"There will be little rubs and disappointments everywhere, and we are all apt to expect too much; but then, if one scheme of happiness fails, human nature turns to another; if the first calculation is wrong, we make a second better: we find comfort somewhere . . . "
- Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Type your name followed by "likes to" into Google search and see what comes up (put everything in quotes to get the best results.)
Okay, here we go.
Katie likes to run around in cotton panties and a crown - she's driving all the boys insane sucking on a candycane. (and that's just at the office every day - you should see what I do in my free time. Now behave or I'm going to pull this meme over right now...)
Katie likes to keep Paul on his toes. (Paul? Is that you over there waggling your candycane?)
Katie likes to eat pistachios, play frisbee, nap and imagine what life would be like if humans didn't have thumbs in that order. (Yes, sometimes, yes and I don't think I understand what other order human thumbs could come in.)
Katie likes to write. (Yeah, okay.)
Katie likes to send things to mailing lists without making sure that she is sending the correct version. (I hope Katie also likes to update her resume.)
Katie likes to say like. (Like, whatever.)
Katie likes to play the piano, bike ride, write stories, spend time with her friends and go to the movies. (Someone has a lot more time on their hands than this Katie does.)
Katie likes to sleep - she looks funny. (Yeah, thanks, buddy.)
Katie likes to pounce on her new toy. (Grrrrrr!)
Katie likes to doodle on my Palm. (That is just so wrong.)
After dark, Taksim Square begins to move. People emerge from their homes and offices. The streets team with life and celebration. Located only about a minute outside of the square, our hotel provided the perfect access for us to hoof it to the action.
Once we'd checked in, drank our welcome juice and showered (or rather, Ben showered while I dozed in the dark bedroom until F. called and demanded that we get downstairs right now or forever be considered lame old fogies) we slid out into the Istanbul night.
Taksim lies outside the historic center of the New City. Based on my impressions from walking the the shadowy streets, partying in Taksim is like partying in Williamsburg, or whatever the latest trendy neighborhood of Brooklyn might be these days. Except it's Turkish. And I didn't see any hipsters.
We strolled the pedestrian road as the last call to worship sang out hauntingly from Muslim minarets masked by the surrounding buildings. Seven of us started our trek, but two were soon lost in the shuffle of the thousands who milled around us, shopping and eating and drinking and smoking, smoking, smoking ~ I may never get the smoke out of my hair. Thanks to my florescent green raincoat, I was incapable of getting lost and served as a beacon to our entire group during the trip.
J, Ben, F and S. We realize we are five now instead of seven.
A trolley services the main street leading off of Taksim. It shoots down the center of the pedestrian street and dings a bell to scatter drunk and aimless wanderers from the tracks as it thunders along. Stores and restaurants line either side of the cobblestones; clothing stores, book shops, gelato stands and chestnut hawkers flash their wares and call out in the night, "come into my shop, we have the best in Istanbul." But they are not pushy, these enthusiastic peddlers. One gets the impression that they really do believe their goods or food or beer is the best in Istanbul and they really want you to have a lovely time in their city.
After the gloaming, we negotiated the backstreets and found a secret part of Taksim even more crowed than the main thoroughfare. When I reached for my camera, the zipper on my pocketbook exploded and there before me in a glittering designer shop window, in an alley just down from the fish market, I spied the perfect bag (oh, what serendipitous timing!) Ben haggled and poked at various purses and soon I walked out with my first Turkish acquisition, a lovely just-in-time handbag in red paten leather.
On a narrow balcony above a winding lane of restaurants, we squished together with locals and drank our first rounds of Efes, which is the Turkish beer.
We drank and walked, then, after wandering back to the hotel, meet up with more of our crew and went out again, this time to a "salsa" club.
In case you were wondering, there is no actual salsa, either of the musical, dance or food type, at a salsa club in Turkey. There is beer and Raki and loud trance music. There are writing bodies and DJs and laser lights. However, even at 1am on a Saturday night, our group of 20+ took over the mostly empty club. This began a trend for us - wherever we went in Turkey, we brought the party with us.
And here we come to my first regret (of very few) from our Turkey trip - sometime after 2am, after many of our party had departed for their cozy hotel rooms, Ben and I succumbed to our jetlag and did the same. Luckily, this was the only time this happened, but on that first night, we missed out when the hard-core members of our party went on to Reina, apparently the place to be in Istanbul on a Saturday night. But no worries ~ after that first night, we turned hard-core.
