A Travellerspoint blog

Turkey Day 5: Istanbul was Constantinople

Remember that song when we were kids...

Istanbul was Constantinople
Now it's Istanbul, not Constantinople

We were in Istanbul but spending the day exploring the time when it was Constantinople.

Our morning started out with Turkish breakfast delivered to our room.
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I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before. There was what sounded like a street party going on right outside our hotel until very, very late. People hooting and hollering and having a great time.

We set off on foot to Sultanahmet Square via the Galata Bridge. The fishermen were out in full force, lining both sides of the bridge.
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We reached the other side and were trying to figure out what direction to go when Google maps suddenly stopped working. I couldn't get anything to come up. We headed off in the general direction of Sultanahmet Square but soon were lost in the maze of Istanbul streets. I tried asking multiple people for directions but would only get vague answers. We wandered for about an hour (felt like several) and finally came to a McDonald's near the square. We stopped in for a Coke and to rest as I was super frustrated. I readjusted my attitude and despite Google maps still not working, we somehow reached Topkapi Palace. Because of our delays, it was already crowded when we got there so we decided not to stand in line for the audio tour.

Topkapi Palace was commissioned by Mehmed the Conqueror in 1459, about six years after he defeated the Romans and took over Istanbul (then called Constantinople). It was operated as the main palace of the Ottoman sultans for about 100 years until Dolmabace Palace was built. It's a huge complex consisting of four courtyards with multiple buildings in each. The first courtyard served more as an outer park rather than a part of the palace complex itself so we started in the second courtyard. During the time of the Ottoman Empire, this courtyard would have been full of peacocks and gazelles.
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Our first stop was the Imperial Council building where all the ministers of state and Ottoman empire leaders held official meetings.
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Around the corner is the Outer Treasury where they had weapons and armory on display.
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From there, we explored the Harem (which the museum treats as a separate exhibit with a separate entrance fee). The Harem contained the private chambers of the sultan and was the home of the sultan's mother, his wives, concubines, children, and their servants.

Fireplace
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Smoking room
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One of the most terrible things I learned on this trip was about eunuchs. These were slaves from sub-saharan Africa that had been captured or bought in the slave trade and castrated. They were then considered "genderless" and lived in the harem as protectors of the women. These were their quarters in the palace, of course, significantly worse living conditions than any of the other sections.
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Eunuch beds
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Eunuch toilet
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Various pathways and courtyards in the palace
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Contrast the eunuchs' quarters with the living quarters of the sultan's mother.

Ceiling
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Living room
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Bath and toilet
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Sultan's bedroom with fountain
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The courtyard for the wives, concubines, and children of the sultan. They lived in the upper rooms surrounding the courtyard.
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Our last stop of the day was down a hallway to one of the kitchens.
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We could have easily spent a full day here and I was slightly disappointed we weren't able to get the audio tour but we were getting tired and it was getting crowded. We stopped off at the gift shop then decided to grab some lunch at the museum cafe.
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Google maps was STILL not working but we were easily able to find our next stop, Hagia Sophia. The Hagia Sophia was originally built in 537 AD by the Byzantine Empire as a Christian church. It served as an Orthodox church as well as a Catholic church before becoming a mosque when Mehmed defeated the Romans in 1453. It is culturally significant for both Christians and Muslims.
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As women, we had to cover our hair to go inside. I knew this going in so we brought scarves. Other women had to wear ones provided on site.
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Before entering, you also had to take off your shoes and leave them in little cubbyholes in the lobby. Unfortunately, I wasn't very prepared for this so we walked around in our socks on the carpet which didn't seem all that clean considering the number of people in and out of here every day.
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I found it crowded and noisy inside so we didn't stay long.

Our last stop of the day was the Basilica Cistern, an underground water collection system built in the 6th century by the Byzantine Empire. The water in the system traveled 12 miles through an aqueduct from the Belgrade Forest. It was then supplied to the city of Constantinople. The cistern is huge at 105,000 square feet. It's supported by 336 marble columns that are about 30 feet in length. Since becoming a tourist site, colored lighting and statues were installed.
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The lighting changes colors throughout.
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Jellyfish installation
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There are two Medusa heads used as column bases in one section of the cistern. These are believed to have been moved here from another Roman era building. The heads are upside down in order to counteract Medusa's bad vibes.
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By now it was almost 5pm. Although Google maps finally started working again, it had been a long day and our hotel was an uphill walk. We hailed a taxi down the street from the cistern and went back to our hotel to rest up and change clothes for dinner.

