The Dane’s guidebook called the country Tyrkiet. The Mexican’s called it Turquía. Mine called it Turkey. We all agreed that it was vidunderlig/maravilloso/wonderful.
The Best and Worst of the Trip
1. Tourist Moment
Best: Visiting any of Istanbul’s historic tourist sights. If pushed to make a firm decision, there were two very special standout moments: (1) Rounding a corner in Beyoğlu at night and gazing up at the crescent moon glowing above the azure-tinted Galata Tower (photo below). (2) Walking through the ancient grander of the Aya Sofya while people-watching tourists of every nationality and religion gape together at the majesty and historical significance of the space.
Worst: Listening to the piss-poor recorded commentary on the jump-on-and-off “Big Bus Tour.” For example, one large, modern building on the shores of the Golden Horn was breathlessly described as having, “room capacities of up to 900 people and facilities to host conferences, meetings, expos and other large events!” (paraphrased). I would like to personally offer my services to re-write the tour script. (Hint: talk about the city’s sweeping history, explain why there are so many street cats, refrain from saying anything about the dimensions of ugly concrete buildings.)
Best: Every single meal in every randomly selected Turkish restaurant we stepped into. Every meal was delicious and we learned quickly to always order lamb, eggplant, tomato and bread in some formation.
Worst: Every single meal served on my Emirates flights to and from Istanbul. Though I can’t fault the graciousness of the Emirates service, the slickness of their very new airplanes, or the delicious flavor of the chocolate milkshake I spent a breathtaking USD 8 on at Shake Shack in the Dubai airport.
3. Turkish Bath Experience
Best: Visiting the 300 year old Cagaloglu Hamam. We relaxed in the gender-segregated, warm, marble hamam and were scrubbed and massaged by a charming Turkish grandma called Fatma. Highly recommended. If it’s good enough for Chevy Chase, Kate Moss, John Travolta and Franz Liszt, it’s good enough for me.
Worst: Entering the basement of a hotel which housed a mixed-gender Turkish bath and being scrubbed and massaged by a kind, but handsy, old Turkish man. Not recommended, but if you do go, go with a liberal Scandinavian friend who will keep you laughing throughout the entire experience.
4. Interactions with Locals Working in the Tourism Market
Best: Tie (1) Being mercilessly, but gently, teased by a shopkeeper while trying to buy a backgammon set (commonly played in tea houses). We pointed at various wooden boxes in his shop, only to have him pull out each box and slowly open it to reveal the velvety interior of yet another jewelry case. The last box we pointed to was an actual backgammon set, which, he explained apologetically, was for his own personal. The timing of his repeated false-reveals was spot-on-hilarious. Afterward he took mercy on us and found a shopkeeper up the street with backgammon sets for sale. Everyone was all smiles.
(2) Placing bets with friendly restaurant touts on whether or not they could guess all three of our nationalities. I was the easiest: the American with the obvious accent. My Danish friend was harder, but their skill allowed them to quickly narrow it down to a Scandinavian country. My Mexican friend was the enigma. They wanted to guess Turkish based on her face, but knew it wasn’t right based on her accent. One guessed Egyptian, another guessed Chilean and yet another guessed Moroccan. When a tout struck out, we won our wager of a free round of tea and baklava.
Worst: Returning to our hotel one day to discover that we’d be “upgraded” to a room featuring: a column in the middle of the floor plan; a TV turned on but that could only be turned off via a remote control that contained no batteries; and, a window that would not close in temperatures almost touching freezing (hotel staff later “shut” it using packing tape). It was still amusing and, hey, they gave us free apple tea.
Istanbul in sum total: highly recommend by three women of three disparate nationalities and mother tongues, even in the dead of winter.