Friday, 06-03-2016. Day 198.
Early Morning Departures and Cats. Lots of Cats.
Our plane out of India left at 7:00 a.m., the earliest departure we've had on this adventure. That meant we had to get up and out of the hotel by 3:30 a.m. The streets of India, which are normally clogged with cars and auto rickshaws, are almost empty in the early hours of the day. Once we got to the airport, everything went very smoothly and before too long we were in the air to Istanbul.
We were flying Turkish Airlines, and the flight was great. We expected that all four of us would be sleeping on the seven-hour flight, but the plane had a decent set of movies, so we spent the time catching up on our pop culture needs. And they fed us twice along the way. So we landed in Istanbul a little tired, but satisfied. And, thanks to Turkey's e-Visa system, it was the easiest immigration experience we've ever had.
Everywhere you look, cats.
The first thing you notice in Istanbul are the stray cats. There are a lot of them. There are stray dogs, too, but they are vastly outnumbered by the cats. And unlike many cities where the stray cats are scrawny, scraggly, and dirty, the cats in Istanbul are, for the most part, well fed and reasonably clean.
We were staying at the Empress Zoe Hotel in a region of the city that is a large UNESCO World Heritage site known as Historic areas of Istanbul. It covers a lot of territory, certainly, but because Istanbul is one of the oldest cities in the world, there's a lot of history in this small area. From the Hippodrome to the German Fountain to the Hagia Sofia to the Sultanahmet Mosque (better known as the Blue Mosque) to the Yerebatan Sarnıcı (Basilica Cistern) and much more, this region is packed with notable sights and locales.
After checking in to the hotel, we ventured out to check out the area and were lured into a restaurant with the promise of bread. So we had some lunch at a nice, if a bit touristy, Turkish restaurant. Of course they had Turkish coffee, so we had to try that.
Sultanahmet Meydanı (Sultanahmet Square)
After lunch, we wandered up the street to the Sultanahmet Square, which is sort of bookended by the Blue Mosque on one end and the Hagia Sofia museum on the other—and the hunting ground of still more cats.
The Sultanahmet Square is a bustling place, filled with many tourists. Here we had our first Ottoman ice cream, which is a very thick, viscous ice cream (we found out later it's made with the roots of a member of the astragalus family).
After the hectic touring pace that we kept up in India, it was nice to just sit in a city square and watch people (and cats) go by as we ate some sticky ice cream in front of the Hagia Sofia.
We enjoyed not having anything to do and being able to relax without being inundated with people offering help that really wasn't helpful at all. Which isn't to say that Istanbul doesn't have its fair share of hawkers selling carpets and trinkets and tours, but in general they were much more polite than those we encountered in India. Oftentimes a man (always a man) would approach us and strike up a conversation ... where are you from? California? Oh, I have a cousin in Virginia. Where you going today? Oh, that's closed right now, but I have a shop, just over here. May I sell you a carpet?
The boat tour wranglers were particularly present in this square, and each time we walked through the square, we got the boat tour sales pitch at least twice. They really want you to take a cruise along the Bosphorous, the river that separates Europe from Asia (we never did).
After enjoying an afternoon of strolling through chilly but pleasant Istanbul, we returned to the hotel and met our three favorite cats of Istanbul, Sophie, Bobbie, and Manjur, who live at the Empress Zoe.
So, bottom line—if you don't like cats, beware of traveling to Istanbul.
- UNESCO World Heritage sites visited 1 (26 cumulative)
- Cats seen: 17
- Dogs seen: 5