Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Leftover Turkey

So I am home. Mostly rested, mostly unpacked. The trip home was so uneventful. I did watch 5 movies on the plane because the laws of not getting jetlag dictated that no sleeping was allowed.

Still binging on Chris's kilo of Turkish Delight.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Baste the Turkey: Clean and Massage to Prepare

So no post yesterday because nothing exciting happened. And by nothing I mean we did not get a little tipsy at our hotel, then take hotdogs we stole from breakfast to feed stray dogs, in the process loosing our key, get a new key, decide the old key needed to be found as we traipsed the grounds followed by our new found pack of wild dogs.
Our hotel staff definitely thinks, these American bitches be crazy.
So today we actually set an alarm to get the hospital shuttle to the ferries at Pendick bound for Yalova.

Before we ever left, Laura said she wanted to try the Turkish Baths. That scared me (I have issues with other peoples cleanliness) so I started researching. It turns out that a lot of tourists visit the Turkish baths. Rather than go into the city, I found out there is a small town based around a natural sulphur spring which would be easy to get to by ferry. Ataturk so loved these healing waters that he built a house there.

Back to today. So seabus from Pendick to Yalova, dolmus to Termal. If you're Keeping count we just got transportation Bingo.

  The seabus is a fast car ferry

We'd done a lot of research into Turkish Baths from procedure to clothing options. Me and women have completely separate areas. Men are required to remain covered while the women's varies. We both only packed one pieces so we decided a panties and sports bra combo would be fine. We were right as there were a couple young women in bikinis but most of the grannies were topless (sorry about the image of topless grannies).

We booked ourselves for the works including scrub and massage. We undressed, wrapped in our towels and headed down to the bath. We did a few minutes in the excrutingly hot sauna, then a few in the hot pool, then we rinsed with a little cold water, tried to lay on the hot marble slab which was too hot, and back to the hot pool. We had just decided that maybe we needed to go tell them we were ready for our scrub and massage when the masseurs came in.

This is the traditional Turkish Bath that we chose

The took us to small room with two tables with plastic mats on them. They scrubbed the beejeezes out of us. Have you ever been peeling from a sunburn and when you rub it the skin sort of rolls into balls? That. Over our entire bodies. It was one of those things that hurt but then you think it must be good for you. They even did our faces. I am not sure what you are paying but I just had full body microdermabrasion for 15 Turkish Lira. After the scrub, there is a rinse then a full body massage. I have a pretty tough massage therapist back home and this was what she does ten times faster (so I am sure not as beneficial) and with a bar of soap. We were then rinsed with cold water dumped over our heads.

This is one of the baths from the outside, each circular room has something different - a hot pool, sauna, hot marble slab to lie on.

After we recovered from the shock of what we just went through, we dressed and headed out. We grabbed the usual Turkish fare. Oh, do not come here if you want to try flavors of the world. This is kebabs and only kebabs.

We did a tiny bit of walking around Yalova's produce market and caught our Seabus back home.

The produce market

Tonight, in honor of our last night here, I think we might drink some Raki.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Brined Turkey: When Was I On a Boat

On Wednesday when we got back to the hotel, I had a weird feeling I blamed it on being so tired. Yesterday I felt the same thing and stumbled as if I was drunk while brushing my hair.

It was similar to the sealegs phenomenon when you take a cruise. When you first get on the ship you feel every tip and tilt. After a day or so, you don't notice it anymore. When you get home and things are still, you actually feel like they are rocking.

As I laid in bed, I thought - why on earth would I feel like I've been on a cruise?

Oh, that's right! I've been on 1-3 ferries every day since Sunday.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Time for Turkey: We Did All Those Things

I was about to tell you that we had a day of perfect timing except that we just went down to the lobby at 9:58 and were told that the kitchen closed at 10:00 and we could have no food.

