Monday, April 2, 2012

Turkiye 2012, Part 2: Sofia to Galata

Shisha stop.
I really need to keep working on this travelogue series before I forget about everything that happened during my trip to Turkey, or I'll be forced to concoct some random, amusing, nonsense to compensate. As it is I feel it slipping away already... so without further ado, here's Part 2 of this series, which covers my second day in Istanbul. (Warning: Image Heavy Post)
What a poser.
After our buffet breakfast- a reasonably good spread of various breads, cereals, meat, egg, yogurt, and whatnot, and without much time to spare, we headed out in a rush towards one of Istanbul's icons- the Hagia... hold on a minute. Even if my memory, at least I still have logic to back me up- we didn't have any Lira (with the exception of the pitiful sum I had), and went in search of a money changer, pausing to take photos of the ridiculously healthy looking feline population on the way.
Door to Wisdom (Sofia)
Here it is- the first real stop of the day, the Hagia Sophia. It doesn't really look like much from the outside, though it still is a vast improvement over the original- which burned down, I believe. The one standing today is the third incarnation of the former Christian church- though the inside looks rather... odd, as you'll soon see.
Not much left of the 2nd. But still more than the 1st.
There's some bits of the second structure left lying around the grounds- it was razed during one of the crusades, I think? Then again it doesn't make much sense for Crusaders to destroy a church. Go read the wiki on it and enlighten yourself.
I feel long. And vaguely Beatlish.
Had some time to kill while waiting for the Artist to leave the loo, and took some pictures with the aforementioned ruins. I'm not sure if we're allowed to sit on them, being archaeological pieces and all that- but hey, I didn't hear any beefy guard screaming at me to get off.
Out of place.
Here's what I was talking about. It looks nice enough for a building that was built to be a grand church, and still would be, if not for all those Arabic words/letters. That I don't know how to read them is irrelevant- they just seem out of place, and not because the place was formerly a church, but because it's not a mosque nor is it being used as a mosque- what's the point? Simply put, it's medieval graffiti. Classy historical graffiti, I suppose, but graffiti nonetheless.
After us, this became a craze and the management took to placing ticket counters beneath the chandeliers. Until the day when one fell and crushed a group of candle craftsmen. I made that all up, in case you haven't realized yet. Even if it's a former church, most of the people visiting it just seemed rather... shy.
Jump. I dare you.
Soon after exiting the Sofia we were captured by a travel agent, where we wasted some time (well wasted, admittedly) planning our itinerary for Cappadocia. We wandered over next door to a pottery store- apparently the only one in Istanbul certified for not its zero-lead content, so you can actually eat of the plates instead of just looking at them. True or not, I'd never find out, as we grunted appreciatively and shuddered inwardly at the prices.
Art isn't always a reflection of reality...
They also had some paintings, though I can assure you that reality is nothing like the one above- even in  the hamams (Turkish Baths), the staff are fully clothed at all times. I didn't go into the women's section, for obvious reasons, but I'm pretty sure it's the same story.
Show off.
Turkish ice cream for everyone after exiting the pottery store. Turkish ice cream sellers turn the simple act of selling flavored cow juice into a big show. This guy here even managed to make the ice cream 'disappear'- and occasionally pull off ridiculous stunts like scooping out an entire block of ice cream to give to a kid.
...and yes, we had ice cream in the middle of winter.
Doesn't look like much, no?
 Lunch at a small kebab joint a few doors away (funny how much activity we concentrated in a small area). If at first it doesn't look like much (well, it doesn't, really), try not to blow up in disappointment...
Pretty mess.
...because here's what came next. A plate of yogurt, veggies, and whatnot toppings for the otherwise drab looking kebab. Here's how you eat it- lace your kebab with topping of choice, bite, chew, swallow. Repeat till your kebab is gone, and it is highly likely that by that time you'll still have a rather crowded plate. What to do? Order another kebab! We didn't, but I suppose it is possible if you have a large enough stomach.
Tea lovers paradise.
