My Stray Cat Expedition in Istanbul, Turkey - Day 6

My Stray Cat Expedition in Istanbul, Turkey - Day 6 (continued from Day 5 part 2)
Dr. Arnold Plotnick
(click pictures to enlarge)

            Monday was our last full day in Istanbul.  Today, the plan is to take a cruise up the Bosphorus.  Anyone who’s read Orhan Pamuk’s book, “Istanbul” knows the importance the Bosphorus Strait plays in the lives of the people of Istanbul.  The 19 mile-long Bosphorus serves as Istanbul’s main highway, hosting a never-ending stream of vessels, from little fishing boats to humungous oil tankers to luxury cruise ships.  It’s one of the busiest waterways in the world.  It’s the only outlet to the Mediterranean for Russia, and the only route to any sea for other countries on the Black Sea, like Romania, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Georgia.  The Bosphorus separates two continents – Europe and Asia.  It connects the Black Sea in the north with the Sea of Marmara and (eventually) the Mediterranean in the south.  The Turks view the Bosphorus as much more than just a body of water.  It’s a sacred inheritance.  The locals are very content to just sit for hours on a bench that overlooks the Bosphorus and watch the boats go by.  I crossed the Bosphorus when I headed  over to Uskudar.  A 13 minute ferry ride, however, is no way to experience the strait.  Today, we have a 90 minute cruise up the 19-mile waterway, and I’m excited. 

            The public ferry, which leaves from the Old Town side of the Golden Horn, departs every day at 10:35 a.m.  To ensure a good seat on the left (European side) of the boat, we got to the ferry dock early.  Maybe a little too early.  So, with a bit of time to kill, we crossed over to the Spice Market area and grabbed a pastry and some tea.  The vendors outside the spice market were just setting up their stands.  I noticed in a planter nearby, a cute young cat poking about.  This cat had a red collar on, which I suppose indicated that she was being looked after by someone. 

About a minute after  I took this photo, a vendor from one of the stands nearby  came over and gave the cat a small fish.  A woman came over soon after and admired the kitty, so much so that she picked it up and had her husband take a photo of her with his cell phone camera.

We headed back to the ferry dock, purchased our tickets, and then lined up to board the ferry.  We made a mad dash to the upper deck of the boat and secured ourselves a great seat  and watched the attractions as they floated by.

The water was deep blue, the sky was clear, the weather was warm.  It was perfect. 

Our little section of the ferry contained eight seats.  Mark and I sat across from each other on the railing.  We met, sitting next to us, a couple from Canada, Bill and Jane.  Next to Jane were a couple from Los Angeles, and across from them were a Vietnamese couple from Houston, Texas.  During the course of the trip, we all did a little chatting, and ended up getting along very well.  Jane was impressed with my Rick Steve’s guidebook, which described in detail the various buildings and sites along both shores.  She and I teamed up to identify them all as we sailed past them, so we could point them out to Bill and Mark, who would then take the photos. 

As the ferry pulled away, we saw Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, the Istanbul Modern Arts Museum, Dolmabahce Palace, Ciragan Palace, the Ortakoy Mosque, Kuleli, the Cape of Kandilli, and the Egyptian Consulate, to name a few. Describing all of the important mosques, forts and other structures would fill another ten blog posts.  Needless to say, there were many, and it was both entertaining and educational. 

We arrived at our destination, Anadolu Kavagi, a small fishing village on the Asian side.  From Byzantine times to the present, this has been a strategic checkpoint for vessels going through the Bosphorus.   In this little village, the ferry takes a break and docks for about three hours.

(Note the little kitty sitting by the dock.  I hadn’t actually noticed this until I inserted the photo into the blog.)

There are two main activities you can do in town: eat lunch, or hike up to Yoros Castle.  For cruises that stop in town for just two hours, you can either do one or the other.  For cruises that stop for three hours, you can probably do both.  So that’s what we did.  Bill and Jane asked if they could come along with us, and we were happy to have the company.  We decided to hike to the castle first, and eat afterward.  Yoros Castle is a little run down and it hardly reflects the glory of its past, but it does afford fine views over the Bosphorus and to the Black Sea.  The hike to the castle is a strenuous 20 minute climb.  Before starting, we stopped for refreshments, to take with us on the climb up.  Outside the little grocery, I spotted a kitty sleeping snugly in a planter.

