We've been in Selcuk the last two days. Istanbul was sort of a blur.
We arrived last Monday evening from Tbilisi, having left Georgia at a time when normal people travel (as opposed to the middle of the night, which is usually the case when coming to or leaving from Tbilisi). After having some tea at the hotel and grabbing some baklava (which, it has been decided, will happen every day we are in Turkey), the four of us — me, McKinze, her mom and her aunt — settled in for the night.
McKinze and I were in Istanbul last September, so we had already experienced the must-see attractions like the Hagia Sophia (still one of the top two or three most amazing buildings I've been in), the Blue Mosque, the Cisterns, etc. This gave us time to do some other things, but also be pseudo-guides for McKinze's mom and aunt.
Our friends Tony and Alicia were also in Istanbul, so we got together with them on more than one occasion to go exploring, have some beers and be soaped up and rubbed down by large shirtless Turks at the “hamam,” or Turkish bath. Seriously: the Turkish bath has ruined all other methods of hygienic upkeep for me. Can't be beat.
Over the course of three days we also went to Suleiman's mosque, far less overrun with tourists then its famous “blue” cousin, and more beautiful in my opinion. We wandered through the Grand Bazaar and Spice Market. We saw some ancient rugs, belts and Qurans at the Islamic Art Museum. We looked at vintage furniture and coins. We fed street cats. We had Starbucks. I ran along the Marmara Sea every morning. We watched CNN International in our hotel room. We had our own shower and hot water whenever we wanted it. Living large, my friends. Living large.
And, of course, we ate. Kebabs. Yogurt and garlic. Breads. Tomato salads with cucumbers and lemon. Olives. Eggplant. Soups. Ayran, a surprisingly delicious and refreshing watery yogurt drink (described not in accurately by Tony as “cottage cheese juice”). Turnip juice. Soggy “islak” hamburgers (a small burger and bun, dipped in spiced watery tomato paste).
Like Georgia and also Italy, the same food shows up on just about every menu, giving you a chance to try everything, find your favorites, and compare one place's flavors (and prices) to another's. In general, although some of the food I had could have used a bit more flavor, I like how the Turks eat: lots of fresh produce, yogurt, olive oil, rice. Simple food, simply prepared. Light and filling without weighing you down.
A few days later it was over, the Istanbul part of the trip. I think McKinze's mom and aunt enjoyed the sights, and McKinze and I found ourselves saying that we wished we had more time there. Like last time we were there, we left feeling that Istanbul is a city we could really live in, not just visit.