On day two in Istanbul, Amie and I wanted to go to the Grand Bazaar, eat fish sandwiches under the Galata Bridge, and drink Turkish tea. We also wanted to get drunk, which turned out to be easier said than done. But let’s go in chronological order, and start with a wander through what Amie and I like to refer to as ‘the pajama district’. While looking for the Grand Bazaar, we ended up in a not-so-grand area, where there were endless streets of sleepwear and lingerie shops.We were the only women in the neighborhood and admittedly a bit lost. We continued to wind past slippers and silk robes, before finally stumbling upon the gargantuan mouth of the Grand Bazaar. Super touristy, but also quite amazing, the Grand Bazaar is a sight to behold. The ceilings are hight and ornate, colored in beautiful detail. The market itself is endless, with tunnels that weave every which way. As you wind through the bazaar, shop keepers call out to you, enticing you into a bargain, requesting that you stop to admire their goods.At the Grand Bazaar, noting has a price, and everything can be haggled for. Amie and I started out a bit naïve . . . I spent 27 lira (about €10) on a plain black cashmere scarf, and then walked around for 30 minutes feeling utterly ripped off. But as the day wore on our bargaining skills got better and better. And by the end of the day, we managed to swindle two beautiful pashmina scarfs for only 30 lira. In addition to scarves and textiles, the bazaar houses jewelry, souvenirs, lamps, robes, pots, pans, pipes, soaps, fans . . . the list goes on. It’s a bit overwhelming, but a not-to-miss attraction in Istanbul. It’s great on a rainy day, as the market is covered from the elements. Go with a full wallet and be prepared to argue a bit over the price. If the shopkeeper wont budge on price, walk away. He will either chase you down with a deal, or you will stumble across an identical item five minutes later. After picking up gifts at the Grand Bazaar, we headed towards the Basilica Cistern for some deep, dark history.
The basilica is a beautiful underground cavern, built between the 3rd and 4th centuries, during the Early Roman Age. The cistern provided a water filtration system for the Great Palace of Constantinople, and later Topkapi Palace, after the Ottoman conquest in 1453.v v We took a lot of photos but most of them came out blurry due to the beautiful, but dim, lighting :(Located in the northwest corner of the cistern are two stone carvings of Medusa. It’s thought that the heads were brought to the cistern after being removed from a building of the late Roman period. Today they help support the structure, sitting underneath two large pillars. After our visit to the Basilica Cistern, it was time for lunch. We wandered past restaurants where bakers rolled fresh dough in the windows, and some amazing looking pastry shops. We resisted temptation, as a friend has strongly recommended we enjoy a fish sandwich under the Galata Bridge. However, before we could reach the bridge, we had to cross inside a large, underground passage. . . which was swarming with hundreds of people and incredibly . . . overwhelming.Once we emerged on the other side, we were rewarded with some beautiful views. We weren’t quite sure where to find the must-try fish sandwiches, so we followed the crowd and were slowly pushed towards two colorful floating boats.A slew of men reeling up fish from the bridge assured us we were headed in the right direction.And then we could see it, and could most definitely smell it – fry chefs working frantically aboard large, rocking boats, flipping grilled white fish right and left, scooping perfectly crips fliets onto large, bulky bread rolls.Intimidated and unsure of what to order, we again followed the crowd, weaving under a large canopy where hundreds of people sat on small stools, hunched over even smaller tables, squirting lemon juice and sprinkling salt on fresh fish sandwiches. We ordered our share, and 12 lira later were the proud owners of two large fish buns.We hunted down a small table, and dug into our lunch with the masses.Applying the obligatory lemon and salt, of course :)After fish sandwiches, next on the list was Turkish tea.We started our tea adventure back at the spice bazar, where we loaded up on tea for friends at home, before stopping at a small corner cafe where we could drink some authentic Turkish tea of our own.
Fast forward a few hours, and it was time to find a slightly stronger drink. A friend had recommended a visit to Sensus Galata, a lovely wine bar tucked underneath an otherwise swarming street, but as it was raining, we decided to start out with a cool glass of vino in the hotel room while we waited for the rain to pass. We asked the concierge at the hotel where we could pick up a bottle of wine in the neighborhood, but they had absolutely no idea. We then walked to six or seven cafes, all of which served ‘drinks’ but none of which had the alcoholic kind. Irritated, we committed to walking to Sensus in the rain.Which was a wet but beautiful decision.Thirty minutes later we climbed down into Sensus, where we promptly peeled off our wet jackets and ordered a bottle of wine.The atmosphere at Sensus is cozy and warm. It’s an intimate meet-up spot, where every table is towered by high walls of wine and illuminated with candlelight.If you visit on a weekend night, I strongly suggest making a reservation. Sensus is intimate but buzzing; you don’t have to shout, but the space is crowded enough that you can have a private conversation without your neighbors hearing. The perfect kind of party, if you ask me.After a bottle of wine and a local Turkish cheese platter, Aims and I hit the streets in search of more fun. . . . which we found in the form of six shots and one beer for the low cost of 10 lira.My poor camera took a beating as the night got blurry and the dance party begun. But I will leave you with this final photo gem of Amie making friends with two of the most brilliant moustache men I have ever met.xo Ali