Istanbul, Day 2

You can never have a bad day when chocolate pudding is served at breakfast! And, we were greeted by this amazing golden view.

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I was looking forward to see the much talked about Grand Bazaar. Honestly, it wasn’t as exciting as the souk in Fes, Marrakech and Cairo. The souk in these cities are more rustic and ancient. It felt more like walking through a souk in Dubai.

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Love the ceilings of the bazaar though.

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Turkish lamps, which I wish I could bring home!

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The heart of every souk is its sellers, which I was more than delighted to capture, although I wish I was a little bit quicker to capture their actions.

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From “chai” sellers to kebab and pide, they were all smiles. (Except for one selling salami in the spice bazaar who was kinda hostile. Haha)

Here is Okan, our boss, a patient driver and awesome travel buddy for the 12 days in Turkey!

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Spice Bazaar was more alive. And when I say alive, I mean it’s really bustling with humans! That’s where the locals go too. While being pushed amidst the crowd, Okan asked giggling, “So, do you feel lucky to be staying in Singapore now?”  Hahaha..tough question, my friend.

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Love the vibes here more than the Grand Bazaar! The smiles on everyone’s faces, the buying and selling, the colours, scent and smell of spices and coffee beans. My kind of souk!

Olives – for breakfast, lunch and dinner for me!

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Just look at those cheery faces!

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I bought pomegranate-honey based Turkish sweets from the famous Hazer Baba (not these).

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Poor Okan had to carry a few kilos of sweets for us. We would squabble over the bag and he would grab any opportunity to carry it for me the moment I put it on the floor!

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Other than the Spice Bazaar, my favourite visit was to Suleymaniye Mosque. The courtyard of the mosque reminds me of pictures my ex boss shared with me of the mosques in Syria 😦 Please visit this mosque and its beautiful backyard.

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After lunch, we did our Zohor at Yeni Camii Mosque, which was also under restoration. We decided to give the locals space to pray, so we just did our Jama’ and left quickly.

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Ladies’ area are inside (above) and just outside of that room (below).

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The plan was to take the Bosphorus cruise but sadly, we didn’t have the rizq as it was a foggy day. The operators rather not depart as there’s hardly any view. So everyone agreed not to even take the privately run ones.

We opt for a relaxing time over Turkish coffee instead. It’s nicer than I thought! It’s almost dark chocolate like. Yummmms.

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Tips: If you are not a Turkish coffee drinker (like my mum), I suggest bringing a tumbler with you and prepare your own coffee at breakfast. Some restaurants don’t serve nescafe, only Turkish coffee.

A walk back to our area would be too uphill, so we were excited to take the tram! 

We stopped by Arasta Bazaar, a quieter shopping area where mainly local artists would sell their work. Sorry, no photos taken here! I fell in love with mini spice grinder and bought them as souvenirs. Heavier than I thought! Okan jokingly asked if I was going to sell them.

We said goodbye to our local city guide who couldn’t join us for dinner, sadly.

After Maghrib, we (except parents) went to explore Istanbul.

This reminds me and brother of the pastry shop, El Abd in Cairo.

It was our last night, so we must explore.  

 

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Istanbul, Day 1

We had a long, 11hr flight on Turkish Airlines (great food!). I’m glad we upgraded to the front row seats with wide legroom, especially for my parents., especially Dad who wasn’t used to flights beyond 2hrs.

When we finally reach Istanbul airport, it was a challenging long walk to the immigration counters, and a long queue in the early morning. We had to walk again to find the prayer room for Fajr prayers and poor mum, had to walk back again for the washroom. Not sure why the prayer room near the luggage collection had no ablution area. And of course, in the washroom, the cleaning lady was warning everyone not to take ablution there. Where else, I wonder.

Okan from Aravan Tours must have waited a while for us. It was great knowing that he had visited Singapore, and truly approved Sofra as THE place to have great Turkish food! Reason why I engaged an agency for this trip was because of my parents. I can’t imagine having them to go up and down public trains and coaches. And I am glad we did.