For dinner, we had 8pm reservations at Nicole, a Michelin star restaurant located at the Tom Tom Hotel. We had rested up a little and Google maps was working so we opted to walk to dinner.
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We were seated at a window table in the corner with a beautiful view as the sun set. 20230531_200918.jpg

Once it got dark, the view was still beautiful, although the lights from the restaurant looked like a runway in the window.
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Unfortunately, I didn't take a picture of our menu or take notes of what we ate. Suffice it to say, it was something like 14 courses. All were great but we were so full. Here are some pics of our favorites.
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It was late when dinner was finished and I had assumed, being a Michelin star restaurant, that the concierge would call a taxi for us. No such luck. He told us to walk to the nearby taxi stand, which we did, and it was closed. We finally found one and he took us back to our hotel where we promptly crashed for the night.

Posted by zihuatcat 22:35 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey istanbul brenda Comments (0)

Turkey Day 4: Istan-beautiful

Up early again because we had an 8am pickup for our flight back to Istanbul. The balloons were flying today.
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Who doesn't like pepperoni pizza and french fries for breakfast?
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We said goodbye to our hotel.
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Then we said goodbye to Cappadocia.
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A couple hours later and we arrived back in Istanbul. We were picked up in another lit up ride, albeit less colorful than the previous ones.
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We drove to our Istanbul hotel, Ansen Suites, which was located in the Karakoy area across the bridge from the city center. We had a large room with a kitchenette area.
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We got settled and then ventured out to Galata Tower. Or at least that was the plan. I went the wrong direction out of the hotel and we ended up on Istiklal Street, a street famous for shopping.
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We figured out our error, got some ice cream, and headed back south, finally arriving at Galata Tower.
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Galata Tower was built as a watchtower in 1348 and stands 219.5 feet tall. It has beautiful 360 degree views across Istanbul.
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We were getting hungry so we walked down to the Karakoy waterfront to find an early dinner.
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We chose Akin Balik, a choose your own seafood restaurant.
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We chose shrimp.
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And for mezzes (small plates), we chose eggplant, potatoes, and squid.
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Dinner was ok, not bad but not great. I tried to use the taxi app to get a ride back to the hotel but could not get it to work. We were able to hail a cab for the ride back instead of walking uphill. Since our hotel was on a busy street, we learned starting that night that taxi drivers don't want to drive down it so they drop you off a couple of blocks away. This did annoy me but it was good this night as we found a pretty, garden bar down from our hotel called Ernest's Bar (as in Hemingway). We stopped off for a drink.

I had a hot chili raki (local hooch).
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Brenda had a rum and Coke.
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We walked the block back to our hotel and relaxed the rest of the evening.

Posted by zihuatcat 20:42 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey istanbul brenda Comments (0)

Turkey Day 3: Cappadocia Caves, Cathedrals, and Castles Pt2

It was another restless night of sleep, not because of the call to prayer this time but moreso because of jetlag. I was up before sunrise which is extremely uncommon for me. I went out on the terrace to see if the balloons were flying but they had been grounded for weather. It was a beautiful, peaceful sunrise and I enjoyed the serenity.
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When Brenda woke up, we went down to the hotel breakfast buffet. It was similar to the buffet in Istanbul the day before.
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Our guide, Emre, picked us up at 930a and we headed out to do what's known as the Green Tour. Yesterday we did the Red Tour. Our first stop was Kaymakli Underground City. The city is a vast network of underground caves that are believed to have been originally started around the 8th-7th centuries BC and then expanded more fully during the 1st century AD and used for several centuries up to the 20th century. During the later years, they were mostly used by Christians avoiding Muslim persecution. The tunnels were abandoned in 1923 when the Christians were expelled to Greece in a population exchange whereby Greek Muslims were transferred to Turkey. If I remember correctly, the cave city goes for eight stories under the ground. Only four are open to tourists.

We first spotted the familiar holes for livestock stables.
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I believe this was a door. They rolled the stone in front of various openings to close them off as they would descend deeper into the cave system.
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Everything is accessed thru these narrow tunnel walkways.
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Various rooms.
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Our timing at Kaymakli was perfect. There were very few other tourists and the large groups were arriving as we were leaving. On the way out, we stopped and browsed thru the souvenir stores where I bought some evil eye jewelry to take home for friends.

