Turkishly Delighted

Sorry for the long delay, folks! Been busy hosting and planning more trips, which I’m excited to share with you in upcoming posts!

A few weeks ago (can’t believe how fast time is flying), Jaro and I enjoyed a nice long weekend in Istanbul. Coming off the backend of our multi-week family trip in Ukraine (more on that here and here), it was the perfect retreat for us to reconnect. We arrived in the evening on a Thursday, and were relieved to immediately remove our jackets. Finally, some less depressing warm weather! We were met by our gracious host (from our Housetrip booking) at the bus stop, who led us to our cute apartment in the Beyoglu neighborhood, near Galata Tower. In fact, we had a view of it from our terrace, see:

A sliver of Galata Tower

So pretty! After wandering the streets of our temporary ‘hood for a while, we landed on dinner at our host’s suggestion, Güney Restaurant, near Galata. Um, have you ever had Turkish ravioli? Or pitta with herbs and cheese? I hadn’t either before this trip and had NO idea what I was missing. Now I wish it could be in my life every single day. With a side of yogurt dip. Let’s just say, this was my face after trying it:

The look of satisfaction

Friday, we got after it. Checked out all the major sites in Old City – Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque. Paid for entry into each attraction, so worth it.

Jaro inside Hagia Sophia

Me inside the Blue Mosque

But here’s a freebie – The tulip gardens in the area around the Palace were absolutely incredible! They were all perfectly in bloom and just gorgeous. Did you know that tulips originated from Turkey before they were exported to the Netherlands? Fun fact for ya. Anyway, I’ll add some more scenic pics separately after the post. I was blown away by the magnitude of these structures. Truly awe-inspiring. Throw in plenty of sunshine, friendly people, good food and you have yourself a day. That night we headed back to Galata Tower, climbed it, dominated it, and felt that earned us beers and a gluttonous dinner on Nevizade, one of the craziest restaurant streets I have ever seen. It’s a hectic, chaotic combination of the food carts in Marrakech, with the repetitiveness of Barcelona and the harassment of Brussels. It was insane. But awesome. We found a great place (read: a great host that didn’t try to harass me) and enjoyed dinner on the sidewalk.

Saturday was “let’s be adults and make a big purchase while we are here” day. We always get things for our home when we travel so we have decor from all over the place, but this was a big deal. We shoved our bodies through the sardine-can-like Grand Bazaar and bought a carpet rug. That’s right, a Turkish… rug. Doesn’t have quite the same ring as Turkish carpet, but it’ll do. The difference between the two is that carpets are knotted and rugs are woven. And while also cheaper, I honestly preferred the rug anyway because I felt it was more youthful and modern. All the carpets looked like they were for old people too traditional for my taste. We ended up with this great piece that we both love and it is getting trampled laying nicely in our office area. I still don’t like the process of haggling with these salesmen though. I always end up feeling guilt-tripped into buying something and that our offer is humiliating to them. I’d like to know how many mid-twenty-somethings walk in there and plunk down hundreds of Euro for a carpet rug. I’ll guess NOT MANY, so back off while we consider if this investment is worthwhile!!! He was even a little … mean about it. I felt Istanbullied! Oh God, okay, I’m done. I just can’t get enough of the bad puns, what can I say.

Anyway, spent that evening taking a sunset cruise up the Bosporus. So lovely! Sunset is the best lighting for landscape photography. I was going nuts. Afterward, we had our small world encounter. I met up with my bestie’s roommate from college who was also traveling through the city that same weekend! The powers of facebook and social media, scary sometimes when they allow these chance rendezvous to happen. SO wonderful to see a familiar, beautiful face. We ended up hanging out in Beyoglu, on Istiklal for a bit and then back over to Nevizade and rounded out the night at Galata Tower again, where we sat on newspapers and talked, drank beers and listened to music until 2am. So fun.

Sunday, Jaro and I headed over to the Asian side of the city by ferry. After experiencing a fancy spa-like hamam in Morocco, I was bound and determined to try an authentic Turkish bath. We heard from friends that the ones on the Asian side were the real deal, less geared toward the tourist. Sign me up! We ended up at hamam Aziziye. Don’t be fooled by the English text. NO ONE in that place spoke English. And I was the most comfortable with being uncomfortable that I’ve ever been. First of all, Jaro and I went in the separate male/female entrances (a guess based on a man walking out of one of them), this was no ‘couples retreat’. Once I was inside, it looked like a locker room, complete with half naked Turkish women whispering over tea. They were all incredibly gracious to me, I felt like they were just happy to see someone new in there trying it out! Those situations can be intimidating, but this one definitely wasn’t. I just made sure to keep smiling. Once I was undressed (sorry if this is TMI), one of the women led me through a door that opened into a magnificent sauna bathhouse. I was in! Beautiful marble floors and benches, along with tiled walls and domed ceilings greeted me! What a space! I couldn’t believe it based on the outside of the building, which just looks like any storefront. I stood there just staring and the woman waited patiently while I marveled. She then demonstrated the “bathhouse” process of sitting and pouring bowls of water on yourself. Seriously, not too shabby. Then she left me in there to enjoy and relax. Unbelievably, I was the only person in the place. I soaked it up, quite literally. I slowly realized I didn’t request the scrub down or massage I had seen on the website. So I padded over to the door, opened it, had 24 eyes staring back at me and I made a scrubbing motion on my arm to explain I wanted that done. With a flick of the wrist, a woman told me to go back inside. Like a chastised child, I obliged.

A few minutes later (or 15..), a women came in and instructed for me to lay on the marble slab in the center of the room. I obeyed, laid face down, and proceeded to get scrubbed. And when I say scrubbed, I mean, scrubbed. Seeing all the dead skin rolling up on my arm was strangely satisfying. A swift slap to my butt and I knew I was supposed to roll over. That process was followed with a healthy splashing of cold water (so invigorating!) and a quick, rough massage with the best smelling eucalyptus oil I have ever sniffed. And a shampoo! I was really, really, really clean. Squeaky clean. But also soft from all that oil.

After a little more lounging, I guessed it had been an hour and headed out to meet Jaro. He had the same silly grin as I did as we approached each other. So, did I sell you on it? If not, let’s talk again. It was that awesome. Best 20 Euro I ever spent. That’s right, that hour of bliss was 20 Euro. I guess it’s not for everyone, you have to be totally comfortable wearing your birthday suit in front of others, and I suppose some germaphobes could worry about hygiene. …Over it! Here we are having lunch afterwards, smiling like goofs:

J+J and a Goblin

After some shopping (Turkish bathrobes!) and strolling, we headed back to European side. That night, we not-embarrassingly-at-all went back to Guney. Listen, you guys, I NEVER repeat a restaurant when I travel. It was just that good and super close to our apartment.

And that was that. We headed out on Monday morning back to Kiev. I surprised myself with how much I loved visiting this city. Beautiful scenery, great food, (mostly) friendly city, interesting history…. the list goes on. Istanbul’s got it all. It’s this crazy juxtaposition of old and new, rich and poor, happy and sad, bullies and friends. But that all makes the world go round, right? I can’t wait to go back. I leave you with this:

Turkish ravioli