Calls to prayer, harbour traffic, crowds of people, wafts of apple tobacco and fresh bread. After a four-hour real life commute last night, it’s an indescribable feeling to arrive in Istanbul in the twinkling of an eye. With so much we wanted to cram into today’s visit, Leroy was resigned to a cold, early start and me to a late finish.
After a traditional Turkish breakfast of cheese, olives and boiled eggs, we wandered through Sultanahmet, trying to orient ourselves in the old city before other things opened. Later we visited the magnificent Aya Sofya, probably Istanbul’s most famous landmark and somewhere I’ve wanted to see since we studied it in Year 11 art class. Now a museum, it was just as incredible as I’d hoped. Locals told us we should also visit Topkapi Palace, home to generations of sultans and their harems, but we didn’t really have time.
Near the iconic double-decker Galata Bridge – restaurants on the lower level, pedestrians, simit-sellers and amateur fisherfolk on the upper – is a place I insisted we visit, despite promising Leroy I wouldn’t buy anything. Mīsīr Çarsīsī, or Egyptian Bazaar, is a 17th century covered spice market and most of you probably know about my obsession with spices. Piles and piles of beautifully arranged spices, nuts and sweets just awaiting their new owners. Leroy relented and bought me some sumac and urfa pepper as a souvenir.
We crossed the Golden Horn on foot via the Galata Bridge and headed into the slightly less tourist infested streets of Beyoğlu, home of the Empire Project, a fantastic contemporary gallery that focuses on art from the region. For the rest of the day we’re just going to wander, perhaps catch a ferry, visit some artist studios or see the whirling dervishes in action. Leroy is adamant that we need to have dinner on a rooftop restaurant, despite the fact that it will be around 3 degrees. They’ll have braziers, he says.
Apparently Elijah Wood (yes, ‘Frodo’) is playing in some kind of two-man band at Babylon Bomonti tonight, so we might go out of curiosity alone.