Tuesday, February 28, 2012


the blue mosque

Well, here we are in Istanbul! I don't have any recipes for you yet, but I thought I'd check in. 

It was a rough flight for me. Halfway through the 12 hour ordeal, I started to feel really crappy, and 24 hours later I still don't feel right. I have been spending more time sleeping and wishing I had an appetite instead of achy joints and an overall feeling of ick. This is unusual for me, as I usually am not sick, and almost always have an insatiable appetite for food...wah. 

I do have a couple of tips for the veggie voyager flying with Turkish Airlines. Make sure you order your vegetarian meal at least 24 hours ahead of time, as that is their strict cutoff. We failed to do this, and so we were served the meal without the entree at first (the flight attendant was actually able to find us 2 veggie meals in the end, so we got lucky, but it could have been ugly). And make sure that you check all the available meals they have on offer, as Turkish Airlines has a LOT of options! Options like raw food vegan (!), hindi vegetarian, ovo-lacto vegetarian, etc. Ordering special meals is always a good idea on flights, as you always get served first. Also, make sure you have your own headphones, as the provided ones totally suck, because there were about 300 (!) film choices on the in-flight entertainment. I tend to watch movies I would never watch elsewhere on planes as the choices are usually those kinds of movies, but Turkish Airlines is definitely pushing the envelope here. 

Interesting view from our hotel veranda.
I think the barbed wire is there to prevent intruders to the room.
but look at those ancient ruins right there!
It was 34 degrees and raining when we arrived, and I was exhausted, and nauseous with a mild case of diarrhea, so instead of taking the subway as originally planned we opted for an airport shuttle, forking out what seemed at first to be a sizable chunk of dough (remember, I am used to Africa prices) to be dropped right at the door of our hotel. It turned out to be the right thing to do, as our hotel was nearly impossible to find. Ryan had booked it online, as the price was right and it seemed smart. Once we did find it, we learned that the room available for us (we booked a tiny bed and breakfast) had a leaky roof. The owner connected us with another hotelier who shuttled us to his tiny hotel in Sultanahmet (the old, touristy part of Istanbul) and we were given a suite with 3 beds and a bathtub. It was a lifesaver (getting to take a bath, that is). Most people come to Turkey in the summer, but the prices go WAY up during high season. Now, although it's cold, rainy and snowy here, the prices are WAY down. Compare our room $30/night to $150/night at high season. Ouch! I'll take the snow... If you're wondering, we are at the Daisy Hotel, about 5 minutes walk from the Hagia Sophia.

Apparently, it is standard for all hotels here to provide a "Turkish Breakfast". Daisy Hotel did not disappoint, with a small buffet of fresh vegetables, fruit, yogurt, bread, cheese, olives, eggs, coffee and tea. 

only one thing here I wouldn't eat: the hot dog-like meat over there by the eggs.

yum to the standard Turkish breakfast!
Sights we saw today: The Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. Beautiful! I am a mosaic artist by trade so I am all about the mosaics and the Hagia Sophia did not disappoint. Other highlights include lots of cute, super friendly cats. Cats here use friendliness and cuteness as survival tactics and I did pet about 5 of them in our wanderings. There was a cat in the Hagia Sophia laying on one of the floor lights, presumably for the warmth who was attracting more attention than all the frescoes, architecture and mosaics combined. He was so funny and cute with the spotlight blasting on his face, we (along with everyone else there) had to take some pictures of him.

kitty in the hagia sophia
We also booked travel to Cappadoccia: an overnight bus with WIFI. I can't say I'm looking forward to a 10 hour ride, but am hoping this off-season thing will pay off with extra seats for us to stretch out and sleep somewhat comfortably. We went to a little tour agency called Pasific (just next to the Sultanahmet metro station if you're looking for it). Once we finished our business there, we asked our agent, Kursat, to direct us to an eatery free from the usual tourist trappings and he personally led us through backstreets to a cafeteria that was definitely a locals-only joint. You know its a good sign when there is a long line of locals out the door, waiting to fill their trays with goodies. Kursat even stuck around long enough to help us order (first day folks, cut me some slack!) our meal, which was simple but tasty and really cheap. I especially liked the spinach dish topped with yogurt. Other dishes included rice with white beans in tomato sauce (like Greek gigantes), an eggplant and potato stew, and mushrooms stewed in tomato sauce. I love how vegetarian dishes are so common here! Turkey is, so far, a great place for the veggie voyager. Tip: lokanta means "diner" or "cafeteria" here. 

Learning the language has been fun. Turkish is nothing like any of the other languages I have studied, and it is difficult to remember words. We have been learning how to count to ten...and have come up with a funny word association. First, the numbers in their actuality:

zero - sıfır
one - bir
two - iki
three - üç
four - dört
five - beş
six - altı
seven - yedi
eight - sekiz
nine - dokuz
ten - on

Ryan does not like beer, so this is the way we have taught ourselves to count, at least to 5. BEER is ICKY. OUCH! It tastes like DIRT and is BEIGE. Ridiculous, I know, but I hope it helps you when you come here. 

Kursat also told us a funny way to remember how to say "thank you" (thank you - teşekkür ederim). Just remember, tea sugar a dream. But say tea like you are French (the). 

Other useful words: et - meat, su - water, et su - meat water (broth). Merhaba - hello.
More as I learn...

Have I mentioned that I love learning languages? Such a good way to burrow your way into a culture. I know that 8 days isn't much time to even make the effort but if you start from day 1, it makes any voyage, veggie or not, more enjoyable.

I have to say that Sultanahmet, while old and charming and quaint and full of most of the sights one must see while in Istanbul, is kitschy and touristy and expensive. After a long afternoon nap we decided to hoof it somewhere else in search of food that was authentic and affordable. We ended up a few miles west of tourist-land in a much more regular seeming lokanta that looked good. It was a "fish and meat restaurant", but we were able to enjoy a lovely green salad, a cold eggplant dish, lentil soup and our first vegetable casserole (more on this dish later). We sat by the window and watched the snow fall while we ate. Then we walked back in the snow, remembering to take lots of goofy pictures along the way. Be sure to check out some of these silly images on Ryan's blog, http://everthine.blogspot.com/

dinner and a stroll...

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