In the beginning of our trip, Istanbul was never on our minds. But in visiting it, we found the most vibrant blend of Eastern / Western culture since we left Hong Kong. Three days wasn’t nearly enough time!
When we arrived we started making Hong Kong comparisons immediately — the steep hills paved with narrow brick streets looked like transplants from Central. The nostalgia hit us hard.
We crashed our first night at The Green House Taksim, an adorable little hotel run by a Turkish couple. The next day we had some stuff to do.
Stuff like… …buy long underwear… (very necessary since Reba and I have been living in the tropics so long, we can barely handle temperatures in the low 40s)
…and we also had to… …grab some Minnesota coffee…
…and get a Turkish Bath.
No pictures of that, since it’s mostly a soapy massage on a hot marble table. The bath that we visited had been around since 1584!
Then we went back to the hotel.
The following morning we drug our feet and didn’t get out of the hotel until 11-ish. Still plenty of time to see something that’s captured my imagination since I was a widdle guy (er, since about 1999): The Hagia Sophia!
Hagia Sophia, and idiot with salep
So much history in this building! 3 Empires! 2 religions! 1600 years! Loved every second of it.
After that, we went to a restaurant where Bill Clinton once ate, I guess. See? Proof.
Then a quick stroll across the square to visit The Blue Mosque, which was beautiful, but not quite as enthralling as the HS. Plus it required a uniform Dignified?
Now hungry from all of our culturing, we visited Namli, a Turkish deli, and ate excessively.
Turkish cuisine turned out to be a whalloping pleasant surprise. Mediterranean flavors, plus west-European baking, plus Middle Eastern spreads and dips, plus the world’s best desserts (pomegranate-pistacchio Turkish Delights, anyone?).
The Turkish deli experience in particular charmed us. We became buddies with a waiter at Namli:
He called himself Eddie Murphy. I totally see it.
So, stuffed stupid after our meal there, we proceeded to a nearby small museum, called the Quincentenial Foundation Museum of Turkish Jews.
Formerly the Zulfaris Synagogue, it’s about the long, friendly history between Sepphardic Jews and Turks.
It was touching to read about how, when Europe (Spain in particular) was frothy with anti-Semitism, Suleiman the Magnificent offered to harbor any Jewish comers into the Ottoman Empire.
And the trend continued during the Holocaust, when Turks took in Jews when many Western countries (the US included, to my shame) would not. Powerful stuff!
I enjoyed the historical part of the museum a lot. The ethnological part… could have used fewer creepy mannekins: Shudder.
But anyway it was well worth a visit.
The next day Reba and I had planned to stroll through Topkapi palace, but the weather turned out to be real blech — cold and drizzly. Not great for an outdoor promenade.
So instead we visited the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, which was great!
In particular I enjoyed this guy’s exhibit:
That’s Mehmet Guleryuz, whose career is long and whose range extends from truly horrifying paintings:
to ironical figurative sculpture:
The Musuem itself was much larger than we were expecting, and a great way to duck out of the rain.
Our last moments in the city we spent at the Grand Londres Hotel, a favorite watering hole of Hemingway’s:
Nice decor, great staff, good drinks, and cheap. Plus there were tons of cockatoos. Very recommended.
Overall Istanbul surprised us again and again. It straddles the border between Asia and Europe and represents them both superbly. I really hope we’ll find our way back again.