Monday, May 24, 2010


!!! [pronounced “sherefei”]. That was a commonly heard phrase last weekend during my 4-day break… it means “Cheers!”

The weekend after Annecy, 3 of my friends and I went home with one of the girls to ISTANBUL! We left quite early Thursday morning (5/13) to catch our 7am flight, and after a 2-hr layover in Munich (where I was caught off guard when a Chinese guy put my Chinese to the test), Rana and I were met by our favorite Turkish delight, Ece. We drank refreshing lemonades and took in the warm sun; it was completely different from the gloomy and rainy Paris we had left behind.

After dropping our stuff off at Ece’s and taking a mini tour around the city, we went back to the Ataturk airport to pick up the remaining fourth of our traveling team, Aya, who arrived from a direct flight (the 4 of us also took the road trip down to Bordeaux). We met Ece’s parents for dinner at Beyti, apparently THE meat restaurant, according to our Turkish hosts. It was amazing. I don’t know if it was because my body was so full of sugar and I needed some meat, the meats were perfectly roasted and tender, or that they were accompanied by the most traditional and delicious Turkish sides, but I must’ve eaten my fair share (which is a lot, already) along with my whole family’s. A serving of each meat and side was served on our individual plates… I practically rolled out of the restaurant!

an assortment of starters (counter-clockwise from bottom right, if picture is oriented correctly): artichoke heart, eggplant, tomato, dolma, and a cheese-filled pastry square

Turkish tea at the finale of every meal

That Friday, we had a relaxing Turkish brunch at a café along the Bosphorus Strait, with a gorgeous view of the bridge connecting Europe and Asia. An assortment of meats, cheeses, breads, tomatoes, and cucumbers were present, alongside my apple lemonade and Turkish tea.

our spread for brunch

the view from our table (mosque + bridge connecting Asia and Europe)

Our private tour of the city with our amazing guide, Ece, took us along the waterfront and throughout the city. It was great to see remains of the old empire and hear the Muslim's call to prayer throughout the day. We stopped to get some real ice cream (pistache, abricot, and something like milk cream) before heading to some local Turkish stores.

men fishing on one of the many bridges

apricot, pistachio, and milk cream ice cream... deeeeelicious!

The afternoon was spent in a traditional women-only hamam, a must-do experience!

After spending more than enough time in the hot sticky taxi, we arrived at a dull plain looking building and went inside. A few older women greeted us and handed each of us a peştemal (kind of like a rough cover up) before showing us to our changing room. Although the changing room had plenty of windows facing the main lobby (and thus, was kind of pointless…), we got ready with our bathing suit bottoms and peştemal on top.

the "lobby"... notice the changing rooms on the left

Once changed, we entered a humid sauna-like room, with individual fountains along the edge for people to sit down and splash themselves with the hot/cold water (there were 2 taps so you could adjust the temperature). We were basically supposed to soften up our skin to assist the process of the scrub massages. And, when in Turkey, do as the Turks do, right? Yup, we stripped down until we were just in our bathing suit bottoms! I must say it was kind of a liberating feeling, although quite embarrassing at first. Two by two, we had to lie on a huge marble slab where we were scrubbed down by two ample Turkish women… No qualms about bearing all, these women sang and chanted traditional Turkish songs as they scrubbed and washed us clean. Because of the language barrier, we communicated with our hands. We turned from side to side and from tummy to back, and all these dead skin cells collected on the surface of our skin with each scour from the coarse black glove. As much as it was disgusting, tinges of excitement and amusement surged throughout my limbs. We finally rinsed ourselves clean and changed.

these women know the secrets to clean your every nook and cranny

I think the taxi ride back was long, however, because I was dreaming and catching up on sleep, I’m not quite sure… I just know there was a lot of traffic!

I saw too much of this during my visit...

We eventually got off at an enormously wide pedestrian street, packed with people before finding our car and sitting in more traffic on the way home.

huge pedestrian street packed with people

there were these little carts all over, selling Turkish sesame "bagels"

I think these are the equivalent to the baguette here in Paris...

Once we got home, we hastily played dress-up with all of Ece’s clothes (it’s like she has her own little Ece Boutique) before finalizing our outfits for her friend’s bachelorette party that evening. Located in a ritzy hotel on the top floor, the restaurant was packed with long tables for large parties. We enjoyed another delicious meal accompanied by Ece’s closest girlfriends and a live Turkish traditional band. I found it funny that in France, the drink of choice is wine, but in Turkey, everyone (but us) drank the local rakı (an anise-flavored alcohol), which we found to be a little too strong… Throughout the night, we danced between courses and gave the bride-to-be her gifts… oh and there were many a “şerefei” being said.

Saturday began with a full traditional breakfast at home with her parents. I want to say that we had at least 6 types of cheeses, 3 types of breads, 3-4 types of meat, tomatoes, cucumbers, and fresh fruit.

The rest of the day was spent pampering ourselves, the Turkish way. After an afternoon at the salon, we went home for a quick bite of “Turkish pizza,” a thin piece of dough topped with spices and meat, filled with lettuce and an onion mix, and rolled up like a burrito. It was so good, and I definitely wanted another one! The blend of spices and fresh lettuce really hit the spot, especially when we had some ayran (local yogurt drink) to wash it down.

a delicious pastry with vermicelli, filled with cheese, and topped with milk cream... eat warm!

After sitting in even more traffic, we drove
past the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. Unfortunately, because of the abundance of tour buses and people, we weren’t able to actually stop and go in…

the Blue Mosque

the Hagia Sofia

however, we managed to make it up the Galata Tower where we had a breathtaking 360° view of the city.

Galata Tower



see all the mosques??

After a few local street snacks, we met at least 8 of Ece’s friends for dinner at a popular outdoor restaurant quarter. The narrow restaurant-lined street was packed with people and long tables. Like in France, Turks spend a whole evening at the dinner table talking and enjoying each other’s company.

vendors rearranging their colorful local produce

jars of pickled (?) veggies and other stuff...

trying some delicious mussels!

mussels stuffed with rice --- maybe one of my favorite street foods!

my view from the table

On Sunday morning, Ece saw us off at the airport (on the Asia side!), sending us home with boxes of fresh Turkish pastries (sweet and salty)….mmm!

yummy breakfast on the way to the airport

Although I wasn’t able to hit up all the tourist sites that Istanbul is known for (Grand Bazaar and the mosques), I am so thankful to have seen the city with a real Turk and have some local experiences with local friends!

OK, I realize this post is a little long, but çok merci for reading all of this!!!

1 comment:

  1. boy, just looking at the pictures tells me you are having a very FULL experience! Now, to read all the fine print!