This is what I saw of Turkey on the first day of my visit.
For a while, none of us realized there was a problem. With traffic up to our earlobes, it was difficult to know when our bus was or was not expected to move along with the flow. And none of us knew where we were going anyway. Contemptuous honking from other cars was meaningless as well, since we quickly learned that honking is just how cars chat in Istanbul.
Neither the bus driver nor Seyhun let on that perhaps sitting quietly in the road while cars streamed around was not the intended or most efficient mode of transport to our hotel. Sure, one might think it strange to loll at a crossroads as time tick-tocked by. Especially after the other bus passes you, waving and honking. I wondered briefly if we might be lost. The bus driver made a call and I supposed he could be asking which way to less traffic.
However, when the polis stopped to check on us and gab with our driver and Seyhun, we began to suspect something amiss.
It turned out that the brakes on our two-day-old nice-smelling bus worked too well ~ whenever our driver tapped them, the bus stopped and stayed stopped and would not go. We had a few false starts. Our driver worked the brakes for a while, jumping around on the pedal with all of his weight, then he'd do the same with the accelerator (scaring the crap out of me - what if it worked? and the bus went? right over the edge of the road??), then finally the bus would go chuggachug and the driver would settle into the seat and we'd go for a bit, until the traffic happened and the driver tapped the brake and we found ourselves stuck once again in an awkward spot on the expressway.
Out the window, the uplifting scenery comforted us.
According to the Great and Powerful Seyhun (who was quite the trooper and kept on telling us everything there was to know about Istanbul and Turkey and Constantine while our driver pumppumppumped away at the brake and the cars honked and swished past), most of the land outside of the Old City Moat was cemetery grounds, dating way, way back to when Istanbul was Constantinople and the graves were consecrated as Christian sites. Now, they are Muslim (although I'm not sure how that works ~ do the people already in the ground get converted?) and the graveyards splayed on either side of the expressway, from the tattered dredges of moat to the horizon of our stranded spot.
Although many people flitted among the graves, they were not visiting, but simply passing through on their way into the nearby Gate leading into Istanbul.
This wee gravestone snuggled in that Irish-style ivy frock fascinated me for quite a while. Yeah. Did I mention that it was pretty boring sitting there on the bus while the minutes ticked by? Even with graves to study? I mean, all the writing was in Turkish. I really couldn't entertain myself that long with Turkish graves.
Seyhun even got distracted from his lecture and began to listen to the bus driver, who shouted animatedly into his cell phone to some poor soul I imagined sitting in a comfy chair back at Headquarters.
Ben fell asleep.
I started taking pictures of random things, like Ben sleeping and the trees and birds along the top of the wall.
At some point, this crazy guy pulled his car up in front of us and got out, waving his arms. I thought he might be yelling at us at first (or trying to kill himself by playing in the traffic), but when I looked behind us, where he was pointing, here comes some random old man in a suit, running out of the graveyard. He jumped into the crazy guy's car. Before his door even closed, the driver slipped in and they peeled away.
Finally, we heard a crack and an alarm on our bus started going off (buzt! buzt! butz!) which was very comforting, you can imagine,and the bus rolled forward. We collectively held our breath for a few minutes (until we cleared the concrete partition and nothing exploded) then cheered the driver.
Granted, we only made it as far as the first expressway exit (alarm buzt!ing all the way!), before pulling off the road to wait for a relief bus to come and save us.
I began to feel a bit down about my bus choice. Not only did we not know anyone on our bus yet, it broke down! I picked the broken bus. And, it was the smaller bus, holding about 1/3 of the people that the other bus held. Our friends were already enjoying their welcome drink at the hotel while we sat waiting on some random street, stuck outside the city.
I did not yet recognize the magnificence of Seyhun.
Anyway, after about 15 minutes, another bus appeared and we piled aboard, waving bye to our sickly vehicle.
Our relief bus wasn't nearly as nice as the broken one, and it smelled less-than-new and kind of like fish. The floor was oily. But, we found reading material crumpled in a seat. Sort of.
I can't read Turkish, but I bet we can all guess what this article says.
Our new bus took off and in no time we passed the refurbished "Golden Gate."
