The Missus and I took a much needed nap after a fairly busy day that included two lunches. I managed to wake after about forty minutes, refreshed. The Missus, well, She was reluctant to drag Herself ot of bed. Deciding to let Her rest, I was going to take a walk, or do something.... but what, and where?
Earlier in the morning, as we walked back to the hotel, we passed by a stone structure known as The Million Stone. Built by Constantine the Great in the Fourth Century, the structure literally marked the center of the city, and was used as the landmark by which distances were officially calculated from Constantinople. A couple of yards away, and just a few steps from our hotel was this pretty humble building.
The sign said it was something called the Basilica Cistern...... we really hadn't read anything about it, and the Missus really wasn't interested in checking out water storage. But now, with some time on my hands, I opened my Lonely Planet Guide and what I read was interesting enough to motivate me to check it out while the Missus continued Her nap. Just as I was about to walk out the door She told me "wait, I better get up. Hold on a couple of minutes and I'll go with you." And I think She's glad to have made that decision.
When Constantine the Great moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople in 330 AD (or somewhere thereabout) he had the Great Palace of Byzantium built. According to what I've read, the complex was huge, and stretched from the current location of the Hippodrome and Hagia Sofia, all the way down to the old sea walls. Not much remains of the Great Palace, but the Basilica Cistern still remains. It's called the Basilica Cistern because it lay beneath the Stoa Basilica, a major square in Constantinople, and is believed to have stored water for the Great Palace. The cistern might have been lost to time if not for French Scholar Petrus Gyllius who was in Istanbul searching for ancient texts. According to the story, which I just love, Gyllius was told that people in the area would fetch fresh water from holes in their basement.... and they even caught fish through those holes! After doing some exploration, Gyllius found some stone steps in the garden of a house which led to the cistern. Man, that's some story.....
450 years later, I think the Missus is glad that we paid our admission and walked down the 52 stone steps..... you could here dripping water in spite of the voices around us. The air is cool, the ceilings high, the lighting makes you feel like you've entered one of those adventure movies.........
You walk along and elevated wooden platform, sometimes staring a huge carp swimming in the water. There are several of the 336 columns in the cistern which garner a lot of attention. The first one you'll come across is the Hen's Eye column. These match the Hen's eye's on the column's of the Triumphal Arch of Theodosius.
But the two columns that garner the most attention are the two "Medusa Head Columns".
No one really knows the origin of the two Medusa Heads. As for the upside down and sideways placement, one explanation is that the heads were placed in this manner to neutralize the effect of Medusa's stare. There is of course the theory that the heads were placed in their specific position simply because they happen to fit that way. I dunno 'bout you; but explanation number one sounds a lot more fun!
Speaking of fun, we were glad that we visited the Basilica Cistern.
Those James Bond fans out there will recognize the cistern from the 007 flick From Russia with Love. I got a strange feeling that I had seen this place recently..... and was right, I saw the courtyard of the Blue Mosque, and the cistern in the movie The International.
After visiting the Basilica Cistern, we decided to return to Eminonu (by the Galata Bridge). The area around the Spice Market is full of food stands and carts. I saw, well actually first smelled something I wanted to try earlier in the day. Kokorec, basically organ meat wrapped with the intestines of lamb, looking like a spool of yarn.... well grey-brown yarn, at this stand it was sliced, then stir fried with peppers, then placed in a rather bulky roll, ready to eat..... Half a roll with Kokorec (Yarim Kokorec) is just 3 TRY (appox $1,75 US).
I didn't know what to expect, but man this was delicious......salty, rich, almost fatty, crunchy bits, with a nice bit of spice this stood up to the large bread real well.
There was a almost buttery taste to this..... and after returning home, I did a search on Gala Kokorec; and low a behold, the place is mentioned in a post on Istanbul Eats! (You can find a nice photo of Kokorec there) Apparently, this place wraps sweetbreads in the tendrils of intestine! No wonder it tasted so good.
The Missus loves a good deal; so when She saw the sign, and the line in front of Sadik Bufe, Doner Kebab and Ayran (yogurt drink) for 2 TRY (think $1.25) She couldn't resist. I did tell Her that this was chicken....but that moratorium went by the wayside for sake of a bargain.
And though the sandwich was mostly bread......
In spite of the huge bread, the meat was super flavorful, smokey and crisp, so you could actually taste the stuff in all that bread. It wasn't going to make anyone's tastebuds do the "happy dance", but for a bit over a buck? The ayran on the other hand, was the most absolute worst I had in Turkey....... tasted like slightly sour salt water.....
We sat on little kiddie stools, which reminded me of Hanoi. After finishing off our sandwiches, we headed into the Spice Market and though most of the shops were closed or closing, the Missus got some nice tea and something for Her sweet tooth from here.
After which we headed back to our hotel....... The Hotel Ares. You really couldn't beat the location; literally feet from everything. The room were a bit small.....check out the location of the toilet. I'm betting if you were fairly large, you wouldn't fit.Also, the placement of the bed was kinda strange....
Due to the location of the wall, I literally had to step/climb over the Missus to get out of bed. Yes, the room here were pretty small....everything was clean though. We thought the price at 133 Euros ($190) a night was kinda steep, and after the front desk told us it would cost us 50 Euros for an airport transfer (we did the tram and metro thing - and found out that other places charge 5 Euros a piece!) we decided on other accommodation on our trips back to Istanbul.
After listening to the final call to prayer in the evening we both fell into a sound sleep......... a woke ready for the next leg of our trip!
Thanks for reading! And my next post will be on San Diego, I promise!