So today, I was the one who slept in until almost 9:00. This altered our plans a bit. We did the hospital shuttle - train - ferry into Istanbul. We hoofed it toward Topkapi Palace which was our last of the big three to be seen. We overshot the entrance to go the same Burea De Change that we used on Sunday.
A few steps back toward the Palace we ducked into a shop that was packed to the Gil's with stuff. The proprietor told us lots of jokes and made us laugh. One young girl ducked in to by something and when she asked her dad for the money, the shop owner laughed and said, "you sir, are just the bank. Men and like the bank for her and her (his daughter and wife), and to carry things like small camel. But happy wife means happy life." we both had a fun experience shopping and got what we were looking for. The shopkeeper pinned an evil eye pin on both of us saying that they were for the ladies to keep the bad ones away.

We toured Topkapi Palace and the headed over to the Grand Bazaar stopping to have lunch at the World Famous Pudding Shop. We aren't sure that 50 yrs later it still gets to be world famous but they had a nice lunch.

Some interior views of Topkapi Palace

We weren't feeling the Grand Bazaar and all it's shopkeepers with their smooth lines:
Don't you like me?
I have exactly want you want.
Now is time to see my shop.
Where are you from? Is it Germany? Then you need to buy a carpet.

 The Grand Bazaar

 This one is from the Spice Bazaar where I bought my husband a kilo of Turkish Delight

We decided that even though we had changed our plan we could still make a Bosphorous Cruise. The quickest way to the dock lead us through the Spice Bazaar where I bought some candy to take home (thank god they sealed it or I would be all over that). We were hoping there would be 5:15 cruise or we would be too late for our hotel bound transportation. As we approached the dock, I worked on converting 5:15 in my head. 17:15! Just as we got close enough to read the 17:15 on the schedule board I saw the dock attendant start to waive off the boat. We yelled to him and he pointed at the ticket counter signaling that is wasn't too late. We enjoyed a cruise up the Bosphorous and back. There are no guides to tell you what you are looking at but we saw some pretty views.
The Fortress of Europe from the Bosphorus

So then we reversed our morning route back to the hotel. Showered, called home and about 9:55 decided we were hungry.

Luckily, we had two Turkey pastries in our room that we bought yesterday.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Turkey with Dressing: It's Comfortable

Yes Virginia, there is a luggage fairy.
So happy!

Last night was the first night that we both slept soundly. From about midnight to six, neither of us felt like we even rolled over.

After our usual breakfast- oh, I for got tell you about our usual breakfast. Let me divulge.
The hotel has a lovely breakfast buffet. There is cold cereal, pastries, fruit and also a hot portion. The odd things are: Everything on the cold side is sort of jumbled so that it goes fruit, vegetables, yogurt, salad, more fruit, cheese, meat then olives, cookies, tahini and a dark thick sauce that smells like balsamic, cereal and big bowls of jam with ladles. It's not that the food is odd so much that order makes you confused about what goes with what. The hot bar includes the soup of the day (tomato, broccoli and red lentil so far), eggs and hotdogs. Yes, the same hotdogs that graced our first evening sampler platter. Yesterday morning, Laura broke open one of her bread rolls to find a "surprise" hot dog.

Soup of the day, fruit, fired balls of mystery, sausage and simit (bagel)

After breakfast we took the hospital shuttle and had the driver drop us a few blocks early at Bostanci pier. We hopped a ferry to the Princes' Islands. (when I add pictures, I'll add links for more info). We walked down the shore and up the street and decided to take a carriage tour. No private vehicles are allowed on the island. The driver asked if we wanted the 45 min or 1 hr tour. We said one hour thinking that we would see more, but it turns out the carriage just goes slower. Also, like the shopping cart I never fail to get, the carriage was squeaky. Laura sat behind a horse with a different kind of the trots so we decided to name then Trooper and Pooper.
Buyukada, the largest of the Princes' Islands from the docks

The "beach" is not what we expected. It's really a ladder into the ocean. Also, this man has on water wings.

In our carriage. We got the squeaky one, just like my shopping carts.

That's Trooper on the left, Pooper on the right

I thought this house was so pretty. I love the evil eye set into it.

