I ended up with a middle seat which is normally an awful thing, but this row had extra legroom and on a ten hour flight, it’s pretty essential that I be able to yoga myself into a ball to rest my head. It was the right move; those seats at the back of the plane look claustrophobic from where I’m sitting. — Also a win, I timed the snack cart just right so that I got not one, but two bags of almonds. Clearly, the universe is on my side.
So that you don’t get the idea that all is rosy up here in the clouds though, did you know that alcohol is no longer free on international flights? I, for one, am appalled. On the other hand, the movie was pleasantly terrible. In my experience, planes are a fabulous place to indulge in bad movies.
Before the flight, I neither finished all the work I planned nor looked at movers/housing at the airport. I did, however, manage to get a pedicure. I am a strong believer in prioritization, you see. — Regarding the work: I am trying to sneak my very dear friend into a promotion (taking over as manager when I leave). So I transferred my stuff to her and sent a memo to the team putting her in charge for these two weeks (covert prep for permanent inchargedness). — Regarding movers/housing, the longer I wait, the more desperate those UT kids will be. I anticipate apartments for the price of a keg soon enough.
We are just settling in after our first day in Istanbul. It’s 4:00 am here but I am wired from Turkish coffee and ready to pound out an entire manuscript about our first day. I hope you like meandering narrations and superfluous food details.
We met two of our hosts, Tevfik and Efe, at Mecidiyeköy Square and loved them immediately. Michelle, Kai and I took all of five minutes to start sampling the street food vendors, and between bites managed to ooh and aah over our first glimpses of Istanbul architecture. Thus auspiciously began our adventures in Turkey.
We walked to the apartment where we met up with Can and dropped our bags before heading back out for a stroll around Istiklal Street (this is a huge pedestrian area with shops, bars and restaurants that reminded me of Las Ramblas in Barcelona). People-watching here could fill endless hours with wardrobe commentary and cultural comparison but we had a mission: dinner or bust. The guys took us out for traditional Iskender which is sliced lamb with a tomato sauce and yogurt with bread (typing it out here sounds kind of meh but, I am telling you, it was k i l l e r). — Then they took us for dessert and Turkish coffee. We sampled nearly everything that the bakery had to offer and then sat back rubbing our bellies with satisfaction while Efe read our fortunes in the coffee grounds. Kai’s involved sadness and a unicorn which is obvious nonsense because how could unicorns be anything less than fanfuckingtastic? Michelle will apparently bring luck to a great man or woman she is yet to meet. And I have two choices before me but I should not worry because both lead to happiness. I can get behind those kind of odds.
We walked around some more and cuddled baby bunnies that an old man was selling along with fortunes. Both turned out to be a bit tragicomic. The fortune predicted that I would do anything for love but that the one I love would leave me behind. Hmph! And then the adorable tiny fuzzy sweet little bunny peed on me. I would have cried if it weren’t so very funny.
We hit up two rooftop bars for gorgeous views of the cityscape at night and some Turkish beer. Then on the way home around 2am we tried another street vendor that rocked our world so completely, I’m not sure food will ever be the same again. What they call “midya” is an oyster stuffed with moist delicious rice, spices and what can only be manna from heaven. The guy cracks open the shell, squeezes a lemon on top and keeps handing them to you faster than you can slurp them down and exclaim, “sweet mother of god, that is good!” At only half a Turkish Lira each, I’m in danger of spending the entire two weeks decimating 半永久 Istanbul’s oyster population.
I’m glad we meshed immediately and completely with Tevfik, Efe and Can. They’re warm and hospitable, full of information and questions, easy with affection and quick of wit. If they are representative of the Turkish population at large then this is going to be one amazing trip.:)
This morning we slept in, then spent the day meandering through neighborhoods on our way to the Hagia Sophia (quick reminder from history class: this was a Greek Orthodox Basilica from the 4th to 12th centuries, was briefly a Roman Catholic cathedral in the 13th, then went back to Greek before the Ottomans turned it into a mosque in 1453). I have sort of a thing for religious architecture and Kai is crazy for art history so we were all really really excited to see it in person. The Hagia Sophia isn’t just the epitome of Byzantine architecture but I think the dome (if not the whole structure) was the largest in the world for nearly a millennia. We had pretty high expectations.
Spoiler alert: it did not disappoint. The Hagia Sophia is the sort of place that stops you in your tracks when you cross the threshold. The sheer size of everything is breathtaking. (Or put another way: it was difficult to avoid saying “that’s what she said” repeatedly as we discussed it’s size in awe.) We wandered though, took a zillion pictures (Michelle), admired the real life versions of famous mosaics we’d all studied in school books and turned to each other every three minutes or so to say, “oh my god, we’re actually here!”
From there we went just a couple hundred yards to the Sultanahmet Mosque (built early 1600s), better known as the Blue Mosque for the stunning blue tiles inside. I don’t know how else to describe the shade of blue than so completely tranquil that every part of me wanted to lay down on the plush prayer carpet and stare dreamily at the patterns overhead.
Afterwards, we were wiped and so came back to the apartment and watched the end of a football match with the guys (Tevfik’s team lost to Can’s). — Okay, my parenthetical notes are out of control tonight. I’ll be better composed tomorrow.
It was a fabulous birthday as it turned out. We had booked ourselves on a food tour of the European side of Istanbul and it was so great that we may try to book the same tour on the Asian side before we depart. There is a food blog called Istanbul Eats that organizes them and they’re the real deal. Small groups (capped at 6) for $100 each, on a six hour walking tour of the Old City. No attempt to pace ourselves mattered; by the end my stomach was arriving places six inches ahead of the rest of me. The quick rundown (so I can commit it to both posterity and my own memory) was:
– Tour of the edges of the spice market and discussion of agricultural and fishing practices; tasting nuts, fruit and cheese; ofal shop where specialty butchers sell organ meat, brains, intestines and chicken. She explained that in Turkey it would never occur to a butcher to sell all parts of the animal; it is expected practice for everyone to specialize and stick that specialty so the guy who sells leg of lamb would never sell the sweetmeat as well (sweetmeat is a gland in the lamb’s neck). – breakfast in the nook of an ally was bread, cheese and olives while we watched the tea guys work. Throughout the neighborhood, merchants intercom, phone or yell orders to this closet-sized kitchen where two men brew and deliver Ceylon tea and Turkish coffee all day. Everything is served in tiny steaming glasses because the biggest sin a cup of tea can commit is to cool before you drink the end of it.- kokoreç: is sweetmeat wrapped in intestine and slow roasted over coals then diced and grilled with tomatoes, thyme and salt and served on fresh bread. We had fun here gossiping with the kid that makes them (he’s putting everyone else out of business because he’s the best, engaged to one of the richest girls in Turkey and can tell you which nightclub is the hottest in Istanbul right now). – lentil soup: all of the places we stopped in make a certain portion of food in the morning and stay open until it’s gone (and have been doing so for generations). You can tell a good restaurant by its plain decor and limited menu (the best do one or two things magnificently and don’t bother with anything else).- pide: an adorably round middle aged man