Epic Europe Trip 2014 Day 2: The Best Red Wine Ever

We started our second day on this three week long journey with another first. We slept through our first night after a transatlantic flight. Every Europe trip before we've woken up in the middle of the night hungry, wide awake, and not sure what to do with ourselves. We woke up this morning at 5AM (a little too early) and felt refreshed and ready for our first day in Istanbul.

After an incredible dinner last night you would think we wouldn't be hungry, but we both woke up with an appetite. After organizing our clothes for next couple of days we went to the hotels fourth floor for the included free breakfast. Many reviews for the hotel raved about the breakfast and now we can see why. We got an amazing table for two overlooking the Mediterranean ocean and the heart of Istanbul. 

We started off with the hotels buffet. Jenn got pastries and mini pancakes while I had an assortment of cheeses, meats, and fruit. They also had a menu to order from. Jenn got eggs over easy and I had an egg, cheese and pepper omelette. I also got a cup of their turkish coffee which was to die for. We got to enjoy this wonderful breakfast all while taking in a truly remarkable view. It was a pretty great way to start off the morning. 

After breakfast it was time to begin touring the amazing city of Istanbul. We headed down to the hotels lobby right after breakfast and picked up a metro pass. It basically allows you to go on the metro 10 times (or 5 times each). We walked the couple of blocks to the metro station and took it down five stops to the Sultanahmet station which is a two minute walk to the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. We started off running around the square that separates the two and taking pictures. We then walked over to the Blue Mosque to tour it but it was closed for Friday services. We learned that Islam worships on Fridays so it wasn't open to visitors until later in the afternoon. 

We then decided to tour the Hagia Sophia which was spectacular. The once Greek Orthodox basilica then turned into a Mosque was one of the most gorgeous things Jenn and I have ever seen. I was immediately in awe when I stepped into the main floor for the first time. You enter through these giant doors into an open space that is something I feel like you would only see in movies. Having not seen any pictures of it before we got there it really took me by surprise. We stayed at the Hagia Sophia for around a half hour before heading to the Basilica Cistern. 

We walked a block or two from the Hagia Sophia to the Basilica Cistern. You go down a couple flights of stairs and are immediately in a beautifully restored cistern. The air was super damp and we walked around the Cistern for fifteen-twenty minutes. It was a pretty neat sight to take in. 

Once we had walked the entire Basilica Cistern we headed back the Blue Mosque to hop on board the Big Bus Tour to take us around Istanbul. We've taken the Big Red Bus Tour in a half dozen cities (if not more) but for some reason the Big Bus Tour seems to be the better option in Istanbul. We stayed on the red line for the entire route. We passed the New Mosque, the Dolmabahe Mosque, and the Cirigan Palace. We then went on the Bosphorus Bridge which connects the European and Asian sides of Istanbul. That's right we crossed in between continents today. From there we looped back around Istanbul and back to our destination. The entire route lasted around an hour and a half and was a really nice way to take in Istanbul. 

When we got back to the Blue Mosque it had opened for visitors. Before going in though we grabbed two corn on the cobs from a street vendor. That is probably the most common thing we've seen sold on the street and it smelled so good we had to try it. They were good but nothing out of the ordinary, at the end of the day it was just corn. After we chomped down on our cobs we made our way to a gigantic line at the Blue Mosque that took about twenty minutes. Jenn had to put on a traditional head dress to go it and we both had to take off our shoes and put them in plastic bags. The semblance of tradition and purity was a nice touch and made it feel like you truly were going into a special place. The inside of the Blue Mosque was spectacular. Similar to the Hagia Sophia, it was gigantic with grand spectacles at every corner. Many were there to worship, and hundreds were there like us as visitors. It was quite the experience. 