After our carriage ride, we did a little shopping. The prices on the island have to be fixed so no haggling. We thought the prices for the stuff that was wanted were fair so we bought a couple of things.

We took the ferry back and meandered to the shuttle stop picking up some Thai food that's currently in our fridge.

We came back to find our luggage waiting for us. Four days since we landed!

It's only 7 pm here but we are in our pjs. Clean pjs that weren't dried on the balcony.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Turkey Trot: Which Way Do We Go

1. Before you ask- no, we don't have our luggage.
2. I am a grade-A, international, public transport expert.

So despite being exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally, we both slept like crap. We got up at 4 am, read, watched tv, called home. Wide awake and it sucked.
This made us a get a late start and altered our plans. But behold, good news! The morning desk clerk (our favorite) said that a delivery company had called and confirmed the address. However, the driver said he only had one bag. Since the bags are separate, we didn't let this worry us. Maybe he would find the delivery ticket further down the stack, maybe it got put on a separate truck. We just felt positive that something was happening.

So it turns out that the hospital next door runs a shuttle during business hours to their clinic closer to Istanbul. It's also very near a trai stop. We hitched a ride on that then took our train, ferry combo into the city.

We headed right up to the Blue Mosque and arrived just I time for prayers. As we meandered about outside, a volunteer approached to tell us about a free presentation. On a smaller structure next to the mosque was a giant banner that said free event. While we could have been going to a human trafficking set-up, he did have an official volunteer badge and the building was part of the complex. I doubted the mosque would let traffickers hang banner willy-nilly.
The presentation, which they give regularly while the mosque is closed for prayers, had info about mosques in general, the Blue Mosque in particular and the Islamic faith. Most of it was review for us except for the details about the Blue Mosque. We both enjoyed the presentation, particularly the very matter of fact approach to presenting the information. The presentation was timed to coincide with the repenting of the mosque to the public.

Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

We then hopped a tram across the bridge to Galletta Tower. The brilliance in the location of the tower is that it is up a big hill. So after some huffing and puffing, we waited to take the elevator up. Now I did bring my "big camera" but wil my bag already being weighed down by my travel book, a bottle of water, etc, I just can't add it to the load. So the great views were wasted on my tiny point and shoot.
View of the Galetta Bridge from the Galetta Tower

After the tower, we tried to make it to Tunel to take the historic tram to Taksim Square. We got turned around several times thanks to a very nondescript area on the map. We finally found it and the token machine was out of order. Two other ladies said the driver had said there was one in Tunnel but we didn't know what that meant. We looked around and finally went to beg the next driver just to take our 2 lira. He said there was one in Tunnel and pointed to a very specific place. We found it, got tickets and headed out.

On the way we witnessed someone fall getting out of the way of the tram and had to stop for a bit. We finally arrived at Taksim Square and set out in search of an Indian restaurant that Laura's husband wanted us to try.
Well, we looked. Then we asked in Starbucks. Their directions yielded nothing. Then we asked in a liquor store. Their directions yielded nothing. Then we asked a hotel concierge. He didn't think there was one but gave us directions to where there might be one. So we popped in a nice looking restaurant to check out the menu. It looked like any restaurant back home. The manager spoke fluent English and said he had spent time in LA. He told us that it didn't hurt his feelings that we didnt like his menu. It was trendy to serve burgers and pizzeria in Istanbul he said. But it's rubbish. He asked us what we wanted to eat. We said local food but no more kebabs. He said kebabs were greasy and rubbish. He tried to give us directions to a really, really traditional place but we couldn't find it. So we gave up and went to an upscale kebab place. The food was good and overlooked a gated courtyard full of feral cats. As cat people we watched them interact like a soap opera.

All this running around left us in a position to be cutting our transportation cut-offs close. So we took the tram to the funicular(underground tram) to the ferry to the train and then caught a taxi.

Our taxi driver, Adof?, was adorable. He gave us gum. Then offered us a smoke which we emphatically declined. Once he introduced himself and asked our names, I tried to make small talk. He didn't know Kentucky or KFC so he called his friend who speaks a little English and handed me the phone. I thought maybe he had called the hotel for directions and was very confused. I kept yelling at his friend, "who am I speaking with? Where are you located?" I caught on when he said, "let me talk to my friend". Adof must have thought I was hot in my pink t-shirt and teal pants.

