Back to Istanbul!
After completing our Balkan Loop, Kim and I headed south into Turkey to start the summer’s second phase, somehow dubbed the Epic Mediterranean Roadtrip during a late night skype planning session. I don’t exactly remember the conversation, but I’m pretty sure wine was involved.
I was elated to be back in Turkey. At our first rest stop (one of my favorite types of eating establishments in Turkey) we were greeted enthusiastically by the entire staff with “Hosgeldiniz” (Welcome) and “Buyurun” (Something like: here you are) as we walked right past the counter to the bathrooms. I was even happy to see the cleaning lady finishing up the ladies room by leaving a watery sheen on every horizontal surface. “Buyurun,” she said proudly, removing the mop blocking the door to allow our entrance.
After the friendly welcomes, my second favorite thing about rest stops in Turkey is the rice, served in the line cafeteria-style with a whole lot of other, really good food. It’s a little more expensive than finding a cheap cafe in the city, but the quality is always there. I usually get some kind of patlıcan (eggplant) dish, and the amazing rice. I think the secret ingredient is butter, which corresponds nicely to my favorite food group, fats. The rice is usually two-toned: darker gold pre-fried grains mixed with yellow-white boiled grains. It goes perfectly with whatever main dish you choose.
After battling the traffic into Istanbul, we picked up my mom at the airport. Since I had managed to wedge myself into the welcoming gate amongst some tour company greeters and expediters holding “Thompson Family” or “Sr. Enrico Luvio” signs, I wrote a happy “Mom” with my finger on my iPad and held it up, waiting for my Mom. Although it took nearly an hour for my mom to see it, I got lots of laughs from other travelers and even a young Turkish man who offered to hold it for me in the middle of oncoming passenger traffic, until he got “corrected” by the airport security. Mom wasn’t even phased to see him – she just looked immediately for me and went in for the hug!
The three of us spent a few days doing the standard Istanbul itinerary: Sultanhamet Square,
the Blue Mosque,
the Basilica, a great place to stop when you’re sick of walking around in the heat,
Topkapi Palace, where this time we toured the Harem, and I decided to focus on the glorious tiles,
and the Bosphorus, where we took a cheap cruise.
I also took them to my favorite tourist haunt, the Chora Church and one of Istanbul’s best restaurants conveniently located down the street, Asitane. Here they serve dishes from the Ottoman palace recipes. This visit we enjoyed the summer menu where for me, the standout dishes were a melon stuffed with a beef/pine nut mixture and a walnut pesto.
I really wanted to take my mom, who loves antiques, shopping on the backstreets off of Istiklal Ave. Unfortunately, the protests were still happening around Taksim Square, and I didn’t want to get my guests caught in a mess of tear gas and water cannons, so we went shopping in the Grand Bazaar instead. It’s always an experience, and I think that now that I’ve been so many times I’d be impervious to all the wares and the highly skilled hawkers, but once again, I managed to get through with plastic bags cutting my hands and a significantly lighter wallet! I bought a set of teacups in the traditional Turkish tulip shape. These were incredible, however, because at least as long as they’re in the shop, they were unbreakable. The merchant stood on them and banged them against the cement floor with no issues! We’ll see how they stand up to a Navy move!