Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Istanbul Diary, Day 2

The day started out with Bryan and I both examining our phones to make sure they were in proper working order. This was a far more important task that, say, making the bed.

After reassuring myself that Foursquare was functioning, we headed downstairs to partake of the hotel's breakfast offerings. 

While Bryan ordered a sensible set breakfast with scrambled eggs and toast, I decided to unleash myself on the entire universe of buffet options, of which the above plate of fruit and pastry was only the opening salvo. The rest were inhaled with such dispatch there wasn't even time for additional photos. I especially liked the tiny diced fruit salad. From now on I will consider any pieces of fruit larger than parcheesi dice to be categorically unacceptable (except, of course, for the pineapple pictured above). Also, there was a large wooden rack of honeycomb. In case you're into that.

Suitably refreshed by a simple meal (in Bryan's case) and several thousand calories of buffet items (in mine), we ascended to the hotel roof for a morning view of the Hagia Sophia, which happens to be right next door.

As you'll doubtless remember from your governess' early tales of Ottoman atrocities committed against Christendom, the building was an Eastern Orthodox cathedral for around 1,000 years until Sultan Mehmet II conquered Constantinople in 1453 and had it converted into a mosque. 

Fortunately, things have quieted down since then. After a brief stint as a Moslem holy place, it was closed in 1931 and eventually reopened as the museum it is today. We still haven't gone inside, but that brings us up to the present. While there have been countless artistic representations of the structure created over the centuries, I personally prefer the one below.

Having decided to actually leave the hotel for greater adventure, we set off in search of transportation options. The first transport-related sight I noticed was this example of Istanbul's notoriously strict traffic and parking regulations.

Here in the old part of the city, streets are narrow and irregular and cars will often be found driving in places that would be considered sidewalks in the infidel nations of the West. Actual wide, boulevards-style sidewalks of a city like Washington, D.C. are considered a decadent waste here, where six inches of cracked pathway next to rushing traffic is more than anyone has a right to expect. Note that you will also be expected to share your sidewalk slivers with several feral cats, of which Istanbul contains a vast number (more on urban zoology later).

We decided to set out for Taksim Square, an area of the city popular with both locals and tourists alike. On the way we utilized both the above ground Tramway and the angled funicular, which takes you up the city's occasionally steep hillside. Inside one of the stations was this advertisement for an English language school. Note that in Turkey (reputedly the birth place of the historical Saint Nicholas) Santa says "Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!" and uses a megaphone.

In the middle of Taksim Square (which is actually a traffic circle) there is a monument to the Turkish War of Independence. In our photo, however, Min-Min the Travel Panda takes pride of focus.

In the blocks around Taksim, there are many shops, cafes and other places to stop and idle. Here are a few. First is the Bambi Cafe, which has a strong presence in the city. Jokes about venison on the menu are only to be expected.

Istanbul also boasts many candy and dessert shops which sell favorites like baklava, glazed figs and the popular Narian confection Turkish Delight. Many also feature more whimsical incarnations of the pastry-making arts, such as this cake shaped like a Coccinella magnifica.

Don't let the childlike treats fool you, though. The neighborhood also has a mature edge to it. 

None of the passersby on the street looked like they were in a particularly erotic mood, but then again I guess that's what the contents of the store is for. Whew - it's been a long day of sightseeing already. Let's have a kiki!

Here's a second-chance view of Taksim Square, replete with revolutionary memorial, streetcar, and local pedestrians.

And finally, just in case you were wondering what it looks like when Foxy Brown wins the Turkish lottery, let this poster be your guide.

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