We then drove about an hour to the town of Selime in the Ihlara Valley. There, at a cemetery located across from our main destination, the Selime Monastery, is a monumental tomb in honor of Selime Sultan. It was built some time in the 13th century.
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The Selime Monastery dates back to the 9th and 8th centuries BC. It consists of a full-size cathedral, monastery, kitchens, and stables carved into the rock. It was used for this purpose until the 10th and 11th centuries AD and then converted to a refuge for those traveling along the silk road. It was abandoned in the 16th century.
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Going up.
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From the kitchen.
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Inside the monastery.
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Inside the cathedral.
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Going down.
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The winery.
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In one day, we saw two very different living situations, one underground and one above ground, but both carved into the rock formations. It was crazy to imagine what life must have been like to live in either of those situations. These two sites were my favorite sites of the trip...so amazing.

Back in the van, the snow-capped mountains framing the Ihlara Valley were majestic and beautiful.
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We arrived to do a walk and then lunch at a river running thru the Ihlara Valley. It was a popular walking trail but not crowded during the heat of the mid-day.
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These weird wooden people were set up periodically down the path. I'm not sure what the point was. I thought they were a bit creepy.
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We stopped for lunch at a riverside restaurant.
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Beef in clay pots.
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After lunch, we had one more stop to make at Uchisar Castle, a kind of rock castle skyscraper that looms over the town of Uchisar. Dating back to the 4th century, it was used as a refuge and vantage point for hundreds of years.
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It was a long way up but the views were worth it.
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It had been a long day and we had climbed and climbed. Emre dropped us off back at our hotel and we took a load off with my favorite rum in all the world...Cuba's Havana Club (with Coke, of course).
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We walked a short way over to Sedef for dinner. They have some pretty good chicken wings in Turkey.
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After a long bath in the beautiful round tub, we called it a night in hopes of some better sleep before our departure the next morning.

Posted by zihuatcat 22:57 Archived in Turkey Tagged cappadocia turkey brenda Comments (0)

Turkey Day 2: Cappadocia Caves, Cathedrals, and Castles Pt1

It was a rough night of sleep. We had trouble going to sleep and then the call to prayer went off right outside the window around 4am or 5am. It was so loud. I got up and videoed it as I didn't think anyone who'd never heard it before would believe how loud it is. We had to get up early anyway because we had an 830a flight to Cappadocia but four hours of sleep on top of an overnight flight and jetlag was rough.

We made our way downstairs to the diningroom in our morning haze to at least get a little breakfast.
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Our car arrived to take us to the airport. This time there were lights on the ceiling.
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We got checked in at Istanbul airport pretty quickly then set out to figure out where luggage storage was located. This proved to be quite the hunt. In order to avoid high luggage fees on the Cappadocia flight, we were leaving our big suitcases in luggage storage at the airport. I was assured repeatedly by Trip Advisor that this was possible. The problem was....no one I asked knew where it was. I asked employees walking by. Didn't know. I asked the information desk. They told me it was located on the other side of security. That made no sense to me but at least it was an answer. So we get to security with our big suitcases and they look at us like we're crazy. But we finally get an answer on where to go. We have to go back out security, then downstairs to the arrivals hall, then all the way to the other end at Door 14 (we were at Door 2) to the "left luggage" counter. Apparently that is what they call luggage storage and why no one could figure out what I was talking about. To my relief, we finally found it and hustled back upstairs to our gate. It was a good thing we arrived early.

