After dropping our luggage off at Hotel Antioch, we headed to the Basilica Cistern. On the way, we scouted out nearby lockum (Turkish Delight), stopped by the PTT to buy stamps and send postcards, and went by Turista Travel to book our hotel shuttle (pick-up at hotel to Ataturk Airport for only TL10/person). The person who helped us book was actually the same person who helped JT book the overnight train to Ankara and the bus tickets – and she remembered him!
The Basilica Cistern had a seemingly long line outside the ticket window (TL15/person), but the line moved quickly and we were inside in no time. After letting our eyes adjust to the darkness, we explored with the guidance of the Rick Steves’ Historic Core of Istanbul Walk (bypassing the TL5person audio tour). The many tour groups were somewhat obnoxious, but we were still able to see everything we wanted to and enjoy the sixth-century AD 27 million gallons former-reservoir.
After exploring the Basilica Cistern, we headed on foot for the Grand Bazaar. Once there, we set-off using the 15-page Rick Steves’ Grand Bazaar tour, which took us throughout the 4,000-shop market. Unfortunately for JT, the ‘poor man’s Wall Street’ (where large amounts of currency is sometimes traded) was not very active, probably as it was a Saturday. As we went into the Kalcilar Han, Katie felt uncomfortable peeking our heads in the various silversmith workshops as the book suggested we do, so we hurried through this area stopping only at a workshop where a worker was glad to show us his work polishing silver objects. Unfortunately, Katie was in too much of a hurry leaving this marketplace and slipped on the uneven and worn stairs, tumbling down the staircase. Although she tried to play it off, the shop owners who saw her tumble knew that it was bad and one convinced her to go into their shop, where they got a bag of ice for her scrapped and bruising arm. After a short stay, we excused ourselves to continue our journey – but instead found a quiet area of the bazaar and pulled out the “Katie-repair kit” (the first aid kit, playing off of JT’s mom’s “child repair kit” name for the first aid bag). We continued on to the Kizlaragasi Han (gold and silver workshops) and found it to also be quiet. However, we ran into Ayhan Usta (“Ayhan the Master”) – the goldsmith mentioned in the Rick Steves’ guide book – who despite not knowing any English, expressed that he was very glad to meet us. He bought us some tea from the next-door shop and we sat down and tried to communicate with him using the phrases JT learned. A backgammon board was nearby and at JT’s suggestion, a game was set-up. Knowing he was likely to lose, JT tried to play the best he could – but the die were not working in his favor and he quickly lost. One thing that was quite amazing was the speed that they play the game! As soon as the die settle, the other person picks up the die and starts their roll. Between locals, the first roller usually is able to move before the next person rolls, but JT was still getting used to the board and was quite slow – frustrating the locals. After JT’s defeat, two locals sat down and played a remarkably quick and somewhat reckless game. After the games were played, we decided it was time to move on, thanked them for their hospitality, and continued our tour. Two stops later was Egin Tekstil – the unassuming shop with the grand claim that they were where the costumes from the movie Troy were purchased! “Dr. Suleyman Ertas” – the fifth-generation owner of the shop, despite being a doctor by trade – was indifferent about our arrival until I pulled out some cat treats for his beautiful white cat who was lounging high on a fabric shelf. Although we were unable to give the cat treats – as he is allergic to chicken – Suleyman appreciated the gesture and gave us a business card for his doctor practice. Next, we stopped by Sark Kahvesi for some Turkish coffee and tea – JT’s second try at the unfiltered coffee. This experience went better (with the suggestions from the Rick Steves’ book).
As the day was wearing on, we skipped the rest of the tour and left the market for the Chora Church. We got in a taksi that assured us he knew where he was going, but ended up needing help from JT. Despite showing him exactly where on the map to go, he overshot the church and left the city walls. After pulling over to get further help from JT, the driver mentioned that it was going to cost TL25 to get to the church, although we had agreed on the meter rate which was currently at 9.60 and we were mere blocks from the church. Between the language barrier and absurd demand, we paid TL10 and got out to walk ourselves the rest of the way. Once we arrived at the Chora Church (surprisingly late – around 5:45 pm), we found it to be deserted despite it being open for another 75 minutes. We settled into the courtyard to start the Rick Steves’ 17-page Chora Church tour, just to be told soon after that the courtyard was being closed! We moved inside to finish the orientation section and start the walking tour. Once inside a few minutes, we found ourselves to be the only visitors there! As time was at a premium and the crowds were non-existent, JT read the guidebook’s descriptions of 40 mosaics and frescos while Katie studied them. JT managed to get a photo of each one for later analysis. We finished reading the tour almost exactly at the closing time of 7pm.
After visiting with and feeding some church cats, we read the introduction to the Rick Steves’ City Walls & Neighborhoods Walk and then set off to follow it. As it was getting later, we ran into almost no other tourists along the path but a lot of locals – which JT enjoyed, but which concerned Katie due to their rough appearance. The views from the top of the city walls were worth the trip by itself! We had a wonderful view of almost the entire Golden Horn waterway and part of Sultanamet. We continued along the tour to the Egrikapi Gate and Surdibi Cemetery, then left the city walls – and the tour – to walk down the busy Savaklar street to the water.
We planned on hopping on a ferry back to Eminonu port, but after some struggles finding the ferry terminal, we arrived there just to find the gates closed up (despite another departure on the schedule). So, we walked down the park that stretched along the Golden Horn waterway and enjoyed the wonderful experience of being around “real Istanbul” – as hundreds of families were out in the park – with kids playing on the playsets, dads grilling all sorts of meat on a variety of grills and open flames, and local women around dressed in a wide variety of clothing (from women in full veils playing along with the kids on the playset to more contemporary-dressed ladies lounging around).
After a while walking along the coast, we stumbled across a completely fenced-off soccer field, where two teams (on maybe just one split into two groups) were playing. The ages varied widely from kids in their late teens to older men probably in their 60s. But, all of the players were pretty good – with some superstars sticking out on each team. One surprise was one of the oldest guys out there who played as a forward/striker for the blue-colored team. He created all sorts of chances for his team and actually assisted in three goals while we watched (although his own headers and shots were often off-target)! We were some of the first spectators to start watching, but we were soon joined by a crowd! As it got later and darker, we left. As we did, JT caught the eyes of the older striker and air-clapped – a gesture that seemed to be very-well appreciated.
The rest of the journey started to get tiring – as we were worn out from our early departure and long walks. We had not had a proper meal since our morning flight, so we stopped along Ataturk Boulevard and ate at a quite-posh nargile-focused restaurant. Katie enjoyed the pide that she was craving and JT had a calzone-like pide – both were delicious. Just outside of the restaurant, we found into the cutest and sweetest kitten of the trip. We gladly fed it treats and JT petted it – cautiously at first but more and more as it was obvious that it enjoyed the attention. Once it finished eating, it was so comfortable with us that JT actually was able to hold it like a baby – a position that it did not mind at all. We were determined that if we were in the US that we would now have another cat. Instead, we painfully parted ways.
At the nearby bus stop, we tried to figure out how to get back to Hotel Antioch via public transit, but ended up settling for a cab (~TL10). We checked in at Hotel Antioch and found our way up to the sixth floor – marked as the fifth floor since the ground floor was zero. The small, older elevator was barely big enough for the two of us and our bags (without robot bags) and only went up to Floor 4. As such, we had to haul our bags up another staircase to reach our floor. We figure out floor was added to the building after the fact – as it has a different look to it from outside the building. We were pleased to see that this room actually had an enclosed shower, but were disappointed to have our bed right next to a wall that we shared with the elevator equipment room.