Istanbul, 2018

I really like this city. I’ve been once before, though for too brief of a stay to fully enjoy it. Sadly, this trip had an element of the bitter-sweet to it, as my travel companion lost her mother the night before the trip. But I tried to make the best of it.

Given the recent explosions of late, the airport created a little stress for me. While I know it’s safe and I’m much more likely to be killed in SO MANY other ways, I did have a moment while waiting in the customs line. Someone left a rather dubious looking package on the corner of an airport pillar. My exchange with security went as follows:

Me: “Ma’am? Someone left a bag here on the corner next to this pillar.”

Teenage Girl working security: *shrug*

Me: “Not a security worry?”

Teenage Girl working security: Meh *shrug*

And…off we go.

First, full on kudos to Miranda for picking the hotel. This lady knows how to pick a solid hotel. The hotel was named FER and is in the heart of the city. While much of the city was explored through Brian picking his way left or right out of the hotel and wandering, I do feel like I was never more than two blocks to something I wanted to see. I’d highly recommend this place in the future.

I had been to the blue mosque once before and while I was bummed it was closed this time, having seen it made this a bit more palatable miss. I did get a chance to visit the Hagia Sophia, or Holy Wisdom, museum. This was a church, then another church, then a mosque and museum over the centuries. Apparently, another 500 people had the same idea to visit, so as I waited in line a tour guide approached me and offered to take me to the front and give me a guided tour for 150 Turkish Lira. Sold.

Ok, another thing. They accept Turkish Lira, USD and Euros. Which makes everything super confusing. 1 US dollar is 1.2 Euros. 1 Turkish Lira is around .25 USD. So, overall, I have been a mess with money this trip. It was suggested I download eCurrency app. But where is the fun in that?

Anyway, so 150 lira for a tour was like $40 USD, I think? Which, for a half hour tour and skipping to the front of the line seemed worth it to me. I’ll have to get back to you on Miranda’s feelings on this as I’ve once watched her berate a Nepalese taxi driver over .25 for a ride. I mean, with love, of course. Miranda is classy that way.

One of my favorite things to shop for here is the misbaha, or Turkish prayer beads. You will see people carrying around all forms of these throughout the city. These are used (as I understand it), by Christians and Muslims alike. Either in reciting prayers or simply keeping God on your mind. I’ve liked it for that, kind of a spiritual fidget spinner. I worry some about the cultural appropriation of this, but overall I think people seemed more generally appreciative of attempts to understand their culture. I found a really nice set made from amber, which apparently is a thing beads can be made out of over here. They are from Poland.

I also truly love the Muslim culture. The call to prayer throughout the day echoing from the minarets, the beauty of the mosques and the kindness in the people. For many reasons, it saddens me the way many in the U.S. see these people. I know I am just touching the surface here, but I do enjoy the way we all strive to reach for God in our way. Even if our way is not reaching.

The Turkish tea is another wonderful, bitter and enticing delicacy over here. You can sweeten it or have an “apple tea” if bitter isn’t your thing. But I would encourage you to try it as it comes first. It is an acquired taste. The tea traditionally comes in rather unique pear shaped glass with a little sugar spoon.

The sea market, or Arasta Bazaar, was a fun wandering stop. Lots of little shops to check out. Iranian Saffron is something sought after here and I ended up picking some up. It makes this brilliant yellow saffron tea and is amazing in rice. It is quite expansive, however, ranging from $8-$12 a gram. I’m also told it is easily duplicated, so finding a reputable (re: permeant) shop is ideal.

The Grand Bazaar is a challenge to describe. It is entirely enclosed and seems to be made of up 4-5 football fields in size. There seem to be districts dedicated to antiques, designer clothing, gold and silver exchanges and jewelry. Spices and Turkish delight are displayed in colorful shops that would make Edmund’s head spin. Many of the streets and sloped and worn with age. Metal detectors and guards are posted kind of informally at each gate, giving some balance to security concerns.

Food wise, Turkey offers an amazing variety. Three of my kids are vegetarian, so I’m always on the lookout for different options.  In Istanbul, many of the foods are based on nuts and fresh fruits. Hummus and kebabs are readily available as well as stews and many vegetarian dishes. Grilled vegetables and many vegetarian dishes are available. Street venders sell grilled corn (Kestane) and roasted chestnuts (Misir). My favorite is a round pastry like a pretzel covered is sesame seeds that is called Simit.

Next trip I’d love to see the spice market, cistern and the blue mosque again. My favorite memories have been sitting quietly and having a tea and shisha while watching the world go by me.
I hope this blog encourages you to try Istanbul. It is a wonderful place with a kind and giving people. The airline Turkish Air offers a pretty reasonable roundtrip flight from Boston around $900 and taking the red eye (leaving Boston around 11:30pm) was one of the easier international flights I’ve done. It’s a short ride from the airport to downtown and many hotels will offer the transfer as a service.

In summary, things Brian learned this trip:

  • The general perception of American’s wandering around Istanbul is we want 1) a tour, 2) a carpet or 3) a leather jacket.
  • While marble looks pretty, it is my opinion that the city may need to rethink doing all of its streets in marble. Cause when it rains, super slippery.
  • People with laptops in a café are not a thing over here. Well, insomuch, that I am doing it. So, trendsetter.
  • No shorts in the mosque. See previous New Orleans comments “no babies in the bar”
  • Head scarves around town are pretty hit or miss. So ladies, your call.
  • Apparently, if I have a shisha, I like watching football. This may apply to other things I previously didn’t think I liked.

Obligatory song reference here