Five Days in Istanbul

15 September 2012 · 14 comments

Nick and I have been in Istanbul for five full days now, and we’ve barely scratched the surface.

Without a tour group and with no real agenda, we’ve explored the city slowly. In fact, there are still lots of things we haven’t done. Whenever we part ways — which we do at times during the afternoons — Nick ranges far afield while I explore old Istanbul, trying to get a better feel for the streets and neighborhoods.

Tulumba, the Turkish equivalent of a donutOur feet are sore, and so are our throats. (We can’t tell whether it’s pollution or allergies. It might be both.) But so far, the minor ailments have been worth it. Here are some of the highlights from our first few days in Turkey.

Overall, I’m not that impressed with the food. Maybe I’m just trying the wrong things. Before I left, people kept telling me how great Turkish food was, but I don’t get it. There’s just not much variety. (Jodi‘s given me a lead on a good kebab place (or “kebap” as they’re known here), but that’ll have to wait until I return to Istanbul in ten days.)

That said, there are some Turkish foods that I like — including Turkish coffee. I’ve only been drinking coffee for about six weeks, so it might seem strange that I’ve leaped into the deep end and am now drinking the industrial-strength stuff. But there you go. I’ve had Turkish coffee twice and loved it. I especially loved it with a small dish of tulumba, which are a sort of cross between a donut and a churro. (One of my super powers is finding the local equivalent of donuts no matter which country I visit.)

Just as I learned to love maracuyá (a type of passionfruit) in Peru, I’m learning to love pomegranate here. Pomegranate juice, especially. Between four and eight lira (about $2US to $4US) will buy a cup of fresh-squeezed juice. It’s very sour — much more sour than the Pom-brand stuff in U.S. grocery stores — but it’s delicious.

For two bucks, this boy squeezed me a glass of fresh pomegranate juice
For two bucks, this boy squeezed me a glass of fresh pomegranate juice

Actually, Turks seem to have a fondness for sour flavors. Many things, such as candies and juices are flavored with sour cherry (visne). I like sour things too — such as the afore-mentioned maracuyá — so, hey, I feel right at home.

There are cats everywhere in Istanbul. Just like the dogs in Cusco, Peru, the cats live and interact with the humans on a daily basis. They have their own cat agendas, almost as if they have jobs. There’s an orange cat that hangs out at the benches benches between the Blue Mosque and Haigia Sophia. And today I stopped to rest at a coffee shop. A small calico kept bringing bits of meat off the street and carrying them to a back room. “She has a litter of kittens back there,” the shop owner told me. “I’m letting her stay.”

Kids playing with a cat near the Blue Mosque
Kids playing with a cat between the Blue Mosque and Haigia Sophia

Salesman are aggressive here, and tourists are suckers. How do I know? Because I’ve been a sucker already, and so has Nick. Nick paid 40 lira (about $25US) for a shoeshine. I paid 75 lira (about $45US) for a meal that should have cost 20 lira. But you’re only a sucker once. (Sometimes twice.) After that, the aggressive salesmen have to find new suckers.

A mild-mannered shopkeeper, selling his lamps in Istanbul
A mild-mannered shopkeeper, selling lamps in Istanbul

Surprisingly, I’m getting plenty of practice with my Spanish. I have a Spanish-language map, Spanish-language guidebooks, and I pick up Spanish-language brochures at each museum or site. We’ve befriended a shopkeeper named Ramazan, who speaks a bit of English and a bit of Spanish. He and I speak Spanish with each other whenever go in to buy water or deodorant or chips. When I’m accosted by the afore-mentioned aggressive salesmen, I pretend to speak Spanish, which usually (but not always) gets me out of having to deal with them.

The tourist attractions are neat, but they’re very much tourist attractions. This includes the fabled Grand Bazaar, which now seems like the world’s largest souvenir shop. (It’s huge beyond words.) There’s plenty of life to be found in the streets and alleys near the tourist attractions, though. My favorite part of the trip so far has been the afternoon that Nick and I just wandered aimlessly in the streets, absorbing the vibrancy of the people and the place.

The bustling real-world marketplace outside the Egyptian Spice Market
The bustling real-world marketplace outside the Egyptian Spice Market

Finally, I like a couple of my snapshots from Haigia Sophia, so indulge me.

This cat was guarding the Imperial Gate at Haigia Sophia
This cat was guarding the Imperial Gate at Haigia Sophia, but it let me pass

The ceiling (and great chandelier) in Haigia Sophia
The ceiling (and great chandelier) in Haigia Sophia

A group of tourists gathered near the apse of Haigia Sophia
A group of tourists gathered near the apse of Haigia Sophia

This morning, Nick and I will take the ferry and bus to Izmir, which is a couple of hundred kilometers south of Istanbul. We have no hotel reservations and no idea what we’ll do when we get there (which will probably be around 17:00 local time). So far, things have been easy, and we’re counting on that being the case in Izmir as well. It may be a bad assumption. We’ll see.

