In tandem with my last blog about what we were able to see and do in Istanbul on our own, I feel it is equally if not more important to recount our last few days in one of the world’s great cities as shared through the generosity of our friend in Turkey. Our meeting started out simply as an email exchange with a friend of our friends who is from Turkey and happens to live in Istanbul. The result was an unforgettable experience in the “real” Istanbul in addition to us making a friend of our own.
We stayed with our host, Kerem, in his apartment with a beautiful panoramic view of the Bosphorus Sea and surrounding districts. Aside from the many creature comforts that come with being lucky enough to stay in an actual home (fresh towels and linens, a washing machine, not having to wear flip flops while showering, sitting down on a couch…the list goes on), we had the privilege of meeting and getting to know our host, who freely gave up a few days to take us out and about and show us Istanbul in a way we never would have been able to see on our own.
We enjoyed a complete Turkish breakfast along the waterfront. In addition to the mix of olives, cheeses, breads, tomato, cucumber, and tea that we have grown accustomed to and love, we also got to try some meat-filled pastry, honey and cheese, and Turkish omelet (soooooo good). I could have kept on going and out-eaten both of those boys, but since they were stuffed (as was I), I decided to check it as well.
After breakfast, we drove up to see views of the Bosphorus leading to the Black Sea with Europe and Russia far out towards one side and Anatolia (the Asian side) off to our right. As happens time and time again during our travels, I once again had the feeling of being so very small (hold your comments everyone!). We also went to and through Taksim Square and spent the afternoon walking through Beyoglu, where I had my first Turkish coffee and not-so-first puffs from the nargile, which the guys also enjoyed with a couple of beers at one of the many outdoor cafes, while watching the crowds go by.
It was both relaxing and invigorating at the same time to chat and sip and puff (sorry mom, you know I don’t smoke, but when in Rome…), while watching Istanbul’s young and old literally working and playing in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the area. There were a handful of tourists sprinkled in among the locals, some doing as we were, business men in suits walking past, a group of trendily dressed young women chatting over tea, a couple playing what seems to be the national game of backgammon, and vendors darting about selling their wares.
We had dinner (mezzes, seafood, and our first taste of the Turkish liquour, Raki) at another outdoor restaurant in an alley awash with similar restaurants, Raki-fueled customers dancing between the tables to the music along with the clapping and shouting of the other patrons. It was like nothing we have in the states. We had heard that if you haven’t been to Beyoglu, then you haven’t been to Istanbul. And now we know why. We had wanted to come on our own and had been unable to get here, but in the end it was much better to experience it with our generous host and friend, and go out with a bang. Once again, thanks Kerem!!! Serefe.