Posted by: Gideon | September 17, 2010

Turkey with Kids: Istanbul – Kariye (Chora Church), Istiklal Street and “The Ice Cream Scam”.

What does one do in Istanbul with three kids?

It’s like saying what does one do in Disney land – the possibilities are endless – you just have to get out and do it.

This was my 3rd time to Istanbul and I had seen a lot of the main sites. As far as my kids were concerned,, it didn’t really matter so long as it was great.  I wanted to see the Kariye Museum – the Chora Church –  the last great monument from the Byzantine empire and still in perfect condition after 600 years..

Truthfully, nobody else in the family was that excited but I’d been wanting to go there for ages, so dutifully, we went.

We started the day off at our neighborhood Pide (and Ayran) Restaurant – they opened up every day at about 6am and closed at about midnight. In the morning, pide wasn’t on the menu – rather, it was the standard Turkish workers breakfast – lentil soup, rice and beans. Simple, yet incredibly delicious and everything was freshly made. We then looked for a cab to take us to the Museum.  It stopped being a church about 600 years ago after Constantinople was conquered by the Turks. It was turned into a mosque for the next 550 odd years and finally a few decades ago became a museum. It is way out of the normal tourist areas hence our decision to take a cab.

Kariye Museum - Incredible Mosaics

The Museum is an incredible work of art – and is probably one of the finest example of Byzantine religious painting and mosaics in the world. Spectacular mosaics relating to various stages of Jesus’s life  cover the walls and ceilings –  amazing artwork – the man hours involved must have been incredible – but in retrospect it was a mistake to go – the kids were downright bored. After our visit and something to drink, we walked through the fascinating back alleyways of this very untouristy part of Istanbul in search of the old Jewish district. We watched kids playing soccer and people going about their everyday life. We eventually found an old synagogue but it was shut – still, we certainly took in the atmosphere of the whole area. The Jews seem to have gone, but there seemed to be no doubt that the Muslim residents respect their former neighbors. We stopped in at a tiny restaurant for lunch – just locals and us –  and experienced another quintessential Istanbul moment of friendliness, great atmosphere and outstanding (though simple) food. It started to rain and we popped into a tiny corner grocery store to buy a couple of umbrellas before catching a bus going in the direction of the Galata Bridge.

That afternoon we wandered around Istiklal Cadessi. Once the main street of “modern” Istanbul (of the late 1800’s), Istiklal is lined with ornate buildings that were once (and some still are) embassies of the European nations to the Ottoman Empire. It’s also home to a flower market, a fish market, boutiques and tourist shops. We were also “forced” to buy very expensive ice creams – we stopped and watched a dondurma (sticky ice cream) seller at work – making quiet a big show, when next thing we knew we had four large cones in our hands which we hadn’t actually ordered, and we were being charged $7.50 an ice cream – this is after we had paid about $2 in Bursa. Very reluctantly I paid up especially as the  kids had started eating, but the experience left me with a sour taste in my mouth (literally – it was lemon flavor). All I can say is, if you ever have an ice cream thrust at you – find out how much it is before you start eating!

The Ice-Cream Scam - fun till we had to pay!

While wandering down the street, we bumped into another family. Turns out that they were spending the summer in Istanbul while the husband was a guest lecturer at a university. They said they were going to their favourite pide place and we joined them. It was tons of fun – the chef let the kids help with the cooking – from rolling the dough to help putting it into the pide (pizza) oven. Just a great informal cooking lesson!

After that it was back to the apartment for the night.

PS Contact me if you’d like me to plan a great family trip to Turkey for you. For more info, click here.

An informal kids cooking lesson

Young pide master in training.

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