It was a lovely, chilly day in Istanbul. We went straight to our hotel, Arcadia Blue for breakfast. The buffet spread was delicious! We had every bite of Turkish cuisine. Arcadia Blue is a cosy, modern hotel with an excellent view of Hagia Sophia and Sultanahmet Mosque from its restaurant. You can walk to the main square, the mosque and Hagia Sophia. Read my review here.

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At 10am, we started our walking tour with Okan and a local guide, Maksut who shared so much knowledge. My parents were surprisingly alright to start the tour instead of taking a rest. Alhamdulillah as we had only 2 full days in Istanbul.

I read so much about Hagia Sophia, so it was surreal to finally see it. It was a tough climb, up the many flights of stairs, for mum, to get this view. So after that climb, my brother sat with her. Lots of restoration was still in progress. At one spot of the museum, you could see a slightly slanted pillar.

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Blue Mosque is closed for restoration till May 2018, which shattered my heart into pieces!

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Alhamdulillah, Muslims are still allowed to pray in congregation.

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So, after lunch, we went for our Friday prayers. It was an opportunity, especially us ladies, couldn’t miss for the world. I cried way too much during the prayers.

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Even though we couldn’t see the beautiful prayer hall, we were fortunate to still be praying in the courtyard under His blue sky with the sun, giving us comfort and warmth, in the cold weather.

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One other place that I really was eager to see, was Topkapi Palace, which houses holy relics such as the hair from Rasulullah’s (s.a.w.) beard and his companions’ swords. As respect, no photos are allowed in that part of Topkapi Palace.

istanbul5A beautiful recitation of the Quran was heard, and I really thought it was recorded, until I saw the man reciting it behind the divider. Such “nur” on his face. Apparently, everyday, there will be a qari at the museum. The soothing, heavenly recitation brought tears to mum and the load of weariness of me.

It’s a huge compound, with a scenic view at its backyard. My legs were hurting from the long day, and I wondered about my parents. We had an early dinner and was ready to call it a day.

Chapati vs Turkey

Trust me, it wasn’t as easy to plan for a family trip than with your friends!

I almost gave up, but at the same time, adamant that it must happen for my parents. Sort of a treat for them after the brother’s wedding. I had suggested the idea to my family since November 2017. It was only finalised in mid January 2018!

I am thankful I decided to engage an agency for a land tour. Something that I rarely do when I travel on my own. I was nervous about the whole trip – my parents’ health, the long flight, my dad’s first flight beyond Indonesia, the agent whom I’ve never met, and so many other issues. Even more nervous than travelling alone!

I prayed a lot the weeks before; for this trip to be a smooth journey for all of us, including the agent who will be with us throughout the trip.

The adventure started even before we flew off:

Thursday, 8 March, 6ish pm

Mum: I dunno what to cook for your packed lunch tomorrow (sighing).
Me: (lost) Huh? Why do I need to go to the office tomorrow?
Mum: You mean you are fasting? Or are you not working tomorrow?
Me: Nooooo. Why would I be working or fasting when we will all be in Turkey tomorrow? (Brother also wondering if mum was kidding).
Mum: Ya, but our flight will be tomorrow.
Me and Bro: Mum!
Me: It’s tonight! My friend is fetching us in 3hrs?
Mum: Huh? What?! I thought you said the night of Friday? I had plans to go out with your dad tomorrow, to eat ‘chapati’ before we leave. I would miss the food!
Me: Mum!!! Yes our flight is Friday past midnight. That means we have to be at airport tonight!

Frantic. Chaos. I was amused and more nervous than ever.

Bro: Where are you dad?
Dad: At coffeshop, drinking ‘teh tarik’.
Bro: Do you know when we are leaving for Turkey?
Dad: Ya, tomorrow night.
Bro: errrr…no dad, tonight. Tonight like in 3hrs’ time.
Dad: What?!! Ok ok I am coming back!

FYI our flight was scheduled on 9 March (Fri) at 12.05am; which means we will have to check in on Thursday night.

Lesson 1: Don’t tell your parents the flight details. Tell them the day and time you are leaving for the airport. Just that.