Sunday, October 5, 2008

Turkey Trot

Boy, did we ever trot!! I'm going to warn you in advance that this is going to be a long one. 5 jam-packed days makes for one jam-packed blog entry! So I would get a snack or a drink or something and settle in (bathroom breaks are allowed)...
Night One We arrived late on Monday night. The flight was fine, just a little over 2 hours. And they still serve food on foreign flights, so we had a little early dinner, too. The customs process was very smooth, although I'm not a seasoned traveller (yet) I have to say that when we entered both Amsterdam and Istanbul the guys stamping our passports have been so nice and maybe even a little flirtatious! haha The hotel shuttle picked us up and got us to the Stone Hotel in one piece. We went up to our room, which was a little on the small side, but very nice and clean. We were very excited to go up on to the rooftop, as the "Garden Terrace" was one of the selling points for us in choosing this hotel. We were on the top floor, so we walked up one flight to find that the terrace was going to be closed for renovations all week! We were very disappointed. I think we both had images of relaxing up there and enjoying the view with a glass of Turkish wine or a book, or both! A little defeated and a little hungry, we went out to get a bite to eat. Just around the corner from the hotel was a quintessential Turkish restaurant called "ozgur hedef". We had a nice meal, the salad was really good. Almost all the salads we had there had purple cabbage on them and it was always kind of salty and vinegary and I really liked it. I just bought some cabbage at the store so i can try and replicate it. The tomato soup was good, also a Turkish staple. It's simple but with a little mild shredded cheese on top. The dessert was Turkish baklava, even better than Greek baklava in my opinion, it has more honey and less nuts (insert joke here). The hostess was very sweet and gave us a brochure when we left, even though we already had one. When we got back to the hotel we looked at it and this is what is says on the back. No, I have not made any typing or grammatical errors: "From the grandfather immature meat and roasted sausage and a fish and rich variety the our work. 46. The meat kinds which we made to reproduce in our year to cook enjoyment is to the you we are leaving." Whatever. It was good.
Day One Our first stop was downstairs in the garden of the hotel for breakfast. It was pretty simple and very European. Most days I ate some bread (which I swear to God tasted exactly like the Italian bread from Giant!) with a little jam, a couple of hard boiled egg whites (sorry mom, I hate those yokes and you weren't there to eat them for me), some really good honeydew and watermelon, and some half decent coffee. So after that we made our way to the Blue Mosque which was right up the hill from our hotel. It's pretty impressive even from the outside. The inside is beautiful, and mostly blue, duh. It is kind of funny to be in such a big crowd while everyone has their shoes off, you can always tell the people who didn't plan ahead for that! I know this is a cop-out but I'm just going to let you look at the slide show to see what is was like, in order to cut down on this already wordy entry! After we left the mosque, we walked around the courtyard between the Blue Mosque and Ayasofya. There were lots of food peddlers selling all sorts of yummy things. On the recommendation of one of Ira's friends from home, we tried this thing that sort of looked like a soft pretzel with sesame seeds. She said it was one of her favorite foods in Turkey. We must have gotten a bad one. It tasted like a stale bagel to me. Oh well. There were men all over the city selling roasted chestnuts and I couldn't resist. The smell reminded me of when my dad used to roast them around the holidays. So I bought a small green and white striped bag, and they were delicious! And they were hot which was perfect on the cool fall day. We walked around Ayasofya because it was closed for the first day of the Eid, as was the palace. It was fine, it gave us a chance to get our bearings a little bit and do some window shopping. We also stumbled upon an art gallery that had some wonderful pieces. But on our first day we weren't in much of a buying mood yet. After a walk through a lovely park and along the waterfront, we made our way back to Sultanhamet, which is the neighborhood where our hotel was located. We were in need of some lunch a this point, and as we were walking we were enticed by one cafe in particular that had very big white cushions on the chairs and bright gerbera daisies on the tables. We sat down and I had a glass of wine and bowl of lentil soup, another staple in Turkey. I think i tried the lentil soup at a half dozen places but this one was the best, It was lemony and had a lot of black pepper. This was also the cafe where we fell in love with apple tea. It's served in dainty glasses with ornate coasters and tiny silver spoons. It's pretty close to hot apple cider, but it's a little lighter and sweeter. We drank our weight in apple tea over the course of the week! We sat for quite a while until I noticed my dining companion was nodding off in the comfy chairs. So, we headed up the hill to the hotel for a little rest before taking on the Istanbul nightlife. Our evening was spent in Bayone. After walking around a bit, we decided on a little sidewalk cafe. It was cool because it was a white tablecloth kind of place, but there was graffiti on the walls. We ordered a bottle of wine, Turkish wine is really good. I am officially a fan. We shared a few mezes (small plates) we ordered things like green beans, yogurt dip with dill and mint, eggplant, and we also got a small fish platter with octopus, shrimp, prawns, and calamari. It was all to die for, especially the fish. We walked around a bit more and then took a cab back across the bridge.
