The next morning we hopped on a small plane and headed back to Istanbul. Flights to Istanbul were short and cheap – and I just couldn’t handle another overnight bus! I was also happy for the extra time in Istanbul as we had a lot of souvenir shopping to do.
We stayed at a different hotel this time, and unfortunately this place was the most disappointing one of the trip. My review of the Flower Palace Hotel is up on Trip Advisor. That said, the manager apologized and offered a discount the next time we booked there.
We spent the morning hitting up the markets – the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market. Shopping was a bit overwhelming at first, just a maze of every kind of item. But I soon found my groove and got pretty good at haggling, making our way through both markets and ending up with bags filled with souvenirs: tea set, coffee pot, colourful small bowls, table runners, Turkish delights, tea, turmeric, saffron and even a Turkish lamp! We go ripped off on the saffron – the cheap spice we bought comes from the same plant but isn’t the Iranian saffron which actually cost the same as back home. The other scam we sort of avoided was with the apple tea. We had been drinking this apple tea across the country – a gesture of hospitality whenever you enter a store. This apple tea is pretty much Kool Aid-like sugar water. We successfully dodged the shopkeepers who tried to push the sugar water tea on us and bought apple tea bags instead. But when we tried the tea back at home they were pretty tasteless, and I wish I had bought the Turkish tea for everyone instead.
In the afternoon we saw a whirling dervish show – no photos allowed unfortunately. The show was so beautiful and relaxing, like being in a trance. I loved the Turkish folk music and the dancers were mesmerizing to watch, swirling endlessly in a circle, their form held so still and meditative. The dancers are Sufis and they have given up their worldly possessions to act as messengers to connect God with the material world.
We had dinner at a romantic restaurant near our hotel called Pasazade. We split some fresh grape leaves and I had lamb with smoked eggplant – smoked eggplant really is to die for!
We wandered around the old town that evening admiring all the cute streets so full of life and lights. We ended up in the main square where we picked up some baklava and ate it by the fountain in the park, admiring the Blue Mosque all lit up at night.
I love how there are so many cats in Istanbul that there is a cat house in the park!