his lap in the front. Don’t worry – we are not in the habit of collecting strangers, and my purse is well hidden, but what choice do we have? Certainly not to continue to get lost.
He then tries to take us down some streets, but they are ripping the pavers up. He then spent one hour guiding us around trams and lane ways and finally we appear in front of the hotel. It is a street with no stopping. The staff appear like magic.
I turn around and this man has gone. I felt like he had been our guiding angel.
We arrive at the Sirkeci Mansion Hotel, and I have never enjoyed a welcome drink so much !
I cannot believe that we drove our car through the Bazaar in Istanbul !!!!!
That night we went for a walk as we were right by the city wall. We walked and walked. I had felt so trapped in the car, I just needed air. We settled on a light salad dinner, and headed back to the hotel.
Next day we really couldn’t face the city crowd. We ended up going to the mall and looking at a few Christmas decorations, but this made us feel flat. We were not in the Christmas spirit. No Christmas music, and Turkey is a Muslim country. It just wasn’t happening. So we headed out on the street knowing it was time to do some Random Acts of Kindness. We had some spare clothes, so the first items was a nice warm unisex jacket of Explorason’s that went to a girl his size. Then we gave out some food. We felt better, and I wish we had more items with us. Later we found a lady and she got a couple of my tops. With giving there is no point to give what won’t fit someone, or be of their cultural use.
We headed back to near our hotel for some Gozleme – a Traditional filled crepe. We had a great time there. The mamma had some pics with Explorason, and the staff helped him drew up in some traditional clothes for fun.
The very next day we decide to go shopping at the Grand Bazaar.
I have been given some Christmas money, so I am going to buy a Turkish lamp. We arrive at the Grand Bazaar by tram right no 12 noon. Little do we know this is the main time of the week for Muslim prayer. They are all shutting shop and heading to the mosque.
So we head to MacDonald’s for lunch. It takes 3 times to get the order right. Poor staff. It is tough for them as Explorason doesn’t like the sauces and mayonnaise, so to order a special meal there is a language barrier. It gets frustrating. I don’t think we have had many right from Burger King or MacDonald’s to date, and a good reason for us to avoid them. I’m not a fan, but Explorason is.
So back across in the rain to the Grand Bazaar we go again. It is a myriad of colour.
We go to about 20 sellers. We think we have a strategy, but we lose the first guy. His prices were the best. He was polite, and I liked what he sold. Most Turkish lamps are now made in China and India. We have had a lesson in what to look for. The overseas ones use silicone, and also a lot of love beads. To find the real Turkish lamps, they have few love beads, and mainly cut glass mosaic – in a pattern. In the end I let Explorason pic one with a start pattern and it is pretty big and bright. I forget to take photo but it is about 30-40 cm across the centre and weighs a good 3 kg.
That afternoon we have a cooking class back at the hotel, and then it is eating what we made – so fun !
On Day 3 we decide it is time to be Explorers.
We go to the underground Yerebatan Sarayı Basilica Cisterns built in the Roman era of 600 AD.
These walls are up to 4 metres thick. There are fish now in the water. Also we learn about the Medusa and the mythology here. You can even see carved heads in the pillars. One is upside-down, and the other is sideways.
Here we have fun, and dress as traditional Turks. I am told by my friend that I cover my lips, as it was a requirement for the woman. Her lips are solely for the husband’s desire, and not for others. I have no idea if this is true.
We come back to the hotel for a light snack. Only because we have a bag of things to give out to the poor, and we can’t find any. And the bag rips. So back we go. We carry it out in the afternoon again, but there are no beggars out today we can find.
We go to The Topkapı Palace but it is 4:00 pm and too late, so we then head to the Egyptian spice market. This is crazy busy.
We manage to find one beggar lady and she gets some clothes.
We head to the bazaar, and lots of men touch Explorason’s hair and ruffle it. He hates that. He has been getting it here a lot. In the tram, and on the streets. Soon the crowd is so thick and I am getting worn out trying to hold him securely; my handbag, and the bag of give-aways for the poor. I don’t care if anyone steals that!
We get out and it is dark and walk back to the Sirkeci Mansion Hotel. It is nice to sit and have a pizza in a back street that isn’t so touristy, and the prices are lower.
The next day we move hotels. So it is back to this hotel for a swim and a Turkish bath.
We will continue our second part of Istanbul in our next blog with loads of fun things to see and do for kids.
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