Our flight left Dulles around 5:15pm, we arrived (courtesy of a 115mph tailwind) about half an hour early to Frankfurt where we headed to the Lufthansa lounge for a few hours before our flight to Istanbul. After a half hour delay, and a very odd musical chairs of checking our tickets and allowing us to sit in the gate waiting area, then having everyone file back out and rechecking our tickets before boarding, we got onto the 3? hour flight to Istanbul where both Jeremy and I fell asleep for a good portion of the flight after our second breakfast. We arrived in Istanbul around 1:30, acquired our $20 visas, went through customs, found our checked bags (in less than 5 minutes, was quite awesome) and located our shuttle driver by about 3pm.
We had about an hour ride to the hotel from the airport where we were first introduced to the driving experience in Istanbul…
1) lines on the pavement? more guidelines than rules
2) Honking is used to indicate frustration, location, gratitude and greetings or all of the above at the same time, if the guy behind, next to or in front of you honks, you should respond accordingly
3) Pedestrians take their life into their own hands crossing the street, the cars will not yield for you until you are standing in front of them
4) You must be thisclose to the car in front of you, any extra space is not allowed; accordingly, if there is a gap between you and the next car while you’re moving make sure to close that space in as little time as possible
5) (and this is according to our Turkish tourguide) Turks are colorblind, red, yellow, green…they are all the same
Overall the taxi and/or shuttle rides are very entertaining, a few folks have taken video of the cab rides, if I can find one I will link to it later.
When we got to the hotel Doug and Elif called up to our room once we had checked in and coordinated that we would meet up with everyone for dinner at 8pm at a restaurant within walking distance from the hotel. We had about 3 hours to kill, so there was definitive napping occurring pre-dinner then we met up with everyone in the lobby at 8 and got to meet the rest of the “USA” group staying at the hotel: Mike, Boston co-worker of Doug and his girlfriend Erin, Oliver, high school friend of Doug, Ray, co-worker from Williamsburg and Boston (and the next morning Randy, friend of Doug and co-worker with Ray). We walked a few blocks to an open-air restaurant where we met Elif’s parents, Doug’s mom Kay, Elif’s aunt and grandparents. Dinner was a smorgasboard of Turkish cuisine. We started with mezzes (appetizers/tapas) along with baskets of a flat bubbly bread topped with black sesame seeds which, according to Elif’s dad, you are supposed to tear open and fill with the goat’s milk cheese and butter, then roll up and enjoy. The bread is sort of like a thin empty brick-fired naan, the cheese is sort of like a mild feta in flavor and texture and between that and the creamy butter and the crispy and chewy bread, a very fun play on texture and tasty to boot. Next were the curry-spiced lamb and bulgur hand-formed meatballs which you ate wrapped in a lettuce leaf, “Turkish pizza” with a savory unknown meat topping, tomato salad with a vinagrette, fried meatballs with lamb and broccoli, sauteed eggplant with olive oil, and finally a cold cucumber quiche (keep in mind, this is just the starter course(s)). All of this is then followed by a toast with raki (pronounced rakoo), which is “Turkish uzo”, so a licorice-flavored 90 proof liquor mixed with water so it turns white. For the main course I had the traditional doner kebab (strips of lamb in a tasty brown sauce over cubes of bread and a yogurt dipping sauce. We ended the meal with slices of watermelon and nectarines. After all of this food and the travelling (and in the case of some folks, all the raki) everyone was ready to head to bed for the next morning was our grand tour of Istanbul.