As we climbed, we encountered a sign that signaled a shortcut up to the top.  We took this path, which very cleverly diverted you through a few restaurants.  Although we had the castle as our ultimate destination, it was tough to avoid giving into temptation and stopping for lunch, given the spectacular views at this height:

We finally reached Yoros Castle, at the top of the hill.  You can’t go into the castle, but it makes for a pretty nice photo

 And the views are pretty amazing.  Check out this lovely view of the Black Sea

The walk down was certainly much easier.  We arrived back near the ferry port,  where there were a million restaurants catering to cruise passengers, both international tourists and Istanbul residents who come up here for a nice meal on weekends.  Mark, Bill, Jane and I found a cute place a block or two from the ferry dock and ordered a nice meal.  My meal arrived, and I suddenly felt like I was being watched.  I was.

We headed back to the dock, where people were lining up to get on the boat.  The plan was to sit on the left side of the boat again, so that this time, we’d have a nice view of the Asian side on the way back.  We snagged a nice spot on the upper deck.  We didn’t see the two other couples while we were in the fishing village, or on the ferry dock going back, but we decided to save seats for them for the ride back.  They had no idea we were doing this, were pleasantly surprised to discover that we had arranged for the eight of us to all ride back together.  Steve, from Houston, is Vietnamese, and so is his wife, Kim.  When Kim found out that Mark was also Vietnamese, she sidled up to him and started chatting, and before you knew it, they were yakking away like brother and sister. 

We arrived back in the Old Town, where we all exchanged e-mail addresses so that we could keep in touch and share photos of the cruise with one another.  (That’s Bill, Mark, Steve, and Kim on the ferry.)

With this being our last full night Istanbul, we wanted to spend it by doing something really authentically Turkish.  We considered going to a hammam (Turkish bath), but we decided instead to spend the evening doing what many locals do: smoke a water pipe, drink tea, and play backgammon. 

The  water pipe, called a nargile (nahr-ghee-leh) (but also known as a “hookah” or “super-enormous bong”) is a Turkish tradition. Even non-smokers enjoy these things.  Smoking a nargile is not about the smoke; it’s about the relaxing social ritual.   The water pipes you see in Istanbul aren’t for smoking pot.  Instead, they use low-nicotine tobacco leaves, mixed with things like dried fruit or herbs.  This fruit-infused tobacco contains zero nicotine and give you no buzz at all, but the rich taste and aroma makes it a lot of fun.  We had noted, on the day that we went to the modern art museum (Istanbul Modern) that nearby was an entire row of nargile cafés, filled with young people watching football on TV while playing backgammon and smoking the water pipe.  So we decided to head back to that area and see if we could find a nice place to spend the evening.  The cafés were a bit of a distance from the hotel, but we decided to walk, as it would take us through parts of Istanbul that we hadn’t seen.

The neighborhood we walked through was in the New District, which most people don’t explore much, because most of the touristy sites are in the Old Town.  There were lots of cool shops and restaurants with outdoor seating.  Everyone seemed happy and relaxed.  The streets were lit nicely by the street lamps.  It was a nice atmosphere.  While walking, I did spot some cute cats.  Like this one sitting on this scooter:

And this one sitting  on a cushion outside of a shop selling clothing and knick-knacks:

We finally got to the nargile cafés.  The proprietors see you looking at the cafés, and they try to wave you into their particular establishment.  We eventually found one at the end of the row that looked popular and fun.  We ordered up the pipe, asked for apple tobacco (the most popular flavor, I’m told), some tea, and a backgammon set. 

A brief  word about  tea.  Tea is more common amongst Turks than coffee.  It is grown locally along the Black Sea coastline.  The Turks drink it out of these  little weird shaped glasses.  The glasses don’t hold much tea, but that doesn’t seem to matter to them.  They take tiny sips and make the tea last a long time; it’s more of a social ritual than anything else.  So we added tea to our evening’s festivities.  And finally, backgammon.

Backgammon has been around for thousands of years. The game is originally Persian, and Turks still refer to it by its Persian name, tavla.  Everyone in Turkey seems to know how to play.  Some of the social conventions are interesting.  A man can challenge anyone anywhere, but  it’s considered inappropriate for a solo woman to challenge a man in a traditional coffee shop where most or all of the clientele are male.  It’s okay for a woman to challenge men if she’s traveling with a group that includes men, or even on her own if she’s in a mixed-gender coffee shop in the modern part of the city, like where we were.

So here I am, with my tea, backgammon, and hubbly-bubbly.