We boarded our flight and an hour and a half or so later, landed at Nevsehir airport in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. This was the whole reason we were in Turkey. It was what swayed my decision to layover here rather than Singapore or South Korea.
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We were picked up at the airport by a driver from Turkish Heritage Tours which would be our private tour for the next couple of days. We drove to the office in Goreme to handle the paperwork and pick up our guide, Emre. The weather was rainy and yucky but we were excited after we stopped at the first stop, the Goreme Panorama, where we got our first view of the fairy chimney formations famous in Cappadocia. This unusual-looking region of the country was formed some 2.5 million years ago after a volcanic eruption.
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There were plenty of evil eyes for sale here and throughout the rest of Turkey. The Turkish people believe this eye can trap bad luck and negative energy and we noticed it everywhere we went.
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The weather cleared out a little bit and we made our next stop at Goreme Open Air Museum. This is a complex of several churches and monasteries carved into the rock formations. The region was conquered by the Roman Empire from the Persians in 17AD and over the next few hundred years, it flourished as a haven for Christian monks.
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We spent a couple of hours walking thru numerous churches built between 6th and 11th centuries. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed inside the churches. But inside the monastery, we were able to take a few pics. These are long dinner tables with frescoes painted on the end. The first one depicts The Last Supper.
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Inside the caves, these holes were carved out to tie up livestock. The large hole held their feed and the smaller holes on the side were used to tie them up.
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The caves were eventually abandoned by Christians after the rise of the Ottoman Empire and during that time, locals used the caves to raise pigeons. You can see their homing boxes carved into the stone.
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It had been a while since breakfast and by now, we were getting hungry. Our guide took us to a local restaurant for lunch where we had a beef kebab and traditional sides. It was delicious.
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After lunch, we drove thru the town of Avanos, famous for its pottery. This was, of course, a subtle push to get you to buy something. I did get to experience some pottery making with help from an expert. I did not get to keep the bowl.
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We also stopped off at a jewelry store where I bought a traditional Turkish silver cuff-type necklace, bracelet, and earrings set.

Our last stop of the day was to Pasabag, also known as Monks Valley, famous for the mushroom-shaped chimney formations.
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By now it was late afternoon and it had been a long day after a long flight. The jetlag was catching up with us so we called it quits for the day and Emre dropped us off at our hotel, Cappadocia Cave Suites. It was just like it sounds...a cave dwelling made into a hotel.
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The hotel sat high above town and we had a private terrace.
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Except for the cat family that lived on our terrace.
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For dinner, we walked down the hill into town and had a tasty steak at Oscar Steakhouse. The cave buildings were beautifully lit at night.
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They weren't serving alcohol because he said it was banned that day due to it being Election Day. While walking back to our hotel, we passed by a bar that was obviously serving alcohol and they agreed to sell us a bottle of wine to take back to our hotel. We had a toast on the terrace and enjoyed the view before collapsing in bed.
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Posted by zihuatcat 20:40 Archived in Turkey Tagged cappadocia turkey brenda Comments (0)

Turkey Day 1: Long Haul Travel

About a year prior, I told Brenda I wanted to do another one of our big trips in 2023 and presented her with three options to choose from: Galapagos Islands/Ecuador, another African safari, or Bali/Wakatobi Dive Resort. She had been to Bali about 20 years ago and loved it so she chose that option. I was thrilled because Wakatobi has been on my snorkel bucket list for years. I started looking at flights and determined we had three options to get to Bali - Singapore, Seoul, or Istanbul. I did more research on each of these and we determined that Istanbul would make a great stopover to break up about 24 hours of flying time each way.

The night before leaving, Brenda flew to Dallas from College Station and stayed overnight. Our flight was leaving at 11a and no way would I trust her to get there on time that morning. Alex dropped us off at the airport and we were off on our first leg - a three hour flight to Toronto. We landed in Toronto and had about six hours to kill. I considered taking the train into Toronto and down to the waterfront for dinner but ultimately decided it was cutting it too close to do so with all of the security backups I read about. So we got very familiar with the Toronto airport, visiting the shops and walking around. We had dim sum at Lee's Kitchen for dinner.
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I got in trouble for touching an expensive purse in a fancy store. Ha! Our flight was delayed about an hour but finally at almost 11p, we were seated on Turkish Airways and on our way to Istanbul.
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After 11 more hours of flying, we arrived in Istanbul around 330p local time. We were staying overnight at Hidden Hills Airport Hotel nearby because we had an early morning flight to Cappadocia the next day. Our hotel picked us up in a pimped out ride.
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We were exhausted from so many hours of traveling and at this point we basically wanted food, showers, and to try and keep ourselves awake until bedtime. We checked in to our room and surveyed the surrounding area.
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From our hotel room window.
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The mosque was very close. We didn't realize how much of an issue that would be until the middle of the night call to prayer.
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We rested a bit and got settled then headed downstairs to the hotel restaurant for dinner. There were interesting shisha pipes on display.
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We toasted our trip with what turned out to be terrible wine that we dubbed communion wine.
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For dinner, we split a salad.
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Brenda ordered chicken stroganoff.
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I ordered a Turkish pita which was very good.
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After dinner we went back to our room, cleaned up, and collapsed in bed.

Posted by zihuatcat 23:01 Archived in Turkey Tagged turkey istanbul brenda Comments (0)

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