Monday, May 24, 2010

Istanbul Holiday

Before we went to Istanbul, I could only guess what that city might be like.  Luckily I waited until after we returned to watch "Midnight Express" or I might not have gone.  The city was nothing like what I expected, and absolutely a place that I want to come back to.

I have tons of photos, and there is a lot to see in Istanbul.  Everyone tells you that you must go to the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, the Bosphorus, and so on.  All pretty, interesting and historical places.  That's not what makes Istanbul such an amazing place - it's the people who live there.  As a whole, they are the most generous, loving and kindest people I have ever met.  I thought I knew the definition of the word "hospitality" - Istanbulites take that to a higher level.

I have never been so sad to leave a place as I was leaving Istanbul.  And luckily for me, everything else was great during the trip as well.  The food, sightseeing, the weather, transportation, our hotel, even that volcano Eyjaflaflaflafla (you know, the one in Iceland) cooperated.

So on to the photos!

Departure: At Schiphol airport we were met by my friend Rob who whisked us through all the lines, drove us through the terminal in his cart and treated us like movie stars.  He made the whole process not only easy, but fun!  Nice butt, eh?

The weather was cottony and the head purser on KLM/Air France was so nice to me!  I HATE flying.  It scares me and makes me sweaty.  I managed (no screaming or weeping) with everyone's help and we landed smoothly after dark at Ataturk Airport.

Our hotel was a quick taxi ride away.  They drive in Istanbul just like in Manhattan - but much, much faster.  It's like an amusement park ride.  You just hold on.  I think it's fun, and I was so relieved to be on the ground again.  The taxi driver didn't even charge us the full amount of what was on the meter.  Jeroen had negotiated the price before we got in, and for some reason tipping isn't really done much in Europe like it is in the US.

The lobby looks a little different than Dutch style.  All the staff at the Hotel Arden were great.  In the package we got with the flight, it was very inexpensive.  If you book the hotel and airfare separately, you will pay a lot more.

I really like the telephones they have everywhere.  Hardly anyone has a land line anymore, and these are just cool to look at.  Our room was on the first floor, and noise was not a problem.  I've read a couple blogs from other people describing the hotel or city noise - and Manhattan is waaaaaay worse.  I slept very comfortably.  Breakfast is included, and it's the full Turkish breakfast.  Yummy!  My only complaint; WiFi was not always available - Internet service was intermittent.  

There it is, the Blue Mosque.  Crowded, touristy.

Next to the Blue Mosque (and really all around Sultanahmet) are ruins of structures that I find far more interesting.  The locals walk by without seeing any of these, and there are few or no information signs to tell you what they were. 

Side of the Blue Mosque or Sultan Ahmed Mosque.

A minaret.  Each mosque sounds the call to prayer five times a day, but unless you're standing right next to the mosque it's not intrusive.  It just sounds like music or singing in the breeze.  Friday is the big prayer day, and the only time we saw people praying or shops closed.

There are a lot of "stray" cats around Sultanahmet.  Most are very friendly, and EVERYONE feeds them.  The restaurant owners bring them meat, give them chairs to sit in, and make sure the tourists don't bother them.  Regular shop staff go out to buy meat and bring it back to feed the local "stray."

I just like the guy's hat in the front of the photo.  They are facing the Hagia Sophia.

Nearly everyone speaks some English BUT a lot gets lost in written translation.  If you make the photo larger, look for things like Fruid (fruit) and Finely Layered Pasty (pastry).  My favorite on this menu (and nearly all the menus I saw had funny English translations) is Rold Sea Bus with Cream. 

Not sure if you can see this one, but greyfurt suyu is Turkish for Grapefruit Juice.  They translate it into Greyfruit Juice, and that makes about as much sense as grapefruit (which doesn't look or taste like grapes) so I didn't bother trying to explain.  Greyfruit it is!

Klompen!  Actually, there's a whole community of Dutch in Istanbul, and there are a few signs written in Dutch, Dutch language tours and quite a few local Turks who speak conversational Dutch.

So, what does it look like on the other side of the tracks?  Dutchies watch your head...

There are no abandoned buildings or "bad" sections of town where we live in Holland, so I found this part of town fascinating.  We were out all day and all hours of the night, and never once did I feel unsafe.  Still, I'm glad I did the research and found one of the best hotels.  Might be a bit of a shock if you showed up late at night to check in to this hotel...

Living down by the tracks.

There is an extensive system of trains, trams, buses and ferries that can take you everywhere you want to go very inexpensively. 

Only a couple blocks from the tourists.

Old and new, side by side.

Everyone dresses really nicely, and I didn't see any man (other than a couple tourists) who were unshaven or who had unkempt or long hair.  Nearly everyone is happy, helpful and smiling, and they look great!  The only time this differed was after it rained and the sun was behind the clouds for a while.

Through the tunnel and back to the tourist section.

Enlarge the photo to read the plaque, or the Wikipedia explanation is here: Milion Marker

We were lucky enough to go out to dinner with a Turkish family to the most fabulous restaurant: Develi Restaurant (Samatya)  They ordered a HUGE variety of food, many drinks and dessert, explained what everything was, how to eat it, and local customs.  The restaurant has a car that picks you up, and you can read about all the branches as well as look at the menu on the way.  Again we were treated like kings and queens.

Just the appetizers.

They make the bread into heart shapes - how cute!

Speaking of cute... The whole reason we came to Istanbul - the marriage of my brother David to Samira.

