Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Istanbul: Summer Holiday 2009

So, Istanbul was one of those "if you visit Greece, you should visit Turkey since they're so close" destinations. The cuisine of each country overlaps, but culturally, they are worlds apart. Note: The images in this post link to my Picasa photo album with all trip photos.

Although Turkey is secular, the majority of the country is Muslim. In fact, this is the first Muslim country I have visited. As such, TJ and I made a point to visit as many mosques as we could. Of course we visited the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) and Hagia Sophia. Any self-respecting tourist has to see these two gems. But, see for yourself: the architecture and atmosphere of mosques is mysteriously beautiful.

It wasn't a mosque-centric adventure. We did go out and about and experience some of the nightlife in Istanbul. Two of TJ's colleagues, Johan and Cânâ, showed us around town and ensured we got a taste of the high life.

I'm dressed up a bit more than my usual vacation wear (shorts and t-shirt) for our dinner at Suada Club. Suada is a manmade island that sits just offshore in the Bosphorus River. You take a little ferry boat out to the club. In addition to Suada, we had dinner at Joke Perestroyka, Istanbul's current "it" restaurant, and drinks with the jet set at Anjelique. A mini-tour of these clubs is provided in the video below:

But, it wasn't all fancy clubs either. No, we got right into the thick of things at the bazaars. The Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar to be exact. While TJ did not care for haggling, I could have walked around those bazaars for hours.

And I practically did trying to find the right pair of Björn Borg underwear. That was my big purchase at the bazaars! I even convinced TJ to buy two pairs. Mainly since, I was able to negotiate the price down on the premise that I'd buy four pairs. TJ has long resisted the move to European-style underwear. Whereas I have embraced it. Is this TMI? But seriously, this underwear is over $30/pair here in Sweden!!! And I got my (probably fake) Björn Borg underwear for ~$6/pair. Damn, I'm a good negotiator. I tend to fight for those things that interest me. And commando-pattern underwear interests me. Ooops, TMI again.

I also bought some Turkish Delight. Um, the confection. They sold all kinds in all sizes. The blocks of Turkish Delight were huge in some cases. I preferred the bite-size pieces. With less nuts. Okay, all sugar. But, I did try some chocked with pistachio nuts.

And baklava. Did I mention baklava?

Honey and nuts never tasted so good together. We even visited a store that had ISO 9000-approved baklava. Tastes great and manufactured adhering to quality standards. The perfect combination.

I also went with Johan to a Turkish Bath and got the scrub, massage and wash treatment. It was a smaller bath, not one of the the big tourist draws. I was a bit apprehensive about being man-handled during the massage. I had read that they could be quite forceful. And, my back is a bit delicate. But, our big, sweaty, and hairy Turkish masseur didn't get too rough. How's that for a visual? It was so relaxing that I could have gone again the next day had I had the time.

But, there's never enough time to see and do everything that you want on vacation. You just have to enjoy the delights that you do get. For more photos of our trip to Istanbul, click here.

Lastly, I leave you with a tour of the Basilica Cistern and one of the many building in Topkapi Palace. The Cistern, dating from the 6th century, is the largest cistern beneath Istanbul.

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