Our 4-year-old niece accompanied us to the airport when departing for this trip. At this point she has what I guess is a pretty age-appropriate understanding of our travels. With video calls and such, it probably never seems like we’re particularly far away. We just hop on a “Hair-Plane” and the next time she sees us on an iPad, it’ll be night for us while it’s day for her. She has a very strong interest in visiting Japan (pronounced “Uh-Pan” aka “Hello Kitty Land”) to an extent that it can be dangled as a behavior-altering bribe. On this departure though, Martha told her we were going to Turkey and that we were going to take her. That probably struck her as just as weird as visiting “Hungry.” She was having no part of being smuggled in our suitcase because she hadn’t packed a bag and besides “what do they eat in Turkey?” Well, after a couple of days in Istanbul, I can tell you that the food is enough alone to bring us back multiple times. I’m not sure about Kebap and all the manner of grilled spiced meats, but the Baklava and Turkish Delight that can be found all over the place in bright, eye-catching displays would probably be more than enough to bribe a 4-year-old.
We caught a Taksi to the Taksim district, where our AirBnB was located. The directions were a bit complicated, so we had our taxi driver call our contact and they yelled at each other in Turkish long enough to come to an understanding of where he was taking us. The Taksim district is a hub for all kinds of great food, which is probably the main reason Martha booked us there. Even at 2 am, you’ve got some pretty enticing options with all sorts of little restaurants still open catering to the nightclub crowd. We grabbed some little grilled wraps from a local chain called “Bambi Cafe” and were not disappointed.
AirBnB apartments can exist in an odd state of flux, filled with mementos and artifacts from the many anonymous travelers that preceded you. Half used sundries and toiletries from around the world fill the cabinets. Our place was no different, with random decorations from world travels of the owners as well as the many prior guests. It was like a shrine to the traveler. We got some good rest and headed out early to a breakfast joint a couple blocks over for a full Turkish breakfast spread. Breakfast entailed lots of little dishes, which reminds me of some types of Korean meals. There are a few types of olives and cheese, cucumber and tomatoes, fresh warm bread both sweet and savory, a few types of eggs, spinach rolls and a number of variations of honey and pistachios and tahini and such. It was all quite tasty and not like anything I’ve had before. Afterwards, Martha had designs on a traditional Turkish bath, or Hamami, and she went for the full treatment with that. Once the reality of scalding water and vigorous skin abrasion at the hands of some Turkish man while in a state of undress was fully explained, I decided that was a life experience I’m happy to take a pass on. Martha had a great time though, so maybe I’m just weak and prudish.
At night we took a long stroll, eventually bringing us around to Istiklal “walking street,” which was like a big outdoor shopping strip. There were lots of big western brand name stores and chains as well as a variety of local stores and many restaurants and higher end cafes and sweet shops. Istiklal is definitely a great tourist stop, but the place was pretty densely packed with locals shopping there as well. We settled on dinner and some treats for later after window shopping quite a bit. The whole area is a spectacle, with a trolley looping through occasionally with an entire band set up in one of the open air cars playing live Turkish rock music. A couple times walking through the street we saw groups of police coming through quickly in riot gear with masks and shields, which we really weren’t sure what to make of. At the end of the street were like some urban assault vehicles (like what the Egyptian police had) and many lines of uniformed and plainclothes police blocking people from going further. There was also a helicopter circling low, but we never saw anything in that area to indicate why.
After we got back to our apartment and were finishing up some packing and laundry, we suddenly heard this eruption of chanting and banging and drumming, followed by some sirens and a few police cars coming through the street. We were a couple floors up, so I opened the windows to see what was going on. Once I opened the windows I was able to make out “Allahu Akbar” amongst the chanting, followed by what sounded like a few gunshots. Unfortunately, Martha was not keen on running down and checking it out more closely, so I wasn’t able to figure out what (if anything) happened. Whatever it was settled down quickly, leaving just the ongoing sound of low circling helicopters through the night. We only got to sleep for a little while though before heading back out to the airport to start the next big leg of the trip: Iran. We got to the airport nice and early to enjoy some more of that insanely opulent Turkish Airlines lounge for breakfast. We’re going to have a couple more days back in Istanbul before heading home. After this little brief sampling. we’re both really looking forward to coming back so soon.