Turkey – Much More Than Expected (Pt.2) Life in Istanbul
The first few days and nights before the Convention were mine to enjoy. The sites and sounds of three different neighborhoods in Istanbul added a variety of flavors to my time in old Constantinople.
A nondescript, local BnB in a residential neighborhood of touristy Sultanahmet provided a good night’s sleep…and a choice of three single beds to choose from. It had a kitchen area, a fridge and a mostly operating window that provided the smell and sounds of Turkish life in the city. It was my introduction to Turkish breakfasts, including the dreaded instant Nescafe I already had in my suitcase for emergencies. The meal was fresh. Meager but sufficient; watermelon, hard boiled eggs, store bought cheese and bread from the baker down the street. Best of all, it was served mercifully early, around 8:00AM – which isn’t always the case in Turkey.
On my second day, I met my new friends, Jessica TamTurk and her daughter, Johanna, for lunch. Loved the ferry ride to Kadicoy on the Asian side of Turkey. Haven’t run across those pictures yet…
We ate at the very popular CIYA, an award winning restaurant owned by one of the master chefs of Turkey, Elif Batuman; http://www.ciya.com.tr/index_en.php
Jessica, wrote the book on, “Istanbul & The Turkish Coast” for Moon Books. She was introduced to me by my dear friend and travel inspiration, Toni Andrews. Always lovely to receive a warm invite to break bread from delightful, distant family or friends in a foreign country.
It was also a perfect opportunity to learn inside scoops on where to go and what to do on the ancient Turkish Coast, http://www.amazon.com/Moon-Istanbul-Turkish-Coast-Handbooks/dp/1598801759
I followed them around the local market while they shopped for the best and freshest in Turkish fish and fare.
We walked a bit, until it was time for a sunset tea in Modoc. She then negotiated a price with a taxi driver to get me back to Istanbul safely. I fell in love with them both, and hated to leave. I wished that we could have spent more time together, and that my hotel was located in this elegant, little, seaside community that seems to have everything going for it – including from what I learned later, great healthcare.
The next day was spent on a Bosporus Ferry to the Black Sea. My newest traveling companions were a couple of environmental scientists on an around-the-world journey. We met on the boat when I spotted a couple with proper hats.
They spotted me too. Smiling, I worked my way over. They seemed to welcome my approach. “Do you speak anything resembling English?” “Sort of…” they said with a grin and an Aussie accent. “Me to!” I volleyed back. After lots more banter, these lovely Australian educators invited me to join them once we reach port, for a rewarding fish lunch. The restaurant was near an ancient fort, at the top of a mountain. I wasn’t planning on trekking that day, meaning I was wearing the wrong shoes, but we only live once, and there I was…
After our meal we climbed up a bit more to see the view.
Rather than hop the ferry back, I joined them for a local bus ride home. They had planned a stop along the way for special, Turkish yogurt treast. Yes, that is powdered sugar and home made fruit preserves.
These were dedicated Foodies! They were spending a month in Turkey with a local, gourmet they researched on the internet He was guiding them through his hand-picked culinary delights across land and sea. They talked about the sailboat they were chartering in Bodrum, and opening up a wine tasting pub back in Australia. I’d love to hear them sing that Aussie “Boomer” song again…LINK to boomer Song
They were delightful, as Aussie’s are. Hope they keep in touch.
Thanks to the amazing Air BnB, I lucked into an apartment for around $25.00 a night!! At this price, a plan B, but the pictures on the website were great. The “Balat Palace” turned out to be a sparkling, freshly renovated, charming apartment that I had all to myself for three days.
In the Golden Horn area, Balat is in process of being gentrified; no other tourists in sight. The current population is still mostly homegrown Turks, who don’t speak much English.
I got lost one day, but found a nice little wine store with organic Turkish wines. The direction of my daily comings and goings were often aided by my neighbors who would point the way – after after agareeing to speak Turkish on my cellphone to whomever my contact was that day. Although I would attempt to be entertaining, I was always genuinely grateful for their participation. It was fun to have all the interaction because I was a stranger in the hood. For whatever reason, I felt safe navigating public transportation and coming home alone after dark.
The Convention Center is near the famous Taksim Square. The hotel I booked online is within walking distance from both. I took public transportation to my new nest during the Medical Tourism Convention.
The “nameless” hotel, looked a lot better from outside than in, and even better in Booking.com’s photo. In real life; mini fridge ran hot, safe was in-operable, one outlet, burned out bulb, closet doors wouldn’t stay shut. Some issues were resolved, some weren’t.
They threw in breakfast, which was served with the best of intentions, and offered a roof-top view. Fantastic way to start the day, overlooking a big city! I used the prayer rugs to cover the ratty night stands. There was a local grocery store nearby for cold pomegranate juice and Efas, a delightful Turkish beer. At night, I’d brave the mobs of people in Taksim, hunting for dinner.
In the evening, the view from my window in one direction, looked out at the neon lights of Istanbul. The other was open to rooftops. This wasn’t exactly, “Read Window”. At 5:00PM I watched my neighbor feeding his pigeons, while others prepared late meals outside, hung laundry, or went about their lives, with me an obvious voyeur, whom they ignored. It was only three days. I was out more than I was in, and of course the staff was eternally charming. The neighborhood was convenient to everything, as well as a good number of hair salons, where blow-outs were about $6.00. Btw- Everywhere I traveled in Turkey, everyone had great hair. The men were as well groomed as the women.
The endless choices of touristy things to see and do in Istanbul can be overwhelming. To fully appreciate the daily choices I did make, I promised myself to return to Turkey again for more – more of Turkey’s history, its endless antiquities, and more of their lovely food.
I wasn’t about to leave Istanbul without trying a Hammam for my first Turkish Bath experience.
Now a museum, the awesome Hagia Sophia, not so long ago was one of the world’s oldest working cathedrals/mosques. There I was, setting my foot on the same stones as some of the world’s legendary cultural and religious leaders. The Blue Mosque, my initial choice, was next door but when I arrived, a prayer service was in session. At this hour I was told, it was closed to tourists. Maybe I went to the wrong door…me a woman? It didn’t matter, the history of Hagia Sophia is fascinating and combines the Catholic and Muslim faiths. The Blue Mosque will still be there when I return, as well as new discoveries. There wasn’t enough time to enjoy the Grand Bazaar properly, so I stopped before I began. It’s at the top of my list for next time…