Eminönu: Old Istanbul Part 1 of 3

There's something for everyone in Eminönu! This vibrant section of Istanbul is rich with history, cuisine, shopping, and entertainment. The streets are bustling with merchants, shoppers and tourists. We have spent a good deal of time in the "Old City" and have seen some amazing sights. Here is a breakdown of our adventures:

The New Mosque

After taking the ferry over from the Asian side of Istanbul, we arrived at Eminönu on the European side. Immediately after climbing the steps from the ferry station, we saw a beautiful mosque called Yeni Cami ("New Mosque"). The area around the mosque is crowded with people, vendor stands... and pigeons. Children buy bird seed from vendors and happily chase the pigeons around. It's a pretty cute sight, until you have to walk through the cloud of flying birds (especially for someone who has a mild phobia of birds!). Apparently the Turks believe that it is good luck to have a pigeon poop on you. We don't know where this belief comes from, but we have decided we don't need that much luck.

Before entering Yeni Cami, we sat on the steps and watched people at the wudu. This is the area where people wash their face, arms, hands, and feet before they cross the threshold of the mosque. Cleanliness is an essential part of Muslim prayer rituals. We made sure we were properly covered and removed our shoes before going in. I (Amanda) was given a head scarf (leopard print!) to cover my head with. I still need to learn how to wrap it properly, but I managed. We sat in silence in the mosque and watched people kneel down in worship. There was something very calming and serene about being in the mosque; it was a very soothing feeling.


Inside the New Mosque

                                                                                                                                                                          Our feelings of peace quickly disappeared after exiting the mosque and making our way to the Spice Bazaar. This bazaar may be smaller than the renowned Grand Bazaar, but it is just as crowded. People flock here to savour in the aroma of spices, teas, dried fruits, lentils, meats, and, most importantly, Turkish Delight. I was skeptical about this Turkish treat, as I had tried the Canadian version at home and was not impressed. But we were given a free sample at "Aladdin's" shop, so we took it. The verdict... AWESOME! The Western version of Turkish Delight is jelly-like with a strong fruit taste. Authentic lokum (Turkish Delight) is made in different ways, but is less like candy and more like... heaven. We sampled several different varieties, including pomegranate, walnut, and our favourite, honey and pistachio. We bought a small stick of lokum (which didn't last long) and a bag of apple tea (which is delicious when served at a restaurant, but we can't figure out how to make it taste as good, even with our special Turkish tea pot -- a double-decker tea pot).

We walked around the Spice Bazaar a bit more, both amazed and amused at the variety of herbs and "potions". We saw all sorts of odd things at the bazaar, including supposed aphrodisiacs, love tea potions, and "Sultan's Paste" (Turkish Viagara). Saffron (which has the repuation here as the grandaddy of all spices) is also abundant and supposedly delicious here. The merchant at Aladdin's described the difference in quality of his saffron by pointing to one kind and saying, "This one is the best. You buy this for your mother." He then pointed to a second option and said, "This one... this one is ok. You buy this for your mother-in-law." Pretty funny.

When we left the Spice Bazaar we decided to wrap up our afternoon with a cold beer under the Galata Bridge. The area under the bridge is lined with restaurants (and very talented, persuasive waiters who can say "lady/man, yes please enter" in many different languages). We chose a restaurant and ordered a drink, gazed out into the Bosphorus, and watched the fishermen's poles hanging down from above the bridge. (Our friend Chris was beaned in the head with a weight from the fishing pole shortly after... but that's another story.) It was a great way to end our first afternoon spent in Eminönu!