If you did as I suggested and listened to the song about Istanbul, it should be playing in your head right now. I know it is playing on a constant loop in mine.
It’s hard to be succinct when describing a vacation. It’s also hard to say unequivocally whether I liked Istanbul or not. I certainly didn’t enjoy having to repel attacks of pushy multilingual sellers who were trying to sell everything from tours across the Bosphorus to cheaply made and badly translated guide books to set menu dinners. These guys are all geniuses – they all speak at least 4 languages and are brilliant at guessing where you are from. Still, having them pop up at every corner and from every shop/restaurant door was extremely annoying. Cat pee smell in the historical centre of Istanbul wasn’t particularly enjoyable either, and neither were the crowds of tourists which must be absolutely horrible in the summer. But I did like the city’s energy, especially away from the touristy places. I loved it’s variety of food and shops. So here are some more things we did and enjoyed in no particular order:
1. We had a great dinner with our good friends Leyla and Aslan and their good friends in a place that is marked as ‘seafood restaurant’ on our map. It was indeed a whole street lined with seafood restaurants and had we been there alone, we would probably still be there, frozen in our indecision. Fortunately, their fabulous friend Ufuk possessed some precious local knowledge and he confidently led us to a place he knew from years ago.
In Turkey, fish is traditionally accompanied by raki – a traditional Turkish drink made with aniseed. It is transparent, but becomes white once it’s mixed with water. Not everyone is a fan of this drink, and much like Marmite it splits people into two distinct categories – those who love it and those who can’t stand the smell of it.
We settled in for an evening of great food, drink and conversation. Mike and Natasha opted to eat a fish popular in Turkey – chupra, or sea bream, while I went for prawns and calamari (I simply refuse to view fish as seafood. Perhaps because we eat quite a lot of fish in Russia and I always associated seafood with something more exotic and less readily available in Russia – mussels, clams, shrimp, scallops etc.)
2. On day 3, Natasha and I spent the day together just shopping – while Mike went to the archeological museum. It was good to spend some quality time with my sister, and I also introduced her to my favourite Turkish dessert – kunefe. Künefe is a cheese pastry soaked in sweet sugar-based syrup. It’s served hot, sprinkled with pistachios and it’s slightly crunchy and gooey with melted cheese. We met up with Natasha’s friend who lives in Istanbul and the two of us convinced Natasha that kunefe is pretty big and should be split between the three of us. She agreed, but later she could be heard muttering that it wasn’t that big and she could have totally eaten one by herself. I felt bad and once we went back to our district, tried to find a place that served it, but to no avail.
While walking around we saw this horror. It’s made of butter. That’s all I`m gonna say.
3. One fabulous thing about Istanbul is that you can find inexpensive, freshly-squeezed juice on every corner. For 3 Turkish lira (around 1,5 US dollars), they will squeeze a glass of pomegranate juice right in front of you.
4. We visited Grand Bazaar, where most of the time I was too intimidated to buy anything. However, our grandmother ordered us to buy her some mother of pearl earrings, so we were forced to bargain. Unlike our mom, we are awful bargainers and usually end up mumbling under our noses which sellers happily ignore and gleefully overcharge us. We did get the earrings though!
5. We ate the most famous Turkish food – meat on a stick, or kebab. The cheapest and the fastest version is when the kebab is in a wrap. I`m not in the picture because I ate my kebab first, having bought it on the way to this place because I saw a big sign that said Ciğer – liver in Turkish and I got myself a lamb liver sandwich. I like to think of myself as the female Anthony Bourdain who certainly loves his offal.
6. Istanbul is a city of carts. I already mentioned roast chestnut carts with their delisoious smoky smell, but there are also sweetcorn carts, pastry carts and pastry sellers with trays of simit (bagel-like pastry covered with sesame seeds) on their heads Me drinking hot salep bought from a cart
7. Istanbul is also a city of stray cats and dogs. While I`m prepared to admire cats from afar, my heart went out to every dog, although Natasha reassured me that those dogs looked fat and happy (they did) and Michael firmly held my hand every time I tried to pet one. The dogs were clearly flea-ridden as they scratched constantly but I did sneak a quick pat on the head for the dog that came up to me smiling and wagging its tail
8. We stopped for cups of Turkish tea and coffee. The Turkish are quite fond of (and quite good at) telling your fortune using coffee. My sister asked me to give it a go and I happily obliged, making stuff up on the go. My best prediction was that she would get some new tights and meet a man with a prominent chin. Who would also be holding a shovel. Which we took to mean that he would be living in Russia where heavy snowfall in the winter often necessitates holding a shovel as you try to disinter your car from under a snow drift.
8. Mike and I tried one of the most famous Istanbul street foods – islak burger (literally, wet burger). It’s somewhat similar to sloppy Joe. After Mike finished mopping up tomato sauce from my entire face he told me that I was banned from eating sloppy joes when we went to the US. Which was totally on my to do list ever since we watched It Takes Two when we were kids. 9. Natasha left for St Petersburg on Saturday afternoon and I was really sad. I even had a little cry on the way to Hagia Sofia and Mike had to buy me roasted chestnuts and sweetcorn to console me. You can see me eating corn and crying.
10. We went to see Hagia Sofia which was very very beautiful. Hagia Sofia was built in 537 as an Orthodox Cathedral, later became a mosque and finally a museum. We especially enjoyed seeing old, possibly runic, carvings on marble banisters.
I came up with a brilliant joke which Mike said was dumb and disrespectful. I thought this stairs looked like a slide so I imagined bearded men riding down the steps on a carpet shouting Wheeeee! Every time I thought of that I would quietly shout Wheeee and giggle while Michael shook his head and roll his eyes. You’d think that after 5 years together he’d get used to this.
11. We caught up with some more friends and also ate some fish together. Our friend from Novosibirsk is now living in Istanbul and we were happy to catch up with her and her husband. They took us to the seaside district of Ortakoy which was lively and charming. We had some fish, freshly caught from the Bosphorus at a restaurant located right next to a fish market.
While we were waiting for our friend, we stopped at a square to take some photos and we noticed that were were surrounded by the police. We thought they might be connected to the recent protests (Leyla and Aslan got a smell of tear gas a few days before) and took some sneaky photos.
So these are our 5 days in Istanbul. Will we go back? Definitely! We haven’t visited the Asian side properly except to drive to the airport (Istanbul is divided into two parts by the Bosphorus strait that are known as ‘Europe’ and ‘Asia’.) We would like to experience a less touristy side of Istanbul. We haven’t been inside the Blue Mosque. So we`ll be back, especially considering that it’s an easy 1-hour flight from Kayseri.
P. S. I managed to drop my mobile phone in the toilet. AGAIN! Same thing happened – I put it in the back pocket of my jeans and forgot it was there. Luckily, I know a magic method for drying water-logged technology. Put it in a bag of rice (as seen on Elementary), leave for around 24 hours and it’ll be as good as new!
This happy thought concludes my post about our Istanbul trip. I leave you with this cool image: a 3000-year old Egyptian obelisk with its mysterious hieroglyphs
P. P.S. We sent some postcards. I might have contracted cholera and plague licking heaps of dirty stamp so the postcards better get there. If you are reading this and you got a postcard from Istanbul let us know please.