Istanbul in late August is hot. The tiring kind of hot where you’re clothes seem wet through and every step is a mini battle. So when I step out for the day, I go early today with the intention of returning to the respite of the hotel room for the middle of the day and heading out again later. Marg and I did a little shopping nearby last night and charmed by the calm and genuine seeming salesman, we both bought some beautiful ceramic products. We opt to head to the post office first so Marg can post her goods back to Melbourne and then we head to Hafiz Mustafa for some morning tea.
Hafiz Mustafa was founded in 1864 by a money lender named Ismail Hakki Zade. As well as hosting a small café, it’s main trade is the wonderful Turkish Delights, Nougats and Baklava’s you see piled high in it’s store windows. We sit down and order Turkish Coffees and small little treats to go on the side – tiny little profiteroles with flavours like banana and cherry. The coffee is strong and bitter, so I guess that’s why there is a little piece of the most beautiful Turkish Delight I’ve ever tasted, thoughtfully placed on the side of my cup. It’s a must try in Istanbul.
It’s also fascinating sitting here on the street corner watching the crazy Istanbul traffic, cars clogging up the intersection and pedestrian’s making a mad dash to cross the road before they start moving again.
Marg heads back to the hotel to deal with her parcel but I decide to give the Spice Markets a visit before I head back. It’s not something I would usually check out, but I’ve learnt from our weeks in Romania about how vibrant and telling these markets can be and some of the other girls we were travelling with have said they enjoyed visiting them. So off I go.
The Spice Market is also known as the Egyptian Bazaar. It supposedly got this name because it was built with the revenues from the Ottoman Governor of Egypt in 1660. It’s the centre for spice trade in Istanbul though these days its not just spices you will find here. There are fish, nuts and dried fruit, Turkish delight, jewellery and other goods much the same as you would find in the Grand Bazaar but at a slightly more relaxed pace. To me, I found the Spice Market much more interesting and enjoyable to walk around than the Grand Bazaar, but maybe that’s because I’m learning to settle into the buzz and hubbub that is Istanbul.
After my mid day siesta, Marg and I decide that we will wander down to the foreshore to check out the action. I had been told by my cousins in Wales to make sure that I try the fresh fish off the boats.
There are traders of all sorts down here and just as many people eager to buy. There are fresh mussels with a squeeze of lemon if you like or you can get your knives sharpened. Or buy any one of useless pieces of hovering plastic or a hat. But there are loads of people crammed around a large tent and I think this is what we want to see first – the fish boats.
Three rocking brightly coloured boats house a few men each frying fresh caught fish ready to put in a bun for you. I’ll admit it’s nothing fancy, but it’s a great thing to muck in with locals and tourists alike and enjoy the evening.
Then we spy the ferries that take tourists out on to the waters of the Bosphorous for a joy ride. We stop in front of one that is due to depart in 2 minutes time and make the snap decision to jump on board. The cruise lasts ninety minutes and depending on which boat your end up on will take you upriver to the Golden Horn. The route gives you a wonderful chance to view life in Istanbul from the water as you are actually close enough to survey what’s going on across the waters. Groups of young boys jump from the shore wall into the waters to cool off, there are weddings set up in several locations and further upstream fisherman enjoying the solitude of the waters.
It’s a truly magical way to enjoy your time in Istanbul.
But perhaps the most magical thing is watching the sun set over the Grand Mosque at the days end.
Once you step off the boat the evening continues across the road where kits are flown and the final call to prayer of the day is answered.