Tuesday: I booked a tour which went to the spice market, the new mosque, and out on the Bosphorus on a cruise. The tour was a good idea because I was able to see a number of sights and get some great pictures.

Believe it or not, I met a guy from Mena, Ark., who knows Jake Looney (our former Dean and colleague).

After the tour, I returned to the hotel, picked up a mystery novel and relaxed. Later that evening, I took a cab over to Beyoglu and met Nejat for dinner. That area of Istanbul is funky, artsy and decidedly more Western.

After dinner (meat patties, salad, seasoned potatoes and local beer), we went to the home of two artists, actually an architect and artist. Both Murat and Fuat Sahinler are very well known, prominent artists. They lived on the top floor of a very old building that looked right out onto the Bosphorus, with an amazing view. We talked about politics, religion, the upcoming elections in our countries and our backgrounds.

Istanbul View

Afterwards, Murat offered to drive me (and Nejat) around the city because I had mentioned to him that the tours were all limited to tourist areas. So, off we went, careening through town, at times at 100 km per hour on city streets. Driving there is really crazy. We went far north to a local Kurdish tea garden and had black tea and toast (grilled cheese). Then we went to Murat’s studio. He has exhibited and lived all over the world. It was amazing! He gave me an art book of Turkish artists and autographed it for me. Then we drove back through other parts of the city and back to my hotel.


Wednesday: I had a seriously fabulous dinner at the rooftop café here in the hotel. First of all, I ate overlooking the Bosphorus, which in and of itself is pretty darn special. The meal itself was also fantastic. I started with a very fresh salad with real, ripe tasty tomatoes, cucumbers, corn lettuce, mushrooms, topped with a shredded local cheese and lightly covered with a tasty dressing. That was followed by a chicken wrap, which was far from the American idea of a wrap. The chicken was wrapped around veggies and cheese and covered in a light sauce. It was served with (surprisingly) French fries, described on the menu as sliced potatoes. The service was doting. Dessert was a chocolate soufflé served with whipped cream and powdered sugar.

Istanbul Street

Afterwards, I moved to the outside area, in the shadow of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque for an after-dinner aperitif (sherry). However, what I got was a cross between Baileys and a chocolate liqueur. In fact, it poured out of a dual bottle (I know this because the waiter came and refilled it – gratis – as though I needed it. During the whole meal, the music in the restaurant was of the “Quiet Storm” type, mostly R&B love songs with a few international ballads thrown in. It was a blast to eat a fabulous meal in Istanbul to Luther Vandross, Alicia Keys and Norah Jones. In fact, as I was enjoying my “sherry,” Norah Jones played against the backdrop of the nighttime call to prayer.

Earlier Wednesday I did a great deal of walking, not all of it intentional I have to admit. Whenever I travel, I have gotten into the habit of checking to see if I can get money before I need it.

Go Fish

So I walked to the bank and tried my ATM card to find that it could not be read by the Turkish ATM, which gave the message, “You cannot receive money at this bank.” This was a good thing to know before I needed to know it. So I went into the bank, and the manager suggested that I go to Citibank since it was American. Thus began the long, long walk. After confirming that my card did not work there, I set off to walk along the sea, because the day before when I was there, my camera battery was depleted.

I sat with the fishermen, got some great shots and then walked back through the park. I only had one issue with a “host” — a 75-year-old man who tried excitedly to engage me in Turkish for about half of my walk through the park.

Bridge from Asia

After that, I took a tour of the Asian side of the city, which was a disappointment except for the Summer Palace tour. The guide was a macho type who didn’t have much use for me and vice-versa. The good thing is I met Francoise (with an “e” she told me), and we decided to brave the Grand Bazaar together on Thursday. She was a Parisian who spent 11 years living in D.C and was a lot of fun, with a wicked sense of humor.

I told Nejat he had been a wonderful host, but since I was going to see him and his family the next day, I would hang out at the hotel. And that’s how I ended up having dinner with Luther, Norah and the call to prayer.