You can see that I was not alone; the place was packed.  I guess there was an important football game on, because most of the crowd was glued to the set.

It wasn’t only human companionship that we had surrounding us that night.  A cute black and white kitty  strolled by our table in the corner.  Before you knew it….

So, I’m in Istanbul, with my partner, drinking tea, playing  backgammon, smoking a water pipe, with a friendly cat on my lap.  Does life get any  better than this?

It does:

Good night!

The Istanbul, Turkey Stray Cat Adventure:   
Day 1   Day 2 pt1   Day 2 pt2   Day 3 pt1   Day 3 pt2   Day 4 pt1   Day 4 pt2   Day 5 pt1
Day 5 pt2   Day 6   Day 7

Other Dr. Plotnick adventures:  Amsterdam   Vienna   Budapest   Bangkok (coming soon)
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My Stray Cat Expedition in Istanbul, Turkey - Day 5, Part 2

My Stray Cat Expedition in Istanbul, Turkey - Day 5, part 2 (continued from Day 5 part 1)
Dr. Arnold Plotnick
(click pictures to enlarge)

Our goal was the Cinili Mosque, also known as the Tiled Mosque, named for the amazing tilework inside.  We started our climb, through the  streets of this very working class neighborhood.  The  incline was very steep, and we were getting pretty tired.  Off to our right, high up on the hilltop, I spotted what I thought was the Tiled Mosque.  It actually turned out to be the Atik Valide Mosque, Sinan’s last great work and the most important Ottoman monument in Uskudar.  Built in 1571 and dedicated to Sultana Nur Banu, the mother  of Murad III and wife of Selim II, the  mosque was impressive, and had a great courtyard that opened onto a prayer hall adorned with delicate black, red and gold frescoes.

After leaving this mosque, we headed  back to the main road, and then continued our climb until we reached  our destination: the Cinili or Tiled Mosque.  This tiny mosque is adorned with Iznik tiles and an ornate chandelier.  The mosque dates back to 1640.  The tiles inside were really something.

This is a relatively quiet neighborhood mosque.  I think Mark and I were the only tourists present.  A caretaker noticed me taking pictures with my camera, and he called me aside and showed me this tiny spiral staircase that lead to an upstairs balcony.  Up here, I had an even better view of the mosque and the stunning tiles.

I didn’t see many cats around the grounds  of the Tiled Mosque, although I did see this cute little kitten as we were leaving:

We headed back downhill after the Tiled Mosque.  We considered stopping at the Karaca Ahmet Cemetery, one of the largest Muslim cemeteries in the Orient, but decided to head back, take the ferry back to the European side, and check out Istanbul Modern, a contemporary art museum that opened  in 2004.  I love modern  art, and this was a really great museum.  It’s the only museum in Istanbul dedicated to the works of contemporary Turkish artists.  The museum is located in a warehouse by the water.

            I love taking photos when I travel, as you can see.  It really bugs me when a tourist site has a “no photos” policy.  I can understand not allowing photos during a religious service, or no flash photography because they think the flash somehow damages the artwork.  But when a museum has an across-the-board no photo policy for no apparent reason, well, it brings out the rebel in me.  Istanbul Modern has a strict no-photo policy.  So, my dear readers, enjoy an illicit photo taken inside the museum. 

Am I a badass or what?

The day’s agenda was coming to an end.  As for our evening plans, I had something special on tap.  About a month before our flight, after a little online research, I went online and reserved two tickets to see a whirling dervish ceremony. 

For those of you who have heard the term “whirling dervish”, but never knew exactly what it means, here’s the scoop.  In the 13th century, a Muslim mystic named Rumi began to incorporate “whirling” meditation into his teaching.  He believed that a dervish (a member of any of a number of Muslim ascetic orders), spinning in a circle, becomes part of the universal harmony.  By whirling, the dervish becomes one with the creator and the created.  I wanted to see this, but I was insistent on avoiding the touristy, fake “performances” that about in  many of Istanbul’s theaters and restaurants.  I wanted to see an authentic religious ceremony, if possible.   I ended up not seeing an actual ceremony, but I did see real dervishes, and I watched them spin to beautiful Sufi music performed live at the hall where the ceremony took place. 

The music hall was located downhill from Topkapi Palace along the edge of the Bosphorus.  Walking there was enjoyable, as we trekked through streets that alternated between touristy and authentic.  On  all of these streets, cats were plentiful.