Until next time, my friends, be well.

1 Peter September 15, 2012 at 23:49

Wow, love the pictures, it really does make it seem like a beautiful bustling fun place to be. Look forward to hearing about the rest of your trip.

2 Jenn Limbaugh September 16, 2012 at 00:07

Loved the read JD!
I’m sitting here amongst a slew of teens absorbed in your adventures.
I read to Reagan about the cats who stand guard; she loved it!
Continue on! We will all be watching and listening!

3 Huppie September 16, 2012 at 03:25

We’re currently in Istanbul and our experience with food here is pretty much the same. The food was a lot better when we where in Kusadasi (, near Izmir) some time ago.

Best food we had here until now was the vegetarian restaurant Parsifal (in a small alley near Taksim square.)

4 Anne September 16, 2012 at 05:31

Oh my gosh – the food! Some of the best food I have had in my life. I’m almost entirely talking about the street food, though–I found restaurants were hit or miss. Go to Simit Palace and get one of the simit stuffed with olives. Get baklava and other sweets from Karaköy Güllüoğlu (yeah, I had to google and then copy/paste). If you want to bring home souvenirs, Turkish delight from this place is good and travels well. Get balak ekmek from one of the stalls on or under Galata Bridge. Take the ferry across to the Asian side for Kanlıca yogurt. Get the fish soup from the restaurant mentioned in this article. And then tell me you aren’t impressed by the food in Istanbul. ;)

5 Bethh September 16, 2012 at 07:43

Oh, ekmek! Is that a dessert thing? I had some in Greece and it was awesome! I spent a few weeks in Greece last year and I think I encountered what JD is describing – taken individually all my meals were good, but they were all basically the same. It was a huge relief to return to Athens and eat a couple of non-Greek meals! That palate reset helped a lot for the rest of the trip.

I’ve heard great things about Turkey & am enjoying the stories!

6 Anne September 16, 2012 at 13:34

Ekmek just means bread… Balik ekmek is literally “fish bread”–they catch the fish, clean it, cook it, and serve it as a simple sandwich. I’m not sure what you had in Greece that sounded like “ekmek” as the Greeks are quite polysyllabic. :)

I am a huge philhellene, absolutely obsessed with Greece–but I will admit that the food is not much to write home about. I had a few great meals there but for the most part the best meals were the simplest. But the food in Istanbul is nothing like Greek food in my opinion in experience, Turkey identifying more with the Middle East.

7 Lance @ Money Life and More September 16, 2012 at 07:48

I hope one day I can take a trip without a lot of planning and a schedule! Right now I’d be terrified to take a trip and not have lodging reservations!

8 Mark September 16, 2012 at 07:50

Okay, I’ll be the wuss and ask the real questions : ) –

Are you concerned with your personal security there? I realize Turkey is a NATO ally and all, but I get the sense that’s not aligned with a large part of the population in terms of their feelings toward Americans/Westerners.

About 20 years ago I was in Dubai for a few days and one evening I decided to take a stroll around the area near the tourist hotel I was staying at. Up to that point all my time had been spent at the “Gold Souk”. I walked down a side street to explore a bit and saw a few very angry looking, shady characters just sitting on the steps in front of a building. I look up at the building and there was a huge painted mural of Yassir Arafat on it. It turned out to be some sort of PLO base. I high-tailed it out of there quickly.

That Spanish you’re learning may come in handy for disguise if worst comes to worst : )

9 Financial Samurai September 16, 2012 at 09:49

Ahh, my favorite thing I miss is the freshly squeezed pomegrenate and OJ! Eating lots of Baklava too I hope?!

10 Pauline September 16, 2012 at 14:35

If you come from Saint Sophie, towards the Grand Bazaar, and follow Divanyolu along the tramway, next to Beyazıt-Kapalıçarşi tramway stop on your right, there is a small place selling fish. You will notice it because it is only take away and there are pictures and prices next to it, on your right when you come from Saint Sophie. They have an eating room inside the building. I don’t remember the name, but it is one of the best places to have fresh seafood. Prices are a bargain, around $10 for a full meal and drinks, no alcohol served.

11 American Debt Project September 16, 2012 at 15:34

That first picture of the bamieh (that’s what it’s called in Iran) is my favorite dessert! Sugar and honey and flour…mmmmm. Sour cherry juice is so refreshing and thirst-quenching! I am excited to read More than Money, and even though we didn’t actually meet officially at FinCon, your presence was notable and your energy infectious. Thanks for sharing so much of yourself with the blogging world. Look forward to following more of your work!

12 Paula @ Afford Anything September 16, 2012 at 15:45

Mmm, fresh pomegranate juice ….

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: