Istanbul, Take II

<<Note: This post was started sometime in January. Thus the talk of the of the rainy season getting underway. Well, it’s still raining quite a bit. I’m sure, though, that by the end of March I’ll be wondering where spring went.>>

I believe it’s officially the rainy season here in Adana. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve had more rainy days than not (and by rain I mean that it’s pouring). We did get one of these on Monday morning, though…

This picture doesn't do it justice. This was a full rainbow--and *very* bright...

While this is what passes for winter in Adana, we did get to experience some more wintery temperatures over Thanksgiving weekend when we took a quick trip to Istanbul. Istanbul wasn’t our initial plan for the weekend. We had originally booked ourselves on a group tour of the city of Izmir and Ephesus and other surrounding sights, but that got canceled at the last minute. However, after some time on Tripadvisor and the Turkish Airlines website, we were booked in for a 3-day weekend in Istanbul. As it turned out, I think our adjusted itinerary gave us a bit more of a get-away than we would have experienced on a bus tour with 30 other people (and who knows how many young children!) from base.

We flew in on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, and, despite the long and congested route from the airport to the hotel, we arrived at our little hotel by lunchtime. Our hotel was perfect for our short trip. It was a small place with a bed-and-breakfast feel tucked in the crook of a windy, cobbled back alley street just behind the Blue Mosque. It was in the center of the touristic Sultanahmet district, yet it felt completely out-of-the-way of crowds and tour groups. As soon as we arrived, the owner(?) offered us tea and gave us a map where he oriented us to the main sites as well as to a few restaurants that he particularly recommended.

Here is something I’ve learned: business interactions and quality of service in Turkey depend so much on relationships and on building a of sense of loyalty or consistency. Shops give you better prices the more often you return–especially if you bring friends. Go somewhere that a good friend patronizes often, mention their name, and the shop-keeper will likely give you different prices or a different level of attentiveness than if you just walked in off the street. It’s like going to a Chinese restaurant and knowing how to ask for the Chinese menu–it’s a game changer. This is all to say that when the manager of a small b&b tells you to show his card to the host at a particular restaurant, you go try that restaurant. The restaurant wants you to be happy so that the hotel continues to send its guests and the hotel wants you to be happy so that you will have a good stay and return or recommend the establishment to your friends. The Sultanahmet section of Istanbul gets flooded with European and American tourists, and many establishments bank on the fact that these visitors will eat whatever is labeled “authentic” or “traditional,” while paying twice as much. We followed our hotel’s advice, and we ate very well–no kebaps all weekend!

So, after a fabulous lunch we bundled up and braved the crowds of school children roaming the Basilica Cistern. The Cistern was one of my favorites sites from my last visit with its lit up columns growing out of koy-filled water. J took the pictures down there with his fancy camera and, of course, I haven’t figured out how to get them on my computer yet. Sorry for the tease!  Moving on… Literally across the street from the cisterns is the Hagia Sophia. First a church and then a mosque and now an architectural treasure, the current version of the Hagia Sophia was built in the 530’s (the 530’s!!!). These pictures absolutely do it no justice. The day was cloudy and it was getting later in the afternoon, so our light was waning. Just believe me when I say that it is stunning.

That night we had dinner at another lovely recommendation from our hotel. The next day we explored the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the spice market. (It was a Saturday, and if any of you ever find yourselves in Istanbul, I’d suggest finding a different day to visit. It was mobbed. The exits were quite literally presses of people all squirming to get to their particular direction.)

Here are a few more pictures:

The Blue Mosque

The other side of the Blue Mosque at night

A view across the Bosphorus from one of the balconies of Topkapi Palace

That night we made plans to meet up with my friend Izlem (whom I had visited by myself last winter) for dinner. I wanted J to experience the fish restaurants for himself, and we went to one that one of Izlem’s friends had suggested. This time we actually made it to the fish course. Yet another memorable experience. The food was excellent, but the people-watching was the best part. There were several large parties there, and we got to watch as the servers presented them with giant fresh fish to inspect before bringing them back to the kitchen. Later the fish came out on big platters decorated with greens and flowers. (Our meals were not so decorative, for the record.) Some dancing on tables also took place. The raki and wine was apparently flowing quite freely at those tables.

On Sunday, we still had some time to explore since our flight didn’t leave until mid-afternoon. We decided to walk to Galata tower and then wander up Istiklal street. Although it was a hazy, misty day, J definitely got a sense of the vastness of the city from the view at the top of the tower.

Salep from the cafe in Galata tower. It tastes like liquid rice puding and is made from powdered orchid root.

Galata bridge

After grabbing a quick lunch near Taksim square, we hoofed it back as quickly as we could to catch a cab to the airport.

It was a short visit, but we managed to see quite a few of the major tourist attractions. A perfect first introduction to the city for J, and a nice follow-up visit for me. Hopefully we will be able to make one more trip before we leave here in June. At the time, it was a perfect get-away to give us a much-needed change of pace from base life.

Since my last post, we also learned that our next assignment will be in western Germany. Not really what we had intended, but it means, at least, that we’ll have more opportunities to spend long weekends visiting famous cities. Not exactly something to sneeze at.




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