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Istanbul: Day 1

The Sights, Sounds and Tastes Along the Bosphorus

We arrived in Istanbul 5 hours later than scheduled after an unplanned stop in Paris so we hit the ground running. Our first stop was the Egyptian Spice Bazaar. It’s a long hallway of bright colors and even brighter personalities peddling their hundreds of varieties of Turkish delight.

Stalls were filled with red, brown and yellow spices, all sorts of nuts, dates, and snack foods that combined fruits and nuts.  There were giant colored stumps with some sort of jellied fruit with pistachios inside that vendors would cut slices from – almost like a dessert gyro.  Another type of candy was a long, cylindrical looking thing with a solid fruit jelly made from raisins surrounding a center of pistachios.  I’m not a big fruit-and-nuts-as-dessert fan, plus the not so appetizing dark brown color – needless to say I held off on buying any of this candy.

Next stop: the Grand Bazaar.  The name says it all.  Anything you wanted you could find there – jewelry, hookahs, clothing, pashmina scarves, decorative bowls, musical instruments, Turkish tea sets, even knockoff bags and wallets like you’d find on Canal Street in New York City.  There are so many rows of stalls, each row has a street name – in case you get lost.  If you want to buy something, you’re expected to haggle.  Apparently whatever original price they tell you, you’re supposed to end with it costing about half that.  I don’t know if it was the jet lag or the bright colors on the hand painted bowls that were distracting me, but it turns out I’m not so good at haggling!

We took a break from shopping and popped into Fes Café for some coffee. I figured when in Turkey . . . so I had to get Turkish coffee. It looks unassuming in an espresso-style cup, but the taste is enough to wake even the most tired person up. It’s full bodied and strong with such a unique taste that you wouldn’t want to ruin it with sugar or lemon (though I’m sure non-coffee fans might feel otherwise!). But the real fun is when you get towards the bottom of the cup. After all the liquid’s gone there’s a thick layer of sludge with a concentrated coffee taste. Any coffee you have to chew to finish is good in my book!

After the two bazaars we checked in to the hotel and got ready for dinner.  Being a Saturday night, we had to check out Istanbul’s nightlife.  We began by taking a boat up the Bosphorus.  We zigzagged between the Asian side and the European side, enjoying the sounds of the calls to prayer coming from the many mosques that pierced the skyline with their minarets.

As the sun set, we arrived by water at Reina, a restaurant-club compound.  The club itself was open air, facing the Bosphorus, and had two stories of restaurants surrounding it in a U-shape.  We had dinner at Park Samdan, a restaurant that put an upscale touch on traditional Turkish dishes.  My main course was a smoky, spiced beef in a watered down, unpasteurized-tasting yogurt.  Though it may not have been the most visually-appealing dish, the tangy-ness of the yogurt paired really well with all the spices in the beef.

After dinner we walked downstairs to Reina.  If you ever visit Istanbul, or if you’re into nightclubs, you cannot miss this club.  After midnight the club was packed with people dancing and singing along to dance music I had never heard, in languages I couldn’t pick out.  We sipped champagne while looking at the Asian side of Istanbul lit up across the Bosphorus, and underneath a bridge that was illuminated with constantly changing colored lights that danced up and down the cables.  We left around 2 am, not particularly looking forward to our 9 am wakeup call.