When we got back to the hotel we raced upstairs and guess what, no luggage! I called downstairs to see if they just didn't bring it up but no such luck.

Well, I gotta go wash my panties in the sink again.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Too Much Turkey: Sweatpants

So today was a very lazy day but I think we are better for. We barely made the breakfast cut-off and spent most of the day reading, napping, lounging, etc. It got late enough that we decided to hang around the free wifi and Skype our husbands when they got up for work.

We got the fluent English speaking guest relations lady to call about our luggage again today. She strikes me as the kind of person who gets things done. She found out that they gave it to the delivery service today at 1:00. She said that while it could be delivered today, we should be prepared that we won't get it until tomorrow. This told us that it was time to find a mall. At Chris's suggestion, I googled malls and found Gebze Center.

The clothes here are borderline ugly to just plain ugly. There is also a surprising number of synthetic items for a country so hot. I got two soft t-shirts and had little luck finding pants in my size. We were looking for low prices rather than fashion since we would rather spend our money on something else. We found a store that while looking rather "young" had some deals for us. Laura got a cute dress and top. I bought a pair of jersey sweatpants (not too heavy)and a matching t-shirt.
We had dinner in the food court. A mixed kebab plate and some kind of seasoned bread that I am going to look into.

The mall we went to

Home Depot!

Today gave us a chance to recharge and tomorrow we face another hot day in Istanbul.

Turkey Jerky: Getting There

I am going to try to post while in Turkey from my iPad. It may suck, sorry. Also, that means no pictures yet. I'll add them later.

So, I am in Turkey with my friend Laura. We just got here two days ago and it's already been a real adventure. Let's begin.

Day 0&1: Getting Here Due to weather in Chicago, our first flight was delayed. We landed in Chicago just in time to run to our flight. Turkish Airlines had actually already bumped us, but rebooked us at the gate. The gate attendant told us that our bags would not have had time to make it on the plane with us. We did still manage to get seats together.

We arrived and went through the long customs and visa lines. We then went to the Turkish Airlines lost luggage office where we had to wait our turn. There were several other passengers from our flight there. Chicago's delays had created a lot of tight connections. We finally got that sorted and went to find our driver. He didn't speak any English but still scolded us for being late, like we could control that. It was our intention to change currency at the airport but the driver grabbed our bags and took off for the car.

The view from the cab

Our hotel is at least an hour from the airport. It's southeast of Istanbul on the Asian side. It's affiliated with a hospital (next door) and thanks to insider connections, let's just say that you can't beat the price. However, it's location is the reason for much adventure.

We got to the hotel, showered and put on our one change of clothes each (yes, we slept in them too). We walked around the hotel which is small and up the pretty path to the hospital to be nosy. We had dinner at the hotel. Laura had a kebab and I had a salad. I also ordered a "classic hors d'oevres plate." We expected a mezze plate but what we got was some hot dog pieces, onion rings, taquitos, and two fried mushrooms. (picture) After dinner, we turned in.

Our hotel - Anadolu Titanic Comfort Inn

Day 2: Lost and Broke in Turkey - I was also lost and broke in Ireland once so maybe it's a good idea not to travel with me. So the days starts in the clothes we slept in. Breakfast, which is included, was nice. We knew the hospital had a bank so we walked up to change some money (not technically broke, just no usable money). The bank was closed. We went to the front desk and asked were we could go to change some money. The desk guard called someone to translate. We asked them to get us a taxi to take us somewhere to change money. What we got was a cab driver who would take American dollars. We tried to explain that we wanted to go somewhere to change money.he just kept saying that he had to have an address. I showed him a ferry/train station that while not the closest, I thought would be substantial enough to warrant a bureau de change. When we finally got there ($45 Cab ride), we had decided it might be worth it to pay ATM fees in order to get enough to get I to the city and find a proper Bureau de Chnage. Luckily my book had a picture on an ATM, which FYI is a bankomatic. While we looked at 2 side by side to see if one had English (my book said they all should) we noticed one had an exchange button. It only took Euros but I had Euros! (Quick thank you to my mom for bringing back extra Euros from her cruise and giving them to my husband for some weird reason) So that got us enough to get the train.