We drove into the new city and meandered the winding streets to our hotel, in Takism Square.
I adore the Turkish food in New York - and remain unimpressed by the stuff I found in Turkey. I know some people have commented with surprize at my dislike of the Turkish food. I also remember skepticism at my reports of mediocre food in Greece. Perhaps it is my Western palate. But I adored the food in Italy, was pleasantly shocked by the tasty food in Ireland and always savored everything I ate when traveling to Middle or South American. Germany I can't really comment about, since I ate very little food that was actually "German." The German pasta was surpurb, that much I can vouch. However, Turkey has fallen far short of my expectations.
Actually, I like the EXPENSIVE restaurants in Turkey ($25 and up per plate) just like I did in Greece. But the general restaurant food I found in Turkey was of exceptionally poor quality. I think it all relates back to the fact that Turkey is a developing country and doesn't have access to consistent high quality products (fresh meats and vegetables) like we do here in the US. I found the meat there to be tough and stringy (I personally am reporting on the chicken while Ben confirmed my suspicions regarding the hunks of beef and lamb). The bread isn't usually the good flat breads that you get in Turkish restaurants here - instead the waiters gave us the crappy white bread you gnaw on in the cheaper Italian restaurants in Little Italy.
The yellow stuff is "mashed potatoes," although it tasted like...nothing.
On the few occasions we DID find the good bread, it absolutely made the meal worth while. But I think it happened only four times during the whole trip. The vegetables (when I could find some) were tasteless, not crisp, not really edible. If we sprang for the good restaurants, we had a nice meal, but at any average restaurant, it just was not good, in my (perhaps spoiled) opinion.
"Doner" is the dish of choice in Turkey. Doner is those giant globs of meat on a pole you can find at take-away restaurants in the village, a mixture of compressed lamb and beef (pork products are taboo in Turkey due to the high Muslim population) kept warm under heat lamps then sliced off and served in even the fanciest of restaurants in Istanbul. It's that brown stuff in the first photo up there.
One of the problems with the meat dishes in general is that there is NO SAUCE. Not at all. You know that yummy yogurt sauce we see here all of the time in Turkish and/or Greek restaurants? It's nowhere to be found in Turkey. Meat is cooked to a crisp on a stick, then shoved onto your plate with white bread, soggy tomato, some comparably tasty white rice and a few reluctant fries. No olive oil. No other accouterments. If you are lucky, you get a squeeze bottle of lemon juice on your table and some salt.
On that first lunch in Istanbul, the main course was round after round of lamb, prepared many different ways. I opted for some chicken and then a vegetable dish, which was pretty good (the best vegetable dish I had there, but then again, it was a very pricey restaurant and I suspect the vegetables were of the canned variety). Ben wasn't thrilled with the lamb, but this place had the good bread, so we were happy.
We saw this man making the GOOD bread outside of Ephesus - and ate there. The bread was fabulous. Everything else....blah.
Another thing to note is that you don't find those scrumptious vegetable dishes (like spinach, okra, cauliflower, etc.) that you can get at Turkish restaurants here. They do not exist in Turkey. I looked at every menu I passed and found meat, meat, meat, starch, starch, starch, wilty salads and a dollop of hummus or two if I was lucky (and they are stingy with the hummus).
I did find (very expensive) fish one night, but the small serving size left me scrambling for lambacun (Turkish pizza - kind of) soon after we left the restaurant.
We ate at a variety of restaurants in all parts of town, those targeted to locals and those catering more to tourists. But it's also important to note that most Turkish people do not generally eat out, not like we do here in New York, so finding local favorites is tricky business. The Turkish people eat at home. They go out for coffee, for tea, for a beer. The culture is different from ours. I think that also ties back to the fact that incomes are much lower in Turkey than in the US. They eat at home and can't afford to eat out unless it's a very special occasion, while I generally eat out for lunch every day and 4+ times a week for dinner.
As for the coffee, you get it either sweet or not. There is no adding sugar once it's served ~ it is seriously taboo to go near the coffee with a spoon once it is served. And there's no "drinking down to the grinds" - the grinds are already there in every sip. You chew the coffee more than drink it. And that's another difference between Turkish restaurants here and the restaurants in Turkey. Here, it's just nice, strong coffee with grinds in the bottom. There, you find coffee grind soup, yum! Granted, Ben drank it every day, so that much is a matter of personal tastes. But if you are a Starbucks/Dunkin Donuts kinda person (like me) you might want to take a deep breath before you go bottoms up.
