Monday, April 16, 2012

4/12/12: Now It's Istanbul, Not Constantinople: Turkey Day 2

Inside the Basilica Cistern 
After a very, very busy day 1 in Istanbul, and following a perfectly decent night sleep, it was time to consult our list of "must see" places and plan out our day two in the bustling city. Since we wanted to start out with attractions close to where we were staying we decided that our first stop of day two would be to see the famous Basilica Cistern in Istanbul. Cistern's are, for those of you who don't know, waterproof receptacles for holding liquids, usually water, and they are often built to catch and store rainwater. The Basilica Cistern is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie beneath the city of Istanbul. The entrance to the cistern was a very small, plain building that gave me the impression we were not going to be seeing anything too large or profound... Well, that building is proof that first impressions can be dramatically wrong. 

Upon entering the little building we were led to stairs that took us deep underground the busy streets of Istanbul. As we travelled down lower and lower I started noticing water dripping from the ceilings, and upon turning the corner I was standing in a HUGE enclosure with pillar upon pillar framing what looked like rivers flowing underground. The lighting in the room was dim and seemingly non existent in places, and I felt very much like I was on the set of a scene from either the movie Tomb Raiders or Indiana Jones. The size of the cistern is what surprised me the most; it was absolutely gigantic and quite a site to see. Susanna and I wondered if in a couple hundred years people would be touring our water systems like we were doing there... an interesting question to ponder while your walking underground in a cistern. 

When we were finished in the cistern we grabbed a quick bite to eat and headed off down the road to see the famous Grand Bazaar and Egyptian Spice Bazaar. I was probably most excited for this until I realized that most of what they were selling could be found in the Arab shuks of Israel :-). I will say one thing, the sheer size of the Grand Bazaar was something to see in itself. Not only was it enormous, but it was so clean!!!! I really can't say enough times how clean this city was. After living in Israel, and prancing around the Arab shuks of Jerusalem, I could have eaten off of the floors of Istanbul's Grand Baazar. Not wanting to deal with heckling shop owners who's sole purpose in life is to rip off tourists by selling them things they could easily buy online for half the price, we decided to do a quick walk through of the Grand Bazzar which led us right to the much smaller, but infinitely more interesting, Spice Bazaar. 

I really wish I could even begin to describe the smell of the Spice Bazaar, but no amount of words could do the experience justice. The scents of everything from Curry to spiced teas to saffron filled the air with a thick beauty that made me feel like I was standing in the midst of my beloved Arab shuk. Any spice you could imagine they produced and sold and I suddenly wished I wasn't too lazy to cook :-) Along with every spice imaginable, they also had every kind of tea imaginable, from the traditional Green Tea, to the famed fruit teas of Turkey, and they even had "viagra tea" and "love tea". The man selling these didn't have to get to explicit with his explanation of these... We got the point. I had a very strong urge to buy the viagra tea as a gag gift for my 4 male roommates but I decided against it for rather obvious reasons... After a little shopping and a lot of Turkish delight sampling, Susanna decided to buy some spices, and then we were off to the next activity of the day! 

Not wanting to miss a single thing we decided that this was the perfect day to see to Topkapi Palace, which, conveniently, was located very close to our hostel. On our way to the palace we noticed a very cute little outdoor area that led to a public library where were were able to see hundreds of books written about Turkey in every language imaginable. The day was so nice that we decided to spend a little time outdoors before venturing up to the palace. 

The Topkapi Palace was a palace that housed the Sultans of Turkey for almost 400 years, and currently housed in the museum was everything from precious jewels to Ottoman weaponry. To say the Palace was a place fit for kings would be an understatement... It was a place fit for the gods! Unfortunately in many of the rooms photography wasn't allowed but I can tell you that my favorite things to see were the jewels; rubies, sapphires, diamonds, and emeralds galore! The palace housed beautiful pieces, and it was amazing walking through and seeing all of the many treasures enjoyed by past Sultans. 

Inscription on the entrance to the Palace 

When we had ventured into all of the many rooms it was time to take one last look around and then head out to dinner. It was getting late, we had had yet another very full day, and a relaxing meal followed by hookah and hot chocolate were just what we needed. All in all it was another extremely successful day in Istanbul filled with great adventures and wonderful memories! 

Days 3 and 4 will be up soon :-) And you don't want to miss the post about the Hammas! 

Until we meet again <3,
Jordana Simone 

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