October 9, 2015

End of the road

I've just finished packing my suitcase (dad is still at it) while eating too many chocolate-covered Turkish Delights. I'm pretty sure I've put on a few pounds on this trip. But it's all okay because tomorrow we return to Seattle. I return to being vegan, hitting the gym, and working at Msoft until I can do this all over again. 

Today was a perfectly paced final day. We treated ourselves to breakfast at Van Kahvaltı Evi in the Cihangir neighborhood. I had my first taste of Turkish coffee (I don't know why it took so long) and we enjoyed an array of mezzes. I warned my dad that I intended to go shopping after breakfast. He could come along or we could part ways, but shopping was on the agenda no matter what. We ended up parting ways. But not before we stopped into one shop that really left an impression on me.

We happened upon a plant store, Muz,  which immediately caught my eye even though there's no way I could bring back a plant from Istanbul. We went inside and they had a great collection of pottery and other non-living goods. I loved the way the shop was set up--part plant store, part artisan goods, and part coffee shop. 

After we split up, I made my second stop at Mono, a record shop close to our breakfast stop. There was a lot to go through, but I focused on the selection of records recorded or pressed in Turkey. I ended up only buying two records (they're pricier here than in Bucharest, where I bought 6). One is Beats & Pieces from 60's & 70's Turkish Psychedelia and the other is Karisik Disko.

More shopping followed, with lots of walking inbetween. I had plans to meet back up with dad at 3pm for our second cup of coffee, this time at Mandabatmaz. It's a small, traditionally-fashioned Turkish cafe that serves the richest coffee I've ever experienced. We sat outside on low stools caught each other up on what we had been up to the previous three hours. 

Once coffee was done, we headed back to the hotel for our spa appointment! We both booked a hammam/massage package, which started off with fifteen minutes in a eucalyptus dry sauna. When our time was up, we were led to the hammam...together. Once we realized they intended to have us bathe in the same room--at the same time--my dad and both enthusiastically repeated "father!" "daughter!" "not wife!". The misunderstanding was fixed by putting me back in the dry sauna until my dad was done using the room. And that was the last I saw of him. Just kidding. Once the massage and bathing and scrubbing was all done, I returned to our hotel room to grab my dad and set off for our fancy dinner. 

We had reservations at 6:30pm at 360 Istanbul, a restaurant that (you guess it) has a 360 degree view of the city. What's even better is that we were able to catch the sunset. I couldn't have thought of a better way to finish our trip. I put to my dad that we should each share what we'll miss most about traveling together. It was interesting to realize that our answers were very similar. It has been a wonderful experience getting to spend time with my dad as an adult. The last time I spent this much uninterrupted time with him was when I was a kid living at home. Our experiences in Romania brought up a lot of family history and self-discovery that I was able to process with my dad as an equal. 

I could dive deeper into what else I've appreciated about this trip, but I have to wake up at 3am and it's already 11pm. I need those four hours. So long, Istanbul.

October 9, 2015

Day 2 in Istanbul

I’ve just left my dad, half asleep, listening to Deep Purple in the hotel room. This is the night I will try and experience nightlife in Istanbul. I’ll admit I’m not off to a great start considering I’m sitting at a swanky cocktail bar, sipping on an almond-cinammon Disarono concoction, and hunched over my laptop. I’m a real party-starter.

Today kicked off with a very Maxim-esque adventure. We (ahem, “we”) accidentally left Romania with a borrowed cellphone and GPS unit, which my dad was now hell-bent on returning to his cousin as soon as humanly possible. It somehow turned into a two-hour endeavor, but we made it to DHL location and shipped our package off to Bucharest. Side note: we later received an email from Sergiu that there was no rush returning the items and to take our time. I’m pretty sure my dad opted for the one-day delivery, but I wouldn’t know because I waited outside and watched guys try and scam tourists.

 The Blue Mosque from inside Haga Sofia

The Blue Mosque from inside Haga Sofia

After our Turkish DHL experience, we headed over to the Blue Mosque. We arrived during the prayer hour, so we waited in the courtyard until we could enter the mosque. During that time we people-watched the hell out of our fellow tourists and were amazed at some of the outfits women had on. Were they really that tone-deaf to show up in mini-skirts or did they just not care? Maybe that’s anti-feminist of me to say.

Great. The bar I’m at is closing. I am a nightlife-curse. Time to gulp down this syrupy monstrosity of a beverage and change locations.

I am now at a bar called “Ugly” and I’ve just ordered a drink dubbed “Love Juice”. Aside from vodka, I have no clue what’s in it. Bottoms up!

Once we entered the Blue Mosque, the first thing that caught my attention was the stench of dirty feet. I know, surrounded by all that beauty and all I can think about are the stinky feet surrounding me. Once I worked past that hang up, I realized just how cavernous the mosque feels from inside. It possesses an understated type of beauty—much different from the exterior, which I found myself more drawn to. We moved quickly through the mosque, pulled by the waves of people around us. My dad made a point to take me to the place where my mom was yelled at when they visited. I guess she was in the wrong place at the wrong time (the men’s area of the mosque during prayer).

