jet-lagged and deliriously happy, we arrived to istanbul yesterday at 5:30 AM. turkish airlines was an unbelievable delight, after getting buffeted around unceremoniously by china southern. their food, movie selection, flowers in the bathroom (no joke! real gerber daisies in the bathrooms!) and little bonus overnight package (complete with lipbalm, socks, toothbrush, and an eye-cover for sleeping) was all enough to help us feel relief in waves.
our taxi followed the coastline north from the aiport to our part of the city. we were entranced as daylight slowly emerged, highlighting the outlines of huge ships sleeping in the sea of marmara. ruins came into view, crumbling walls and glowing mosques. then, into increasingly narrow and winding cobblestone streets we drove, a maze of tall, european flats and shops. we are staying in lower beyoglu, a newer, apparently artistic district of istanbul. we are renting a flat from a couple not much older than us. the husband, aydin, met us and got us situated in the morning, and then let us sleep. i crashed for a few hours, but david stayed awake. around 11, we were ready to venture out, and aydin was gracious enough to give us a great map and take us on a mini tour of our area. it’s such a maze, we’re so grateful to have someone familiar with the area point out good shops and restaurants. we are very near to a street called istiklal, which is a bustling area full of european architecture and traditional turkish restaurants.
our first meal was pide (something like a cross between a pizza and calzone) with a side of strong turkish coffee and some yummy baked rice pudding for dessert. the owner gave us a few speaking lessons, and chuckled as we mangled through the phrases. and we thought korean was hard! then we walked up and down the main drag, getting near to taksim square (unfortunately blocked by construction) and stopping to eat little cubes of gelatinous turkish delight and halvah – a tahini-based pistachio “paste” which was very sugary and seemed to dissolve in our mouths.
we then decided to pick up a few groceries, so made our way into the twists and turns of little side-streets around our neighborhood, marveling at all the antique shops, cafes, cats, crumbling staircases, and colorful buildings. then, back at the apartment we switched rooms (because of missed flights, etc. we had to switch flats in the same building later on in the day). in our new place, finally settled, i browsed through travel guides, deciding on an itinerary for the next few days.
for dinner, we found a little place mentioned in my amazing guidebook called “istanbul eats” (many thanks to angie for this!!) called ficcin, a place that specialized in circassian/turkish food. we had a sweet waitress who spoke great english and we ordered the cerkez-styled manti – their take on the turkish, meat-filled dumpling covered in yogurt and chili oil. it was really delicious. then we got a couple meze’s (small plates or appetizers) – hummus and cerkez tavugu (a cold chicken and walnut spread with garlic and red pepper). we also tried the strong turkish chai tea. it was a great start to our culinary explorations.
jet-lag was dragging us down, so after dinner we walked back to the apartment and crashed, full and happy, into a bed so soft it felt like a dream.