At the Istanbul airport, I found myself surrounded by multicultural assortment of people, the like of which I have never before seen in one place. And I'm just talking about my traveling companions! A more diverse group you would be unlikely to find. But there at the airport, most were still strangers to me.
We met our American guide, Sue, and our Turkish guides, No-Name and the soon to be beloved Seyhun. These capable leaders herded us and our luggage across the street where we piled ourselves on the median, all slightly stunned from the flight and some of us hungover, waiting for the buses that would gather us up to begin our trip.
The Great and Powerful Seyhun.
It was pure chance that put us on Seyhun's Little White Bus. Actually, it was my competitive and over-achieving (and possibly somewhat obsessive/compulsive) nature. I shoved my luggage into the holding area of the first bus I could reach and shot aboard before it had stopped rolling, eager for a window seat to share with Ben, a place situated so that I could snap photos while in motion, hear the tour guide and basically not miss a thing. Never has my kookiness about seating arrangements paid off so well. But that we will see as our adventure progresses...
As it was, I initially felt disappointed. None of the people I knew, other than Ben, landed on Seyhun's Little White Bus - those more laid-back friends of mine (A., F., S., Y. and H.) ended up on No-Name's Big Blue Bus behind us. I looked around and noticed several other couples on our bus. The mood seemed subdued and I wondered if, in my haste, I had miscalculated and we were missing out on the "party bus."
We spot our first Turkish minaret, seen here among the "taksis."
Seyhun immediately began our immersion into the Turkish culture, giving us the lay of the land, statistics about the country and about Istanbul (Istanbul is the only city to straddle two continents; 5% of Turkey is in Europe, 95% is in Asia; there are 70 million people in Turkey - 15 million of those are in Istanbul). We rode on a 2-day-old bus that reeked of new-ness.
Before long, we saw the city walls of Istanbul that surround the Old City. Earthquakes have devastated the walls and gates, but some isolated spots have been refurbished. In other areas, the walls lay in ruins, sometimes speckled with dilapidated homes and assorted rubble.
These days, those people who live just inside the walls are allowed to farm what used to be the city moat. It is purely sustenance farming, practiced by the poorest of residents.
Before long, we pulled into a lot right against the Old City Wall. Led by our guides, we filed through a fishy-smelling tunnel into the streets of Old Istanbul.
Up a few winding roads and past several cats, we found the restaurant that would host our welcome lunch.
We clambered up five flights on a spiral staircase, though layer after layer of cigarette smoke, all the way to the top floor where gobsmacking views of the Bosporus Straight stretched out over limp salads.
Looking back, I can tell you that all of the salads in Turkey were fair to middling at best. Despite what I read in the guidebooks, this country lacks knowledge of what to do with a vegetable. However, I chose to ignore the faux salad and let myself be charmed by the grass growing over the crumbling walls.
Also adding to the fun was our tablemate, M., a school alum traveling with us (who knew? as an alum, I can forever and always go on these trips, at the student prices!), who launched into the Turkish food and drink like a champion. She was the first to try the frightening Turkish coffee. Ben soon followed suit, but one grimy sip was enough to have me hacking up a hairball.
Do you notice that M. looks a bit sweaty? We were all dying; the problem with gorgeous floor to ceiling windows is that they have the greenhouse effect, which would be fine if they restaurant had air conditioning. Which it did not. I think some of my ass melted off in the heat (which is a good thing) but my black turtle neck was soaked and finished on day one (which is a very bad thing when one packs lightly for a trip). Here we are, sweating for the camera:
We hadn't gotten Turkish Liras yet, but the restaurant took our dollars in exchange for (flat) soda (however, I noticed that all of the soda was flat in Turkey). Although only semi-chilled, it provided momentary relief.
The highlight of the meal had to be dessert ~ a dish comprised of shredded wheat stuffed with white cheese, sprinkled with pistachios then soaked in honey. The picture isn't great, but this was the tastiest treat I sampled in Turkey.
It was after the meal, as we headed to our hotel in the New City of Istanbul, that our two-day old new-smelling bus broke down.