I got to walk off that huge meal in Gülhane Park. There are flowers, trees and greenery all over - but no tulips!

We're taking lots of photos.

It was lovely and cool to walk in the shade.

The happy couple in the park.

Our Turkish friend Turan.  He works at Bazaar 66
If you go to Istanbul looking for diamonds, carpets or leather goods don't bother with any of the street hustlers.  Go straight to Bazaar 66 across  the street from the Arden Hotel.  Turan is my very good friend, and all of the people working here are really nice.  Stop by for a cup of Turkish coffee or apple tea and give Turan a hug from me.  These people let us borrow the phone, gave us directions everywhere we needed to go, and Turan knows where the best Turkish Baths, restaurants and shops in the area are (and which are the cheapest!)  He speaks Turkish, a little English, Japanese, Italian and Spanish - and probably a few other languages I don't know about.  It was an honor to be able to spend time with him during this trip, and I hope to see him again soon.

Our other good friend, Fikret, who works at the Hotel Le Piano & spa.  I went to the spa with Samira (oooh, wonderful!) and Fikret offered to take us all out to a nightclub.  He has a car, and even though he works 7am to 7pm, he met us at our hotel and took the four of us out.

We went to Taksim Square and İstiklal Avenue.  No one knew why there are Santas overhead.

There are interesting architechtural details everywhere - this is a restaurant roof.

This is actually a nightclub - and yes, it was dark.  The roof is retractable and they opened it shortly after we arrived.  You can dance under the stars!

I danced and drank and danced some more. 

David and Samira did too.

I was very, very happy. Like, sweaty whoo-hoo whoopie party happy.

And it wasn't just me, David and Samira were extra sweaty happy too.

The only way to recover from a night like that, is with a crepe the next day.  This is my favorite; walnuts, honey and bananas inside with apple and orange slices.  If you need the address for this place, let me know. 

It's the Oral ET.  Jeroen thought it was a dentistry place, and I thought it had something to do with aliens.  But it's a really tasty restaurant that serves the crepes mentioned above.

They also have their own stray cat.

She only eats meat - not crepes - so I'm safe.

Shopping!  This is the Spice Bazaar

Prices are negotiable, and the best stuff isn't always out where you can see it.  I learned a lot about Saffron so I could bring some back for my best friend Diane - turns out Iranian saffron can be the "most intense," and that was kept behind the counter in a little jar in this shop.

We didn't go on a busy day, and people rarely brush or bump into you, so it was a pleasant and fragrant experience. 

Everywhere you look there is something to see (or buy!)

If you go to the Spice Bazaar, right nearby is the Grand Bazaar.

I prefer the outdoor shops - this place is huge!

There are shopping streets and alleys everywhere.

Some with very modern things, handcrafted items or antiques - a real variety.

I don't know what these are...

I recommend walking rather than trying to take a taxi or renting a car.

This is one truck trying to go up a hill, and another going down.  A dillema.

A local cat fed by a restaurant.  Everyone has lunch in Istanbul, it seems.

Jeroen stopped to check his messages, and was accosted by the Love Cat.  Happy people, and happy cats live in Istanbul.

You can't help but smile with all that loving!

A local man stopped to watch for a while, then took over petting duty.  All these cats may be strays, but the people here really care for them.

A bit more shopping, and then more food!

döner kebap

Late in the day it's nice to get Turkish coffee.  One of the least expensive places is in a graveyard.  Not so strange for me, but for Jeroen it was.  I think the Dutch keep their graveyards separate from the living.

It's approximately one Euro for a Turkish coffee, and it comes with a nice view.

I'm sure these graves must be from very important people.

Some look to be very old, and they are all over town.

A fairly new resident about town. 

Listed in the NY Times Best Seller list "1,000 Places to See Before You Die" the very old Cağaloğlu Hamam is a Turkish bath that was constructed in 1741, and is still going strong today.

Istanbul has water everywhere.  The temperature is milder than I would have imagined, and there is always a fresh breeze blowing.

Yet another great place for dinner.  I'm afraid I ate my way through the Ottoman Empire.  Here their specialty is to put your choice of meat into a clay pot with vegetables and herbs, seal it and slow-cook it for twenty minutes.  They bring out the pot on a fire, and break it open next to your table releasing a delectable aroma.  The meat is so tender and served with rice, patat and bread - enjoy one or all.

We went twice in a row here, it was so good!

Great served with the local beer.

This is basically a meatball in a yogurt sauce - very similar to Tzatziki sauce.

The sign on the street for the Turkish beer Efes.

A sweets shop window - there are many!

Do not miss the baklava at Baklavaci Said

Then finally on our last day, it's time to get ready for a wedding!

David and Samira just before leaving for the ceremony.

And it's time to return home, bringing this holiday to a close.

Itstanbul overhead view.

There's so much of Istanbul we haven't seen - but we fell in love with the parts of the city and the people that we did get to know.

Now we're over the Netherlands - looks a little different than Istanbul!

Getting close to Schiphol Airport

We have returned, safe and sound.  Another good flight and kind crew on KLM/Air France - and my friend Rob to get us through the airport smoothly once again!

I love this parking sign!  That's what a lot of Holland looks like, cow and all.  I hope that when my Turkish friends come to visit here, I will be able to show them the same hospitality they have given me.  There were several other people who I would have loved to have had the time and space here to acknowledge - but I've put online all I can for right now.  If you're going to Istanbul and have any questions - feel free to email me.
Welterusten or iyi geceler (good night!)