Leaving the mosque we had a clear view of Haga Sofia, our next destination. This is the historical site that won my day. Its exterior has a really intriguing structural style with varying depths and heights between rooms and domes, the result of centuries of remodeling. Inside was also a treat, where walls engraved with Islamic scripture stood in harmony with faded frescos of Jesus and his apostles. It was the most beautiful culture clash I’d ever seen.

Our final historic visit of the day was Topkapi Palace. My dad and I are still unclear as to where exactly the palace is actually located. All of the buildings we walked through were designated for council members, or events (such as the circumcision room). The palace grounds were large and had a mixture of old and modern buildings, making it more museum than palace. The real show-stopper (other than the circumcision room) was the terrace that gave a stunning view of the Bosphorus and surrounding land. Not to mention there was a fucking rainbow over Istanbul at that very moment!

 Circumcision room

Circumcision room

After our exhaustive string of tours, we headed back to the hotel with a pit stop at Kurukahveci Mermet Effendi Mahdumlari to buy some coffee beans. After an impromptu nap, during which I allegedly punched my dad, we set out for dinner at Ficcin, a great Circassian restaurant that had the most delicious potato dumplings. Like I told my dad, there’s nothing better than starch wrapped in starch.

That leaves me at this moment. Sitting alone at Ugly, drinking my teal-colored Love Juice.

October 7, 2015

I’m from the barrio

Here I am, having a beer in the courtyard of a blues bar, listening to a Turkish band cover Smooth by Santana. The guitarist is killing it. I'm now in Istanbul--the Pera area to be exact. Yesterday was our final day in Bucharest and we didn't get to our hotel in Istanbul until 2am, so no journal entry (sorry, mom). I will quickly note that our final day in Bucharest was exactly what I'd hoped it be. I was able to walk around Revolution Square and see the potato (Memorial of Rebirth) up close. We had a final amble through the old city, and capped off the day with Sergiu and Adriana for dinner in their courtyard under a canopy of grape vines. 

My dad and I are staying at the Pera Tulip Hotel, the same hotel he and mom stayed at when they visited five years ago. It's situated in the more European side of the city near Galata Tower. We took off around eleven this morning, walking down İstiklal Avenue towards the Galata Bridge. You could see several mosques in the distance while walking down the hill with their slim, circular minarets. It was interesting to compare them to what I had seen in Morocco, where their style is square or octagonal. 

Our first activity of the day was taking the ferry along the Bosphorus. In retrospect, this probably wasn't the best activity to kick off my first day in a new city. I wanted to get into the streets and instead we were embarking on an hour-and-a-half boat ride that left the city and traveled north of the Bosphorus Bridge.  There's no denying that it was a beautiful trip, especially with sun being out. But my energy level was craving something a bit more hands on.

Nevertheless, we cruised along the strait while enjoying a cup of tea, which I soon realized was what my dad most loved about this trip, which he also did with my mom five years ago. There are advantages to traveling with someone who is a bit familiar with the city. For example, I had no clue that the bottom level of the Galata Bridge was packed with restaurants. My dad clued me into that because, yep, you guess it: He went there with my mom five years ago. But there's also the potential downside of having an attraction over-hyped and then feeling let down once you arrive for a first impression. 

Fortunately Istanbul is a city that doesn't let down. After the ferry ride, we continued on to the spice bazaar, picking up some pastries for dessert. Again, my experience in Morocco--specifically Fez--came to mind. There's a lot of similarities, yet Istanbul so far appears much more polished and new. I got a similar impression in the Grand Bazaar. I was going in expecting a similar experience to Fez or Marrakesh, and there were similarities, but what really impressed me was how orderly and modern it felt. 

We wandered around aimlessly for a long time before heading back to the hotel to clean up for dinner. The restaurant we picked out...
...Sorry. It's really hard writing right now with this band butchering Smoke On The Water. It's step below drunk karaoke. I don't understand how the street cats can sleep with this racket. Speaking of which, there's a cat curled up on my backpack, which at first grossed me out, but now I think it's kind of sweet. My new Turkish pet.

Back to dinner, we ate at The Number 19 Dining, a cozy spot near our hotel. This place had amazing food that had that home-cooked-meal feel to it. What was most interesting was the way they presented their dining options. Rather than a menu, they had the dishes spread out in the front of the restaurant and you picked from them, after which they would bring it out to the table. Kind of a high-end potluck. Like, I said, the food was great and the concept even better.

After dinner, we walked the entire length of İstiklal--even more impressive at night. It's the widest (and longest) pedestrian-only road I've ever seen...
...Sorry, again. I have a cat update. There are now two cats curled up on my backpack sleeping, and a weird albino-looking one on the outskirts. It's eyeing my roasted peanuts.

İstiklal. Huge. We walked a lot, I bought some Turkish Delights, and now I'm here with my cats, Turkish cornball of a bro-dude-cover-band, and empty pint of beer.
So far the distractions have been endless. Everything deserves attention and admiration and I'm beginning to think three days isn't enough.