We easily found the train to the Haydarpasa ferry station. While we tried to figure out where to get the ferry and young lady in hijab approached us and asked if she could help us. She worked as a tourist liaison at the Blue Mosque and could tell we needed help (the blue Ask Me shirt people, seriously nice kids so ask them if you visit Istanbul). Since we were going the same way she escorted us all the way to a Bureau de Change in the neighborhood of the Blue Mosque. She told us several sites to see and gave us this advice.

1. Water costs .50, they will try to sell it to you for 1.00 but say no. It is .50

2. A man will be nice and help you or tell you where to go and then he will try to sell you a carpet. (this gave us a good laugh)

My first lunch and the best meal I had on the whole trip

After we changed some money, we decided to go to a tour company that I had seen recommended online. After lunch, We got a nice guided tour of Hagia Sofi and the Basikica Cistern. (picture) We then walked around the outside of the Blue Mosque. We weren't going to go in because we knew it was closing soon and wanted more time. A man came up to us and said, "Ladies, the entrance is on that side but you better hurry because it is closing soon. Do you have scarves to cover with? They have some inside to use and you will have to take your shoes off or put plastic bags on them." We told him thank you and then he said, "I have a carpet store just over there." We were actually thrilled that we had first had experience of situation #2.

Hagia Sofia Outside

Hagia Sofia Inside (as seen in the new James Bond film)

Basilica Cistern - this is where the Ottomans stored water

After walking around a bit more we slowly made our way back to the ferry looking in shops and grabbing gyros to take back to the hotel. The dock is near the Spice Market so we looked inside for minute. My last day, I am hitting that place up for Turkish Delight and Helvas to go. No souvenirs for me, just candy.

Haydrapasa Station, where we switched from a ferry to a train

We got there ferry then the train. An elderly man on the train became concerned where we were going. We must look lost. I think it is because not many clearly very foreign, women tourists take the suburban train. We tried to tell him that we were confident about where we were going but he insisted on seeing our map. The train line has been shortened so we took it to the last stop. We thought about taking a bus but there never seem to be any bus maps so we decided to take a cab. Our new friend was concerned that a cab would cost too much and that we needed him to tell the cab driver where we were going. This is extra funny because he spoke no English. We showed him that we had the exact address of where we were going written down and he felt better and went about his way.

There was plenty of shopping near the Pendik station. Laura found a sun dress and we both bought pjs. We also found a small supermarket and bought some jugs of water and liquid antibacterial hand soap for our sink washing (everything else was too big). We went to the taxi stand and showed them the address. The next driver acted very unsure of where we going even though his buddies tried to explain. He asked if we spoke German, when we said only English, he said No problem, let's go. I said, how come if we speak German there was a problem. We tried to say several times that it was next to the hospital but he kept shushing us. I also tried to get him to call them but he said "after" which I think means after we got lost. Luckily, I saw the hospital from the motorway and said there. He insisted that I was crazy and there was no hotel but we still turned around all the way he was saying "this hospital, no hotel." I guess since its really for families of patients (big oncology department from the looks of the directory) not many locals no about it. Once we got to the hotel, he admitted that he was wrong and apologized and also told us that next time tell the driver the hospital and it would be easier.

While I showered Laura took her lost baggage info to the front desk and asked the nice young man to call and see if he could get an answer. He was on the phone for almost 1/2 an hour and did find out that our luggage is here but it wont be delivered until sometime tomorrow. So I'll be doing laundry in the sink.

We are going to sleep in tomorrow (hopefully my sink washing will dry) and try robe a bit more leisurely since we know the lay of the land. Tuesday we want to get up early for a boat tour.