We got to the dervish hall a half hour early, but that was good, because the place was filling up fast, and it was open seating.  Fortunately, we secured  ourselves seats in the second row.  The show started with a seven piece orchestra playing traditional Sufi music.  Then the dervishes entered the hall, and about a minute  into the next song, they started whirling.

After the dervish ceremony, we trudged  back up the hill, back to Topkapi Palace, and then back to the Sultanahmet tram station.  Before we got to the station, we had to walk through Sultanahmet Park, and at this time of the evening, we were treated to an awesome sight: the Blue Mosque, lit at night, beyond the colorful fountain in the park.  Not  too shabby.

With this view still in our minds, we headed back to the New District, found our favorite buffet restaurant on Istiklal Street, loaded up our trays, stuffed our faces, and then headed back to the hotel to call it a night.  

The Istanbul, Turkey Stray Cat Adventure:   
Day 1   Day 2 pt1   Day 2 pt2   Day 3 pt1   Day 3 pt2   Day 4 pt1   Day 4 pt2   Day 5 pt1
Day 5 pt2   Day 6   Day 7

Other Dr. Plotnick adventures:  Amsterdam   Vienna   Budapest   Bangkok (coming soon)
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My Stray Cat Expedition in Istanbul, Turkey - Day 5, Part 1

My Stray Cat Expedition in Istanbul, Turkey - Day 5, part 1 (continued from Day 4, part 2)
Dr. Arnold Plotnick
(click pictures to enlarge) 


            Today I thought we’d try something a little different.  Today we’re gonna pop on over to the Asian side of Istanbul. Our destination is Uskudar, a charming district easily accessed  by ferry and teeming with historical mosques. Exploring Uskudar gives us a chance to experience the streets  of a quiet, everyday neighborhood, without the opulent  architecture, modern style and throngs  of people that we see on the European side.

We got up early, had a quick  breakfast, then took the tram to the Eminonu stop. Grabbed the ferry to Uskudar, for only $1.75 round trip!  13 minutes after boarding we pulled up to the ferry dock at Uskudar. 

            The first thing we saw from the pier is the Mihrimah Sultan Mosque, built by Sinan in 1548.  The mosque  was built for Sulayman I in memory of his favorite  daughter.   The mosque was beautiful, but I was more impressed with the stunning rococo Ahmed III fountain out front.  It’s an architectural masterpiece, with calligraphy, masonry and art, seemingly in the midst of a  traffic island.

 After this mosque, we headed across the street to another mosque, the  Yeni Valide mosque. This mosque was built for the mother of Sultans Mustafa II and Ahmet III, who was buried in the adjacent tomb.  Again, the inside of the mosque is nice, but nothing spectacular.  The grounds around the mosque were pretty nice, though, and there were lots of cats  milling about, as you can see:

These kitties were in the courtyard in the front of the mosque.  Back behind the mosque, it was kitty city.  A few men were sitting around, relaxing,  while cats everywhere were either sunning, playing, or trying to charm some bait from a fisherman.

Notice the very bold black cat on the bench next to the fisherman in the blue shirt.  The others wait patiently, hoping he’ll toss ‘em something.  The black kitty has no qualms asking directly.

Meanwhile, another group of cats meandered about near a man who was sitting quietly on a bench in the courtyard, lost in his own thoughts.   Compared to the busy mosques we saw on the European side, it was nice to see a quiet peaceful mosque in this low-key town. 

In the courtyard  of the mosque, I took a seat on a bench, and ended up meeting one of the sweetest and most adorable cats on the trip.  Look at this one’s face!

Is she the cutest thing ever?  And  look how sweet and docile she was:

I really hated leaving this mosque.  This cat would have stayed on my lap for hours if I hadn’t gotten up to leave. 

On the way out, I saw an interesting scene.  There was a dead pigeon on the ground.

A few cats were milling around the murder scene. If I were a lawyer, I’d have a little trouble defending this particular suspect:

We left this mosque and headed over to the Mimar Sinan market.  This market was nothing exciting, but the building was charming, and was located in a quiet square where locals gather on benches around a central fountain. 

I stopped at the fountain to relax and do some people watching. While sitting on the bench, I (of course) noticed a very cute kitten on the grass behind me, and she soon became a fixture on my lap.

After our little rest at this square, we prepared ourselves for the long uphill trudge that awaited us.