After the Blue Mosque, we jumped back on the Metro and took it the five stops back to the Tophane stop a couple of blocks away from the TomTom Suites. On our walk back to the hotel I spotted a small little coffee shop called Pas Coffee House that I convinced Jenn to stop at. I got a cappuccino that was out of this world. We just sat there for a while and talked about the day and made plans for the rest of the evening and tomorrow our last day in Istanbul. When we did get back to our hotel we made reservations  for dinner at Nicole the award winning restaurant in the hotel, overlooking Istanbul. 

We got back to our room at around 4PM and Jenn immediately took a nap. We did a ton of touring today and it really caught up with both of us. I woke up Jenn at 6:30 PM to get ready for our 7:30 PM reservations at Nicole. When we arrived at the roof top restaurant we were immediately seated at the best seat in the house, a table for two overlooking the skyline of Istanbul. Jenn being a little gung-ho for the experience immediately jumped at the opportunity to have a celebratory glass of champagne without looking at the prices. Needless to say its the most we've ever spent on a glass of alcohol before. Two good things came out of it though. One it was a great glass of champagne, and two Jenn doesn't love champagne so I got two glasses of it.

The restaurant itself has two menus to choose from, a six course menu and an eight course menu. Both with wine and cheese pairing offerings. We opted to go with the six course menu and instead of doing the wine pairings to go with a bottle of red. The restaurant had a Sommelier which is a fancy way of saying the guy or gal who tries to get you to buy the expensive wine. We fell for it and are so glad we did. We got the most expensive bottle of wine I've ever tried and to be perfectly honest it was the best bottle of wine either of us have ever had. It was both rich with flavor but had such a smooth finish. Truly out of this world. 

The six course meal started with a number of amuse-bouches which are often some of my favorite things to try. They are usually small little burst of flavor and this was no different. From there we went to what they called the Ode to Autumn which was an assortment of fall vegetables and greens. This was the only course of the meal that both Jenn and I didn't care for. I only could eat about 25% of it and Jenn didn't even look in the direction of her plate. After that we went onto the third course which was a red mullet tortellini soup. Two nice pieces of mullet that were super tender and went great in the broth.

After that came the fourth course which were leeks with almond and lemon. I'm pretty sure we've never had leeks before but I can say that we both cleaned our plates on that one. And then it was time for the main course. This was the only one where we had a choice to make. The options were Beef Cheeks or the Catch of the Day which was a sea bass. Jenn went with the Beef Cheeks and Potatoes while I went with the Sea Bass. Both were out of this world. We had never had Beef Cheeks before and I'd say they are kind of similar to the texture and flavor of lamb. The potatoes were great as well. They had a crisp outside like a french fry but then the middle was mashed potatoes. Honestly Jenn and I could have had a plate of those instead of the vegetable second course. My sea bass was also delicious, it had a super rich sauce on top that was slightly creamy. Below the sea bass was some exquisite prawns that might have even been better then the sea bass. Needless to say we were both super happy with our main courses. 

When it was time for the sixth and final course the waiter came by with three spoons and a fork. We knew right away that the sixth and final course of the evening would comprise of multiple dishes. The first dessert was a chocolate cream in a small glass dish. It was only a few bites but it was incredible. Second out of the gate was a deconstructed ice cream sandwich with home-made gingerbread cookies as the ends. That was Jenn's favorite by far, she was even eyeing my dessert. Last up for our sixth course was a coffee ice cream cake that I absolutely loved. It was the perfect way to cap off a tremendous six course meal. 

Dinner at Nicole was an experience that neither of us will ever forget. We had three people waiting on our every move. They truly made you feel like you were the most important guest at the restaurant without making you feel uncomfortable. With each course they would come up, deliver the plates and explain the food, and would always check in to make sure everything was going well. It was a level of service that you don't get every day and it was just a lot of fun to go out and have a dinner like that. Even for the courses that we didn't love, everything had amazing presentation and a level of sophistication that we sadly don't get to experience all that often. 

It was the perfect way to cap off what turned out to be an extremely memorable first day in Istanbul. After touring some of the biggest sights of Istanbul sitting down to a three hour meal, with a great glass of wine, and amazing company is really what these trips are all about.