Now that I wrote that title, the song is stuck in my head. So before you read the post, watch this video so that it gets stuck in your head, too.
Even before we moved to Turkey, my sister and I had arranged to meet in Istanbul for New Year because a) New Year is a big deal for all Russians b) we only see each other every 6 months or even less often c) Natasha works at a travel agency and not only loves travelling but is really good at it. In order to get away from work for a week, I had to find subs for all my classes for 3 days, then do it all over again when our schedule changed. I was really looking forward to seeing my baby sister and also to eating food that isn’t Turkish. Not that Turkish food isn’t fabulous (it really is!) but I really miss Asian food. In fact, last month my two friends and I drove to Ankara (over 7 hours of driving in one day!) just to eat sushi. Ah, it was fabulous despite the fact that Jenny wouldn’t help me kidnap one of the chefs so that we could have some of that fabulousness back in Kayseri. (My spell-check is trying to tel me that fabulousness is not a real word. The spell-check clearly hasn’t been to Suchico.)
In the event, I caught a cold right before the trip and spent a weekend in bed with high temperature, cough and sinus infection. A kind colleague brought some medicine (and a courgette salad!), and I had a little cry over how nice she was but I still had to stay home on Monday. On Tuesday, the day of our departure, I was feeling marginally better until we actually flew and I started feeling like my head was going to explode and my ears got all blocked. Mike was super nice about the whole thing and as always, looked after me the whole time I was ill and held my hand while I rocked back and forth in my airplane seat moaning about my ears.
We met up with Natasha in our hotel. The hotel is a whole other story. First, the location – in the middle of historical Istanbul in an area called Sultanahmet, a stone throw from Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar. The hotel was a few minutes away from the main street in what turned out to be a shoe district. Yep, shoes. There are shoe factories and wholesale shoe shops. The steep cobblestone streets are full of shoes and boxes and carts during the day and deserted by night. The hotel has a teeny-tiny sign so no taxi driver can ever find it. Luckily, Aziz the owner comes and rescues you every time AND he carries your luggage which you are especially grateful for when you are climbing up 3 flights of extremely steep stairs.
This was how we would find our hotel among identical shoe-shop filled streets – by locating this offensively-named shop
Natasha kindly smuggled in some pork sausage for me and also stocked up on champagne after I alerted her to the dire situation here (I bought what I thought was champagne for my birthday for an exorbitant price and it turned out to be flat and sour wine). And she got me a sausage dog for my collection (whose one year fell off, unfortunately)
We had no concrete plans for New Year as I was still a bit sick and Natasha was slightly jet-legged from her layover in Moldova so we just wondered the streets, all the while dodging very persistent men with menus positioned outside every single restaurant and bar who were trying to lure us in for an overpriced New Year program. We finally stopped at a restaurant with no program, had a bite to eat and then continued wondering. We were told there’d be fireworks on Bosporus bridge so we stood and waited along with about a hundred of other people, tourists and Turks alike. The fireworks did come, but from another side, and we purposefully ignored them, not wanting to miss THE fireworks. Which never came to utter disbelief of the crowd, which slowly dispersed, disappointingly putting their cameras away and muttering amongst themselves. We also dispersed and by 1.30 were in beds back at the hotel. Not a night of wild excitement, but I had my husband and my sister by my side, and the smell of hot roasted chestnuts followed us everywhere and we drank hot salep (a milky drink made with orchid tubers and served with cinnamon) so I was content.
The following morning I woke up around 7 (thank you, internal clock!) and went up in search of breakfast to the tiny reception/breakfast room area at the very top of the hotel. It was deserted. Around 8.30, a woman walked in, and started speaking Russian to me, complaining about being hungover and wondering who would get up this early on January,1. If I wasn’t starving, I’d be amused. The only thing that looked edible and safe to eat were freshly boiled eggs and fresh bread with some conversation thrown in by the Russian-Georgian lady.
When my companions finally woke up, I dragged them to a restaurant called Dubb Ethnic which I had looked up and had a map printed months ago.
The food wasn`t fabulous and the power kept going off, making me slightly worried about eating seafood there, but not worried enough to stop me from wolfing down my Pad Thai. Suitably fortified with noodles, we pressed on with being touristy tourists and spent a few tiring hours wondering around Topkapi Palace listening to completely useless audioguide.
I love how this wonderful picture of sisterly love and cuteness got photobombed by an angry lady
1. We saw Basilica Cistern which was used to store water in the Byzantine era. It was dark and mysterious and there were fish swimming around in the murky water. I loved the mismatched columns, taken from various temples and now green with moss. I loved the two main attractions – the Medusa heads, one sideways and one upside down, whose origins are unknown.
2. We ate in 2 Chinese restaurants and one Indian!
3. Natasha and I went to a hamam (Turkish Bath) which was 400 years old and even though it was crowded, we did get our scrub and soap massage in the end and topped the evening off with a fish pedicure (which is exactly what it sounds like – you lower your feet into an aquarium filled with small fish and they eat away the dead skin leaving your feet silky smooth). A lot of people stopped and took pictures of our feet so I decided I should, too.
4. We went on a very touristy tour that included a boat ride of the Bosphorus (coincidentally, the Bosphorus strait is called Boğaz in Turkish, meaning throat). Aside from the boat ride, the tour included a lot of waiting around and riding in buses.