Monthly Archives: September 2011

Finding Istanbul

I have been in Istanbul for over 2 weeks now.  I cannot lie and say that it has been easy for me to like it.  Ultimately, I could not find a distinctive aspect about Istanbul that could spark an affinity for the city.  Besides the people of course as I wrote in the previous blog.

There are no statues, fountains, or ruins that could ever live up to the beauty in Rome, gyros in Greece are FAR better than the kebabs here (döner in Turkish), and Morocco is certainly more exotic and ridden with culture.  Istanbul is a metropolitan city just like any other.  Nothing special, nothing distinctive.  True culture is hard to find and if you do find it it is usually a tourist attraction.

These opinions were very short lived…

Last week we found an apartment on the Asian-side of Istanbul in the neighborhood of Fenerbahçe.  I hoped and prayed our leaser and roommate would provide me with some true cultural experiences and knowledge.  As well as help me find an appreciation for this city.  I should have known better than to worry.  For once you fully immerse yourself and make an effort to meet and talk to the people around you can you find a new and enticing way of life.

With the help from our friendly hotel staff, an exceptional couchsurfing host, and our new roommate I have finally uncovered several things I love about Istanbul.

The flawless transit system that could not be clearer than glass (Just read the signs and follow the maps!  Really!  It’s easy!)

Drinking a hot tea on a windy night.

Amazing pâtisserie shops with decadent treats.

Riding the ferry morning, afternoon, and night.

An inebriated local who at first seemed sketchy as he studied carefully Jordan and Todd’s professional camera equipment while we were recording a time lapse film of the sunrise this morning.  At first our friend mumbled and muttered incoherent Turkish phrases while leaning ever so close to Jordan and the camera.  Since he didn’t seem to know a word of English we spoke openly about our feelings about him.

“This guy is making me uncomfortable.”

“He’s just drunk,” I said.

All the sudden a horrific fight broke out in the park only 20 yards away from where we were standing.  It was too dark to see what was going on but someone was holding someone to the ground and yelling for the Polis (Police.)  Our friend said something in Turkish that seemed to mean,

“Don’t worry about that.  Polis coming.”

After this reassurance from our Turk I knew he was harmless even though he was breathing down Jordan’s neck and several times I caught him staring at me (Which is really a very common thing in Istanbul-Luckily, not as common as in Morocco.)

“I think he’s harmless,” I said as he stumbled a little closer to Jordan.

He looked me in the eyes and said,

“Where are you from?”

Jordan, Todd, and I all looked at each other with such surprise as our “observer” (which the Turk named himself) began to speak to us in perfect English!  We all bowled over in laughter.  He must have been completely oblivious that we were talking about him within earshot, forgotten he spoke English or had been fooling us the entire time!

Together we watched the sky lighten and spoke of interesting things about school, Turkey, and what/why we were filming.  The Observer left us in good graces and we boarded the ferry to watch the sunrise over the mosques in Sultanahmet.

The last and most wonderful part I love about Istanbul is the sea.  I swam in the Sea of Marmara today and did not come out until my fingers and toes were wrinkled.  We all lay in the sun and recharged from our sleepless night.

Todd, Jordan and I at breakfast after pulling an all-nighter.

In the words of Todd Geasland,


And now…I love Istanbul.

(Picture by Todd Geasland)


Filed under Turkey

Some People Get It

Two amazing articles I felt I had to share…

The Pursuit of Happiness

Obsessed with Happiness

Bhutanese king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck voluntarily ceded much of his power in order to transition the country to democracy [GALLO/GETTY]


Filed under Interesting Things


After a long and strenuous trip with a sprained ankle, two flight connections, and my checked-in luggage getting lost I arrived at Istanbul airport.  Limping out the customs door an hour later then planned I met my companion.


I turned around to see my friend wearing a flat cap and black blazer jacket.  He ran over to greet me.

