Hotel Street

My flight was delayed out of London (after three hours working through the flight transfer system, including being sent to the wrong terminal and waiting in the wrong line for an hour and a half). Once I arrived in Turkey, I followed the advice of the travel books and stayed up until normal bedtime. Nejat (Jonathan Kwan’s friend from USC) lives in Istanbul, and, at Jon’s urging, agreed to keep an eye on me.

I got to the hotel at 5:30 p.m., and Nejat was already there with his friend Turol. We had dinner at a place called the Green House, in a beautiful garden setting. The food was great. I was introduced to boreks, which are a yummy pastry filled with cheese, veggies or meat. After dinner we came back to the hotel and shared a bottle of wine at the rooftop café, with a view of the Bosphorus Bridge. There was a huge orange moon, and it was a nice ending to a very long day of travel.

Monday: I decided to set out to see the sights of the city. First though, I needed to exchange money. That is when I realized two things: it was hot as Hades (to me, so you know that’s hot), and it seemed as though everywhere I needed to go was uphill. I found a bank, and after along wait, during which someone cut in front of me to the “tsk, tsk” of locals, I got the cash. Then I walked back to the hotel, took a shower and changed before starting out again.

Hotel Lobby

Let me digress for a moment here to tell you about the hotel. It is right in the heart of old town, close to all the major sights, including the Hagia Sophia basilica, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, the cisterns and the Archaeological Museum. It is clean, and the staff speaks English very well and is very helpful. Breakfast is free every morning from 7 to 10:30. The rooms are small, but the location and service more than make up for it.

So, I set out to see the sights. The Blue Mosque was amazing. Women have to cover their arms, and all folks have to take their shoes off before entering. It wasn’t long before I picked up my first “host.” He accompanied me into the mosque, answered all my questions, spoke impeccable English and was quite familiar with life in the States.

Blue Mosque

After the mosque, he explained to me that he and his cousin had a shop close to the
mosque. Would I come and look? The shop was right in the tourist section near the mosque and had beautiful things, but as it turned out this was a whole routine that got old by the end of the day. I entered the shop (very upscale) and received a glass of green tea – delicious. Then they encouraged me to buy overpriced jewelry. After getting out of there, they wanted me to go look at their carpet store.

Dummy me, I went because, supposedly, I could learn about the carpets to know what to look for. An hour later, after green tea and more than I ever cared to know about rugs, I freed myself and was on my way to lunch.

Bosphorus Bridge

After lunch I headed to the Topkapi Palace. It was amazing – huge, so old and still intact. It was filled with gems, carpets and art that were awe inspiring.

That night Nejat came to get me. We went to dinner at a very nice restaurant next to the Bosphorus Bridge, which connects the continent of Europe to the continent of Asia. It was amazing. He ordered champagne to celebrate my first year as dean, and then we had a fabulous meal – bluefish, white wine, rice pilaf, assorted Turkish appetizers, grilled vegetables and a yummy eclair, covered with chocolate sauce.

Jazz Fest

Nejat’s mom had VIP tickets to the jazz fest, so we went and saw Latin jazz in the shadow of the Bosphorus Bridge (which puts on a light show at night) and a full moon above a beautiful mosque next door.

At one point, the call to prayer overlay the music from the stage. There was food and drink galore at the concert. Since we had eaten, we merely availed ourselves of the wine. The crowd at this event was made up of the beautiful people of Istanbul. It was quite a treat — lots of dancing and people-watching — and I got in late that night.