the best for last – from the hagia sophia to baklava

our last full day in istanbul didn’t disappoint. we sampled some of the best culinary fare and we finally got inside the famed hagia sophia.

we started out by getting brunch at a highly recommended spot – namli gurme karakoy. it was a packed, no frills joint where you order at the counter, take a number, and wait for the food to arrive. a really friendly waiter, “call me eddie. like eddie murphy, funny guy, you know?” helped us select the best breakfast items from the menu, so we settled on 2 breakfast platters (full of meats, cheese, olives, butter, marmalade, etc.), a salted-meat dish with fried eggs on top, and out of curiosity we got a plate of honeycomb and rolled clotted cream. we sat by the window where we could get a glimpse of the docks and the bridge nearby. as our food and bread arrived, we tried our best to eat the turkish way – lingering over each bite, savoring the flavors and the late morning. we ended up being most impressed by the honeycomb and clotted cream. this deceivingly simple little dish was exquisite when spread generously on a piece of flatbread. the flavors mixed and mingled in our mouths as david declared it “heavenly.”

after brunch, we decided to share a big cuppa coffee from starbucks (some american ways we just can’t shake. i love all the cay tea and turkish coffee here, but you should see the size of the teensy glasses they come in). then, we hopped the tram over to the hagia sophia – one of the most impressive historic building of the christian (and later, muslim) faith. upon entering, we realized that it was field trip day for all of istanbul’s elementary schools (at least, it seemed this way), as long lines of kids walked past us, waving shy hellos. we took our time outside finishing our coffee, before entering the outer rooms. finally, it was time for us to walk through the main doors to the nave. despite the scaffolding and construction going on in one corner, the room was truly awe-inspiring. the domes seemed to glow with golden light, the colors and columns moving seamlessly together in this holy space.

we took in the details, reading from our trusty rick steve’s guidebook, until i noticed a few of the field-trip kids mulling about rather close to us. there was whispering and snickers until one girl got enough courage to ask to take a picture with me. this would happen from time to time in korea, so i didn’t find it odd. i agreed and posed with a few of the girls for the picture… but this seemed to suddenly unleash the flood waters as dozens of turkish kids swarmed around me, all begging for photos. i felt my cheeks flush red, embarrassed by the totally misplaced attention (we’re in the hagia sophia for pete’s sake) but i didn’t want to be rude so i just agreed as flash after flash flickered in my eyes. i have never had so many photos taken of me in such short succession. while it’s flattering, i just wanted to say to them, no no, you’re beautiful. one especially charismatic little guy in a green jacket took my hand (i thought he was going to shake it), kissed it, then pressed it to his forehead. they were all really sweet kids, and it was fun to have them practice their english phrases on me. who knows, maybe i’ll teach english in turkey next?

after the mob subsided (thanks to some appropriately annoyed teachers), we chatted briefly with an american guy from conneticut who had just up and quit his IT job recently, took his savings, and left for europe. we traded notes on places to eat and things to see in turkey, then we went upstairs to marvel at the intricate mosaics. finally, we exited the hagia sophia and trammed back to our apartment, needing to finish a few errands before our next destination: the galata tower. at the apartment i packed and cleaned up, david ran to the post office, and we said goodbye to our wonderful hosts (since we’d be leaving at 6 AM the following morning).

as the sun set and evening arrived, we walked the length of istiklal street and arrived at the galata tower, elegantly illuminated against the night sky. we paid admission and took the elevator up to the top for uninterrupted views of the city at night. david captured some great shots, and it was amazing to take in all the glowing neighborhoods and mosques. after that we went in search of the best baklava. we found it at baklavaci gulluoglu where we split a delectable, syrup-soaked piece of pistachio baklava and 2 teas and sat outside in the warm evening air.

next, we went in search of dinner, but upon finding our destination closed, we walked out towards the bridge where we’d seen tons of street vendors making fish sandwiches. for 5 lira we got one of our own, and we were impressed. the vendor grills a piece of whole fish (minus the head) right in front of you, removing a lot of the bones as he does so, before squeezing some lemon on it, dousing salt and pepper on top, then putting it in a sizable hunk of bread with some onions, lettuce, and tomatoes. best street food i’ve had in a long while.

then, still hungry for a little more, we found ozturk on our way back up istiklal street. it was a small kebab, doner, and pide shop full of tourists and locals alike. the pictures posted outside helped us decide what we wanted, and david got a minced meat pide (sort of like a calzone/pizza) while i got the chicken kebabs. we watched one of the employees roll out the dough for the pide right in front of us, before putting it into a wood-burning oven. the atmosphere was casual and the food was great – a perfect end to our stay in istanbul.


About breeanncowger

restlessly seeking, persistently hoping, remaining in awe of the world in which we live.
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