“I brought you a banana but put it in the same bag as my camera and…”  

I looked down at his camera that was covered in banana pulp.  The gesture was sincere and made it even more so in the fact that I seemed more concerned than him about his professional equipment being covered in smashed banana.

We booked it to a taxi which took us to the Asitane Hotel in the neighborhood of Sultanahmet.  At lightening speed the cabbie drove along the boardwalk and park running beside the Marmara Sea.  A sharp turn took us into Sultanahmet and up, down, and around on cobble stone streets.  ‘A room with a view’ is a very accurate description of the accommodation.  Windows run along the entire wall with breathtaking views of the sea and the towers of The Blue Mosque.

I think I expected Istanbul to be familiar for me the way Morocco was.  My partner in this same realization I discovered was no other than Anthony Bourdain.  We watched his Istanbul episode last night and he seemed to have had similar expectations and realizations about this city.

The focus of Bourdain’s episode was FOOD.  LOTS OF IT.  Todd and I watched and drooled over kebabs, eggplant and cheese purees, pomegranate desserts, and of course my beloved figs.  Oh!  Did I forget to say they sell mussels on the street stuffed with rice and other spices?!  That is my goal today.  All I can say is thank God we had eaten an incredible meal before watching this.

Earlier in the day we walked to the fish market where we sat and had the incredible and famous Turkish coffee.  Once finished we were ecstatic to find that our drinks were on the house.  No hassel, no expectations, nothing lying under the surface.  A complete act of hospitality and welcome.  When we returned later that night we feasted on grilled sea bass and an appetizer plate of anchovies, eggplant, yogurt, and other interesting unidetifiable things.

I cannot lie and say that I came to Turkey with a blank slate.  In honesty I was comparing almost everything to Morocco the only other predominately Islamic country I have been to.  Within my first day I cleared my mind of any comparison.  It has been I long time since I have visited a brand new country and within 24 hours I had to remind myself of my goal.  NO expectations.  I’m going to soak up the NEWNESS and accept the unknown.  The only constant being the motive for the indefinite adventure.

At this very moment I am sitting having tea with my new friend Ozan who works here at Asitane.  He will help us find an apartment where we will live for a month working on the preparations for the Trans-Siberian Railroad.  I am grateful to have this time in this beautiful city.  From the kindness of the people, the exquisite cuisine, the strong tea and coffee, and the beauty of the city itself I know Istanbul will always have a place in my heart.

Later this evening….

Pictures from the dinner I made for for Todd, Ozan, and Atilla.  Ozan and Atilla work at the hotel and let me use the kitchen to cook!  Ozan spent the WHOLE day taking Todd and I around Istanbul.  NICEST GUYS EVER.

Menu: Chicken with garlic, lemon juice, and lemon rind.  Eggplant and peppers sauteed with garlic and spices.

Cucumber, tomato, and the AMAZING Turkish cheese, “peneer” salad-made my Atilla!

BY THE WAY…my lost bag was discovered after I refused to get off the phone with the guy until he physically went to look for my bag.

I called (for the hundredth time in 3 days) and asked about my luggage.  Before I could give my name or tracking number the man said that they didn’t have my bag.

I said, “How do you know you don’t have my bag if you don’t know my name or number?!”  

He said, “Ma’am, we ALL know you.”

I finally convinced him to look for my bag and he found it!  The underlining story is that I never would have talked to the guy who got up out of the chair to look for my bag if I hadn’t befriended Sahin.  Sahin helped me trace my bag when I first arrived in Istanbul.  He Facebooked me the next day and I messaged him explaining that they hadn’t found my bag and if there was anything he could do to help.  He replied with another phone number (the one on the paper he originally gave me NEVER answered…seriously) and this is where I was able to contact the man, Mesut, who found my bag.

Todd was so ecstatic he yelled to Mesut through skype, “We’ll buy you lunch!”  I asked Mesut if he knew Sahin and he said they were best friends!  It was hilarious and wonderful and an awesome relief.

All in all…..Great day.

To new places and NO expectations!



Filed under Turkey