Istanbul weekend trip review

My first semester of school here in Spain is finally over! Can I get an AMEN!?! ;-)  I took my sixth and last final exam last Sunday and I’ve been in relaxation mode since then. This Tuesday I find out my results… keep your fingers crossed with me that they all turn out okay.

Here in Spain exams are typically pass/fail and the minimum grade you need to pass (well at least in my case) is a 50%. If in the end you still end up failing a class, you always have the opportunity to retake the final exam the following September. Since my hopes are to schedule a trip during that time, I really hope I passed them all!

As for Sandy, the biggest change for her has been her recent surgery (a few days ago we had her neutered) Everything went well. The worst part for her now is having to wear The Dreaded Lamp Shade for the next two weeks. Poor thing!

As promised, I wanted to update you guys about our recent trip to Istanbul, Turkey.  Even though we were only able to stay in the city for a few days (dang it, work!) it was still totally worth the effort. I was super psyched to finally visit the country I had been dying to see since living with a Turkish roommate back in Salamanca, Spain (Hey Ismail!)

So here are a few photos and some of the dirty details of the trip. I know that Istanbul isn’t a terribly popular vacation destination for people in the United States, but if you ever get a chance to make it to Europe I would totally recommend going. I have never seen such a diverse city with so many different cultural influences – there is seriously something for everyone in Istanbul :-)

DAY ONE

We woke up “at the crack of” in order to catch our 6 am flight. If all had gone according to plan, we should have landed in Istanbul around 11 am that day. Alas, due to a delayed connecting flight in Rome, we ended up arriving around 5pm. Hoping to be able to enjoy what was left in our day we “booked it” through security and customs and hopped into a taxi. Good thing the cab driver seemed to infer our sense of rush! He weaved us through traffic and, thanks to his sweet maneuvering skills, (like driving in the wrong lane to pass other cars and cutting through gas station parking lots ;-) ) we arrived at our hotel in record time!

We had planned to spend the first day checking out Istanbul’s Grand Bazar: their ginormous indoor market (with literally thousands of shops) that has been around for hundreds of years. We still got to tour it, but due to the flight delay our visit was cut short. In the end we decided that we didn’t really mind seeing only the last hour or so of the market since being there during the peak afternoon hours might have been a little overwhelming.

It was seriously a huge maze!

Crazy right?!

We had fun checking out the vendors’ wares and attempting to haggle with them. :-) Both Diego and I are terrible at trying to get them to bring the price down, but it was still entertaining to test it out a few times! In the end we bought some Turkish Delights (as seen in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe – anyone? ;-))  which are a common Turkish dessert. The are basically small gelatin cubes made from sugar and cornstarch and flavored with other things like nuts, coconut, or fruit. I have been obsessed with these babies ever since Ismail (my ex-roommate) brought some back to Spain for me to try. Diego and I shamelessly ate almost an entire box of them while sitting at a cafe enjoying some Turkish tea and coffee before we were kicked out of the market at closing time.

You better believe we took advantage of all the free samples!

Another interesting thing that happened at the Bazaar was getting to hear what nationality the vendors though Diego and I were. Like I said, there are mostly European tourists in Istanbul so whenever people tried to guess where Diego and I were from they usually picked Germany or some other Scandinavian country – never Spain! I suppose Diego is pretty tall and fair compared to your typical Spaniard and since I obviously don’t have an ounce of Mediterranean blood in me, it makes since that they pegged us for northern European :-)

Relieved to find out that Pam's career is still thriving in Turkey ;-)

DAY TWO

We woke up bright and early on Sunday in order to make sure we saw as much of the city as possible! It started with a “traditional” Turkish breakfast on the rooftop of our hotel. This buffet meal was delicious and we gorged on things I can imagine characters from the Bible eating ;-). Our breakfast consisted of: yogurt, white salty cheese, honey, olives, bread, hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, and some kind of tart juice (I would guess pomegranate or cherry).

Who's the better "poser": Tabby Cat or...

... my travel side kick???

We then spent the day touring the downtown part of Istanbul by foot. Our adventures included: entering two mosques, crossing the bridge separating Europe from Asia, climbing a tower to get a panoramic view of the city, touring the university campus, and stumbling upon another (less touristy) outdoor market – all the while trying all the food and drink we encountered!

Across this bridge is Asia!

Inside a Turkish mosque - to be respectful: shoes must be removed and necks/heads of women covered

Some of the highlights of the beverages we sampled were: “Iran” (a cold watery salty yogurt drink) and fresh pomegranate juice. There were little juice stands set up all over the city and for one Turkish Lyra (about 50 Euro cents) you could get a cup of fresh squeezed pom juice – it was awesome!

My favorite new food that I tried was some type of fried cheese dessert. We happened upon this delicacy while wondering around the back streets of the city. To prepare it: first they mixed a couple of types of shredded soft while cheese together, fried it, and topped it off with a honey-sugar syrup and pistachio nuts! Such a random combination of foods but the end product was incredible!

The green is the pistachio nuts! I can't remember its name - maybe Ismail could help me out on this one??

Finally, the over all best dining experience was when we ordered our dinner of a fish sandwich from a rocking boat. I kid you not! There was this large boat docked at the harbor and the people on board prepared you the sandwich and then rocked the boat back and forth to be able to hand off the sandwich to the guy standing on the dock. Hands down the craziest food service system I’ve ever seen. Check out the video in the link below!

Crazy Fish Boat

As you can see my first reaction the boat system was quite skeptical – but in the end I’m glad we braved the long line and enjoyed ourselves a fish sandwich (the only menu item offered by the rocking boat). It was one of the best meals we had there!

OBSERVATIONS

The most fascinating part of visiting Istanbul for me was witnessing the interactions exchanged among Turkish men. As you know Turkey is a traditionally Muslim country so I assumed (from my American perspective) that the men there would the be super serious, unemotional, and assume the dominant leadership role in all parts of live. While I must admit that Turkish men were more visible in the society than Turkish women (meaning I saw more men in the streets, shops, and working in stores) my previous notion about the way in which men in that country acted was completely wrong – especially among each other.

What I mean is that we observed large groups of male friends walking together in the street talking, laughing, (and dare I say) being “affectionate” with one another. It wasn’t uncommon to see two men: walking together with their arms linked, talking closely with one clasping the other’s shoulder, or even sharing in a long extended “hand hold” during a good-bye. Typically American men don’t display such “warm” acts towards each other – especially in public!

FINAL THOUGHTS

‘Twas an all around fantastic weekend. I desperately wished we could have stayed longer and gotten a chance to see more of Istanbul and Turkey! I am definitely going to return someday :-) Also, for me personally, it was an extra special trip since I got to see “first hand” the culture of my former room mate, “bust out” some of the Turkish words that I had learned, and experience some of the culture phenoms that Ismail had described to me. For example, upon arriving to Spain Ismail commented on how “loud” Spanish people were on the train. Then in Istanbul I observed that on public transport the Turkish people didn’t talk to one another! No wonder Ismail had found it strange that the people next to him on the train were having a conversation when that doesn’t seem to happen in his own country….

I’ll end here (even though I could go on and on about my “cultural observations”) ;-). Hope you enjoyed my summary of our trip and be sure come back next week for a more “traditional” TRIS post.

Gule Gule! (Bye bye in Turkish ;-) )