A short walk away from the Sofia area, and we found a shop selling Turkish Delights and an astounding variety of tea. Quite a pretty sight for tea lovers- I would have loved to try every single flavor. We didn't have the time or the money for that, of course, and despite the merchandise it was no cafe. Moving on...
Pukeworthy. For me, at least.
Glass of Raki in a nearby restaurant after that. Raki itself looks like clear water, but once you add water it turns into a milky isotonic-like solution. It's quite strong, and tastes terrible (to me, at least) to boot. Tip: If you aren't too sure about something, order one and share, even if the waiter's syrupy voice turns vinegarish.
Kofi Kau any time.
'Turkish Coffee' to wash the Raki down. It didn't help much, since I didn't really take to it either. Go figure. No sharing this one, given it's tiny size- it's the Turkish equivalent of the European Expresso- in terms of size, at least. Strong, thick, and powdery. With a lot of sludge left at the bottom once you're done drinking.
Spice market. Minus the spice.
Made it in time- the Spice Market. This here's just one of the entrances, I have no idea which is the main one. It wasn't really that late, but Winter causes the day to be shorter here- not good for tourists, even if it doesn't affect standard business hours.
So, when? Not sure? Take two dates and add a dash.
1597-1664... apparently even they're not sure when it was built. I'm pretty sure it didn't take seven years to build the place, at any rate. The Spice Bazaar is also known as, or formerly known as, the Egyptian Market/Bazaar, for reasons I no longer recall.
Mini Grand Bazaar.
Inside, it's pretty much a miniature Grand Bazaar, with the exception of the goods they carry, most of which are, contrary to the name, culinary in nature: Turkish Delights, mostly. Off topic, but by the nine hells, there's simply way too many commas in this paragraph.
Turkish Viagra.
'Turkish Viagra', soon to cause me great pain. 'Aphrodisiac for the Sultan paste', whatever that means. Maybe the Sultans had it ground and then lathered over themselves- with the help of a lusty female slave. Lusty Female Slave sold separately, VAT not included.
Pure Iranian Saffron. I suppose the US embargo doesn't cover spice. Then again, I thought it covered pretty much everything, but then again I'm not too sure about that- though I am pretty sure that the embargo policy has fluctuated depending on the US's mood, Iran's nuke program, etc, etc...
So who's Tarou?
'Tarou no Hakuritabai no Mise'? Tarou's small profits and quick returns shop? What? 'Karasumi no Senmonten'? Dried Mullet Doe specialist? Or Chinese Ink specialist? Huh? Do you really know Japanese, or are those random words you've tacked on?
Aim well.
Pretty tiles in a restaurant directly above the Spice Market. The tiles are pretty distracting- architectural and interior design students, if you plan on visiting, pay attention to the business at hand.
Feels like France. No I've never been to France.
Nothing much to say about this pic-I don't even know what building it is. Quite a lovely sight at night, though.
How do boats pass? 
From the Spice Market, we moved on towards the Galata Bridge. Those bright lights come from restaurants under the bridge- all of whom happen to share the exact same menu. These people really need to learn to appreciate variety.
Flaming fishermen.
It's almost as if these people live on the bridge. I swear they're there from morning till night, fishing away.
Waiting for food.
This is probably where most of the fish they catch ends up. On this guy's grill, and into our stomachs. For the record the fish kebab was amazing, not to mention cheap- for five lira a pop.
Galata Tower. Scale that in a minute.
Finally, the second namesake of this post: the Galata Tower. Assassin's Creed: Revelations players will recognize it as one of their Assassin's Dens. It looked taller in the game, though. It was too close to closing time, so we didn't bother going up. I'm told there's a restaurant at the top with belly-dancing and the like.
Don't you dare move.
Try to sell this sort of art on the streets back in Malaysia and you'd get yourself thrown into jail for 'breaching the peace' or 'offending public decency' or something like that. Utter nonsense. They should expend their energy going after pimps and traffickers (and actually arresting them for real, instead of walking in and saying hi).
Chocolate and Cookie.
Hot chocolate in a cafe near the shopping district further inland, a short walk from the Galata Tower. A welcome respite from all that apple tea.
Howdy ye cold ones.
A fine way to end a post, no? With a display of cold, dead fish. The weather was cool enough for them to not need to use ice, apparently. It shouldn't have been much of a surprise- we already felt like just like them (the fish- just not dead).

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