Day Two I woke up with a cold on Wednesday. I guess my sinuses were not happy with the very sudden 25 degree shift in temperature. Although the rest of me loved it! We started the day at Ayasofya which I found far more impressive than the Blue Mosque. Even though we saw them in reverse order from when they were built, I'm glad we saw them in the order that we did. It was stunning. I was silenced as I stood there and looked up, slacked jawed, haha. They've been doing work on it for something like 50 years so there was scaffolding everywhere but it didn't really take any of the splendor away for me. I was thinking about my aunt Barb the whole time because of the era of the building and the mosaics, it would have been all very interesting for her. It also reminded me of being in all of those Paris churches with her, too. So, I tried to take lots of pictures to do her proud! My head cold was getting the better of me after we left Ayasofya so we went back to the hotel to get some rest. While we were there, we heard lots of banging and drilling over our heads. Remember the renovations?? Well, not only were we not enjoying the rooftop views, we were now having to endure the sound of crumbling plaster, wondering if someone or something was going to fall through the ceiling at any moment. So, Ira, being the best husband in the world that he is, went down to the front desk and politely asked when the demolition crew would be finished for the day. They assured him no more than 30 minutes. 45 minutes later...they assured him no more than 30 minutes. 30 minutes later... we were looking at switching hotels. After not having much luck with that, he went down one more time and told them that we were going to check out. He came back up and said "Pack up, they're moving us into a suite with a jacuzzi! Oh, and try to act really sick when you go down there, I've played up that angle a lot" I've never packed so fast in my life. I gave a few half-hearted coughs on my way past the desk, and then we were all smiles once we were in there! It was so nice. After that, we went to the world famous "Pudding Shop" the food was great and Ira had rice pudding and I had chocolate, both were heavenly.
Day Three We spent a good portion of the day at Topkapi Palace, the one that was closed on our first day. The grounds are huge, well, the palace is huge too. Anyway, we started in one of the many galleries. The lines were really long, the crowds were pushy, and it was hot in most of the rooms. It was hard because you basically had about 3 seconds to look at everything and then keep moving down the line. Not my idea of fun. The first few ones we went into were mostly the jewels of one sultan or another, honestly not that exciting. But we did see some more interesting things as we went along. Morbid as it was, we saw St. John the Baptist's skull and arm bone. And the beard and teeth of Mohammad. Who knew such things were still around?! Oh! And Moses' staff. The harem was pretty, all of the mosaics all over the palace were so cool. The views from every room were breathtaking. We ate lunch at a cafe right on the palace grounds, the view was perfect and the food was good too. We even met some people from Pa! Next came one of my favorite parts of the trip. The Istanbul Modern. It's a modern art museum right on the water in a very industrial part of town. I loved it, it was one of, if not the best museum I've even seen. The design and layout was perfect. It was not to big, not too small. And I loved virtually every piece of art I saw. The film installations were also wonderful. We had a drink on the terrace overlooking the water. It was very peaceful and I got some great pictures, too. That night we went up to Bayone again. This time we ate on a rooftop, overlooking the city and the sea. We had some not so typical Turkish food: pizza, fries, and tortellini! But it was good. We asked for the check and he looked at us and asked "one or two?" We thought it was odd that he was asking us about separate checks, but we said "one" and then to our surprise he brought out one cup of tea! We looked in our Turkey book and it turns out that the Turkish word for tea is "Cay" but it's pronounced with a "ch" sound. Haha! So we drank the tea and had a little laugh at our expense.
Day Four Friday we went on a ferry ride to the Prince's Islands which are right near Istanbul on the Sea of Marmara. The ferry was very crowded but we were pleasantly surprised to see them selling tea in glass cups right on the ferry. And they were only 50 YTL, about 50 cents. The first island was crowded, and we weren't that impressed. It was nice, and fairly quaint, but we were anxious to see the next one. It wasn't as crowded, and a little nicer, but still not what I was expecting. However, we did play cards and suck back the apple tea at a really sweet little tea place. Our waiter was amused by us for some reason and the view over the water was spectacular. Ira beat me at rummy though, as usual...We took the ferry back and headed to Bayone one more time for a "traditional Turkish meal" (according to our Turkish friend Aras) It's been in business since 1888. It was so good! I drank black grape juice! We had a pickle plate with beets, cucumbers. peppers, olives...yum. And an artichoke plate which had peas, potatoes, and carrots. It was also sort of pickled. My main course was a veggie saute' of sorts, it was seasoned perfectly and the eggplant was some of the best I've ever had. And then. Dessert. This place is known for its fruit desserts and we had a hard time deciding. I had a milk pudding with blackberry and Ira went with a mixed fruit compote. We've still debating the contents. We're pretty sure there were cherries, grapes, apricot, pear, and quince. On a sugar high, we walked for a little bit but the crowds were really overwhelming for me after being around so many people all week, so we got a cab home.
Day Five We slept in a little bit and then had our last breakfast out on the patio. Then, we made our way to the Grand Bazaar. It was a lot of fun and we came away with a few treasures like a handmade table runner, a tablecloth for the outside table, a tea set, a silk scarf, and a few other treasures that will have to wait for December to be revealed...The big "score" for me was stumbling upon a yarn shop. I was, at first, unimpressed because it wasn't very nice to touch and it all seemed a little...processed. But then. I found. The mother load. A pile, literally, a pile of hand-dyed yarn. The stuff that I covet in the states. And get this. You paid for it by weight. I got two arms full of hand-dyed yarn for about 4 dollars. One skein of it would have cost over 20 dollars at home. Amazing. I'm thinking about making a blanket, but I haven't decided yet. We also found our way to the Basilica Cistern which is this incredible underground structure with columns and about a foot of underground water, with fish in it! There were these 2 Medusa heads at the bottom of two of the columns that looked so strangely out of place but so interesting. When we walked down there, it was like there was a whole other world down there. Amazing. We relaxed a played some more cards for a while at the Green Cafe', it was very calming and I wanted to take a nap there on the comfy sofas! We walked a little more and then made our way to our last dinner in Istanbul. Pomegranate juice, salad, and tomato soup for me. Pomegranate juice, and Turkish ravioli for Ira. It was perfect. We had a wonderful time. I'm really starting to get a taste for international travel! We're talking about Germany and Greece in the spring...we'll see. For now, it's back to reality and making a life for ourselves here in Cairo.

1 comment:

Laurie said...

Dear Jenna,

When I read your blog I am mystified by your traveling experiences and it makes me hungry for international cuisine!!!