Now that the Paris trip is over, I have time to slow down a bit... I had planned to blog in Paris but I just didn't have time for anything more than uploading a photo once in a while. I arrived in Istanbul last night around 11 PM. I had arranged a private transfer for myself, which was a good idea since the airport was mobbed and there was a looong taxi line. I went out for a walk down the street a couple blocks and had a chicken sandwich and a diet coke, then came back to sleep. I am recovering from the Paris trip, which was all work.
The hotel is new, modern, and right on the main tram line, which makes it super easy to get to the other parts of town. Our room is tiny but I'm ok with that. There's even an electric kettle for making coffee. The hotel only provides instant coffee packets (which are common here) but I have my Aeropress and a pound of half caf from my local coffee roaster back in St. Louis.
This morning I took a taxi to the airport and picked up Rachel. I had a transfer arranged for her as well so it would be a comfortable arrival into Istanbul. Once back at the hotel, we went out for a walk down the main street near our hotel for an hour or two. We sat at a little corner place for lunch (a beef sandwich and a chicken wrap, both meats cut fresh off of a doner, or rotating spit) and just explored a little. I got a haircut, picked up some Turkish Delight (a sweet that is sold everywhere, in many different flavors) and we came back to the hotel to sleep for a few hours. Rachel was tired from traveling and I'm exhausted from the last couple weeks.
My general feeling about Istanbul so far is that it's everything I was hoping for. A couple years ago, after a program in Rome, I went to Budapest for a few days, hoping to find a really adventurous experience. I found that it was interesting, but not so different from any other Western city. Much of it felt like I could be in NY or Chicago. Istanbul feels completely foreign to me - it feels more like the Middle East than Europe to me. We are in a touristy part of town but I don't think we've encountered more than 20 or so Americans so far. I would say 90% of the people around us are Turkish.
After our nap we took the tram (3 Turkish Lira per ride, about $1.50) east, deeper into the old city, where we walked over towards the Blue Mosque, through a park area, down some shopping streets, and eventually picked a place for dinner. I had low expectations because it seemed touristy, but the food was pretty great. We had a spinach yogurt dip and stuffed eggplant for an appetizer, then a baked eggplant, chicken, tomato dish which was listed as a dish of the Ottoman Empire. Dinner was followed by our first glass of sweet Turkish Tea, which was delicious.
After that we walked a little more and took a taxi back to the hotel (12 TL instead of 6 for the tram). We are sampling a few different kinds of turkish delight that we picked up on the way - one with white cream, pistachios and chocolate (amazing), one with brown center and covered in pistachios, and some kind of baklava with pistachios in the middle.
The sweet shops here are amazing and I just want to buy everything. There are also nuts and dried fruit everywhere - all favorites of mine. There also seems to be a ton of watermelon sold on the streets for some reason.
I had today set aside on our itinerary as a kind of introduction / welcome day to get oriented, and I think it turned out to be a great day. Hopefully we are rested enough to have a great day of exploring and sightseeing tomorrow.