Thursday, 5 June 2014

Istanbul: The End of a Transcontinental, Sentimental Journey

As I waited in Taksim Square for A, my friend's friend, I was unaware of why exactly Taksim Square was famous (it's a monument on the European side of Turkey which commemorates Kemal Atatürk, the Turkish Republic's founder). Once A arrived, we all headed to Udonya for a Japanese lunch. Although Udonya served up pretty tasty food, for me, it was overpriced considering what I would pay in Canada and/or Japan and considering what I ordered is a budget-friendly, basic essential dish. 

 Taksim Square monument.
 The view looking down the street.
Although tourists have been discouraged from visiting this area because of the violence recently, I went anyway.
 Ohhh, yeah! Delicious, steamy curry udon for lunch!
Tempura udon, fried fish, salad and rice. A typical Japanese meal!

After lunch we headed out for a drink. We walked down the famous shopping street, Istiklal Caddesi. Although we didn't shop, we stopped for traditional Turkish ice cream...We all know that really means I alone stopped for Turkish ice cream. I opted for strawberry and lemon-yeah, I know the flavours don't really match, but I wanted something tart and something sweet. I was clearly not able to make a clear decision.

 Are those gigantic muscles a result of ice-cream making?!? 
 Traditional Turkish ice cream: strawberry and lemon :)
Oooooey, goooooey and oh, so yummy!

After ice cream, we stopped off at a pub-no, not one of my ideal hangouts, but I was in the minority, lol! So by 1pm we were drinking Turkey's famous alcoholic beverage: (Yeni) Raki. The country's unofficial national drink, fondly called Lion's milk, turns a milky white colour when ice, water or tonic water are added to it. Since it's cheap, we drank a bit of it. Instead of calling it quits early, we continued to drink. I chose piña coladas, but somewhere between San Juan/Puerto Rico (where piña coladas originated is still contested) and Istanbul, someone forgot to tell our bartender that the drink should be blended (I know it's made different ways, but I prefer it blended). Mine was a tad, or A LOT, rum heavy and I was pretty happy/tipsy-ish on the borderline of being drunk. I knew I needed to walk the alcohol off in the cold Istanbul evening air, but once I was back on the warm ferry, my cheeks heated back up, nice and red, like the tomasian I am, and I was ready to take, what I thought were, fun photos...I look insanely ridiculous as I was wearing my sunglasses at almost 11pm...I hope you're all singing Corey Heart's 1980s hit, I Wear my Sunglasses at Night. I may have started singing that (not too loudly though) on the ferry for everyone to hear. 

BEFORE drinking: Looking like I've been walking, but not disheveled...Yet.
 What happens to Yeni Raki when an ice cube is put into it.
 Mmmmm, Raki!
An non-blended (and VERY strong), piña colada with a sparkler!
And...Uh...After drinking...Lol! Where's the other dude???

The next day I needed to recover. Thank goodness, I didn't have a hangover. I was exhausted from all the fresh air I got the day before. However, I ended up going for a walk to see Topkapi Palace on the European side, and although I didn't actually go into the palace (let's face it, I absolutely LOATHE waiting in lines and paying ridiculously overpriced entrance fees), I did really enjoy walking around the beautiful grounds. 

 LOVE the mosaic of tiles!

 Ohhh, sooo colourful!
 I walked up a steep hill to see the view.

 The view of the Eastern side

Meeting an old acquaintance the next day was one of the highlights of my trip. J is an American dancer who I met in Seattle, although neither of us are Seattlites. She's from Ohio (a state quite close to the Windsor-Detroit [Canadian-American] border). She and I hadn't ever really had any talks on our own (our partners at the time were good friends), so in my mind I was thinking that she may not enjoy hanging out with me. However, after sitting down to a plate consumed by a waffle decorated with various toppings, our conversation was fantastic. We caught up on what we'd been doing since we last met and where we wanted to head in the future. After waffles we had tea and coffee and walked leisurely outside for almost the whole day. Time flies when you're having fun, but we eventually parted ways and vowed to meet again once she's back in New York...Just a bit closer to (my) home, hehehe!

 Waffle extreme!
 The beach in Kadɪköy
Having çay (tea) overlooking the water at Topkapi Palace

Not one to stop socializing, the next day I met up with my old colleague from the University of Victoria (Victoria, British Columbia, Canada). I hadn't seen her since just before my mother passed away in 2011, so I was really excited! We met near the Sura Hotel on the European side and ate at a wonderful Turkish restaurant for dinner. Catching up was clearly important, but so was the dialogue we had with our waiter. L, my old colleague, and her husband, G, have been role models for me. I love their energy, brilliance and their approach to a variety of issues. They've always supported and guided me, and if I've ever needed a place to stay while I'm in Victoria, they've always offered their home. I had really missed them terribly. Their two sons, now in their 20s, are amazing. I've always admired the way that L&G raised their sons, and knowing that those once-boys are becoming fine and wonderful young men makes me feel very happy and thankful for some reason.

At dinner I ate pide for dinner (Turkey's version of pizza-DELICIOUS!) and had (yet again), a bit too much to drink. So we may have ordered a big bottle of red wine, don't judge! ;)  I sat there drinking and wondering how the heck I had drank so much while I was a grad student. I'm not a big drinker, but I've definitely gone through stages in my life where I drank quite a bit: 1.) high school (YIKES! Kids, don't follow my terrible example); 2.) Japan the second time I lived there  (I was in my mid 20s); 3.) grad school in Victoria where I met L&G. L&G may have been shocked when after barely half a glass of wine I was red. Well, living in Kuwait where alcohol is illegal (but where everyone still drinks it all the time), I actually didn't drink a lot. Yes, it's widely and easily available (I can say that openly now that I'm not living there). Many embassies there have some function where they serve it, many westerners make homemade stuff (what I fondly call modern moonshine and stuff that could kill you, so I never drink it) and a lot of nationals/locals illegally smuggle it into the country.

 Our waiter setting fire to clay pot that encased delicious food!
 Our waiter said he could do magic, but I think he's just got some good precision, lol.

The conversation over dinner was lively and, as always, interesting. Dessert saw a clear divide between baklava and traditional Turkish ice cream: vanilla, chocolate and salted caramel. The salted caramel ice cream was to die for! It was the first time I tried baklava in Turkey and I found it to be more similar to the Greek version than the Middle Eastern one/s. To someone who LOVES baklava (yep, no surprise to anyone out there, no doubt), I was really interested to see how baklava had been modified (or not), when both my Arab and Greek friends have admitted that they believe that baklava originated in Turkey.

I ended up meeting L&G again the next day for coffee and we chatted, walked around and drank some more wine. I had so much fun catching up with them! They had arrived in Istanbul after travelling around Israel for a few days and so I got to hear about their trip there. I was really curious to hear about what they saw and felt during the travels there. After a great afternoon together, we parted ways as they had booked tickets to see the whirling dervishes. I, on the other hand, went back to the Asian side and started packing my bags because the next day I was travelling to France!!!

Drawing hearts in the foam for all the girls, or just for me? Hahaha!

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