The Istanbul, Turkey Stray Cat Adventure:   
Day 1   Day 2 pt1   Day 2 pt2   Day 3 pt1   Day 3 pt2   Day 4 pt1   Day 4 pt2   Day 5 pt1
Day 5 pt2   Day 6   Day 7

Other Dr. Plotnick adventures:  Amsterdam   Vienna   Budapest   Bangkok (coming soon)
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My Stray Cat Expedition in Istanbul, Turkey - Day 4, Part 2

My Stray Cat Expedition in Istanbul, Turkey - Day 4, part 2 (continued from Day 4, part 1)
Dr. Arnold Plotnick
(click pictures to enlarge) 
Okay, we’re done with the historical sites.  Now the shopping begins.  It’s time to plunge ahead into the insanity that the call the Egyptian Spice Market.

Built in the mid-17th century, this hall was gradually taken over by merchants peddling spices, herbs medicinal plants and pharmaceuticals.  Most of the stalls still sell the same products, although admittedly the place has gotten pretty touristy.  It’s called the Egyptian Spice Market because it was once funded by taxes collected from Egypt.  It has the ambience of a true Oriental market. 

The air is thick with the aroma of exotic spices.    Indeed, it is stall after stall of spices, teas, and my pastries, dried fruits, and my favorite, Turkish delight.

I snagged a couple of spices, four or five teas, and a ton of Turkish delight.  It was now onward and upward to the mother of all insane shopping experiences… The Grand Bazaar!

            When the phrase “shop ‘til you drop” was invented, it must’ve been by someone visiting the Grand Bazaar.  This market is a maze of 60 rows with more than 4000 (!) colorful shops, fragrant eateries, and persistent shopkeepers. The experience is overwhelming. 

As you can see, the place is total insanity.

Notice the kitty in the lower left hand corner.  He was checking out bargains, too.  Other cats were in the Bazaar as well, but they were content to just window shop.

            After the sensory overload of the Spice Market and the Grand Bazaar, we decided to chill out in beautiful, pastoral Guilhane Park.  This was originally Topkapi Palace’s imperial garden.  Now it’s Istanbul’s oldest park, and it’s a nice chunk of greenery within a bustling city, similar to Central Park in my beloved New York City.  This park is a favorite weekend spot for locals, as they picnic with their families or just lay on the grass with friends.  And when I tell you that the park was crawling with cats, I’m not exaggerating.  They were everywhere!  The pictures of kitties that I took in this park could fill a travelogue by itself.  Here, after some agonizing editing, are some of my faves:

After relaxing in the park for an hour or two (I don’t know if you call chasing after cats “relaxing”; I know I do), we chose to meander up a very interesting looking street by the main exit to the park.  It’s was called Sogukcesme street, and it is lined with cool shops and restored 19th-century townhouses.   I saw some pretty cool sights on this street, for example, a car hood onto which someone had dumped a few piles of dry cat food.  And in this town, where there is cat food, there are cats.

Further up the street, along the sidewalk, there were several seating areas belonging to a few local teahouses.  These comfy seating areas were occupied by young people drinking tea, eating snacks, and smoking water pipes.  I looked at one group and saw the cutest, most charming sight of the day.  Joining one of the groups was a tiny little kitten.  The kitten was standing on its hind legs, while a big, burly Turkish guy was gently feeding it yogurt from a spoon.  I wish the photo I took had more of the Turkish guy in the picture, but alas, the moment was fleeting, and I was lucky enough to get a photo at all.

We reached the top of the street and found ourselves in the midst of a bunch of souvenir sellers.  Alongside of their stalls, at the base of the building behind them, was a group of well-fed looking cats nibbling on kibble.  Quite a nice looking bunch of kitties.

Ready to call it a day, we headed toward the Sultanahmet tram station.  On the way, we passed through Sultanahmet Park, and I caught a nice picture  of a mama cat hanging out on top of a rock in the park, with her baby

We caught the tram back to Taksim Square, walked back to our hotel, and chilled out for a bit.  Then we hit the street (Istiklal, of course), found a nice restaurant, had a late dinner, and then went dancing at a disco called Tekyon.  Where do I get the stamina?

The Istanbul, Turkey Stray Cat Adventure:   
Day 1   Day 2 pt1   Day 2 pt2   Day 3 pt1   Day 3 pt2   Day 4 pt1   Day 4 pt2   Day 5 pt1
Day 5 pt2   Day 6   Day 7

Other Dr. Plotnick adventures:  Amsterdam   Vienna   Budapest   Bangkok (coming soon)
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