This morning I got back from my announced quick trip to Istanbul and I'm still in a trance - mainly because our plane left from Sabiha airport at 6am so we had to be there at 4am so we had to take the last direct transport at 11.45pm so we arrived there at around 1am so we had to spend 5 hours waiting in the airport and it was cold and we couldn't sleep so I've basically spent a day and a half awake until I finally got to sleep for about 4 hours this afternoon. This is also the reason my writing is extra-lame today and I keep repeating "so we had to".
I was surprised by so many things in and about Istanbul, so here's my Top 5 List:
1. Turkish Coffee is gross but orange-pomegranate juice is wonderful. I've had Turkish Coffee before, in other parts of Turkey and here in Vienna and I've always liked it. It's strong and intense and as long as you rememeber that the grounds are at the bottom of your cup you're fine. If you don't and you drink it all you might get a nasty surprise, but in itself it's just great. Now, generally I'm more of a tea person unless I'm in South America or close to a Starbucks (don't hate me, I like frappuchinos), but I decided I had to try the typical stuff while there (I also had a Kebab and a thing called "The Imam fainted" (İmambayıldı - very tasty, I get why he fainted after eating it) and lamb...), because it's not the same as having it elsewhere. So I went to MADO and had gave it a try. Maybe - and that's my hope - it was the place's fault, but the coffee was the. worst. ever. like in the whole world. I get the grounds on the bottom of the cup, that's part of the charm - but the coffee tasting like someone stirred in a tablespoon of flour?! No way! On the other hand, the juices are pure heaven. Orange juice. Pomegranate juice. Orange and pomegranate juice! No matter if you have it in a restaurant or in a little corner shop or on the street, it's always so good and so sweet (naturally, no sugar added, of course) and it instantly makes you feel strong and healthy and chock full of vitamins - perfect!
2. Turkish Delight is yummy! This sweet, sticky stuff is sold all over the place, not only in Turkey. Here in Vienna you get it everywhere and it's the same in the country, it's the big specialty at village fairs and other events. And it's so horrible. It's like a gooey mass of pure sugar with a hint of nut inside. But not in Istanbul! After days of refusing I finally decided to give it a try and accepted an offer of "please have a try" in a bazaar and OH MY GOD: The flavour! The texture! The variety! I went from "Ok, just one little piece." to "Give me all of it!" in four seconds, approximately. I even bought some to bring back home - for myself only, not to be shared with anyone. The name is definitely a reflection of the truth, as long as you buy the real stuff. And when you do, get a bit of every kind: pomegranate and pistacchio, chocolate and walnut, rose or mint, orange and hazelnut, milk cream with coconut, etc. etc. etc.
3. It's incredible how many people speak fluent English and Spanish. I did not expect that, because of my experiences in Spain or France or Italy or other southern european places where people speak their own language and if you don't then frack you. But in Istanbul it's like everybody speaks English - and so well! From the arrival at the airport (tourist information lady and the guy who sold the bus tickets and the young guy who helped us buy our bustickets) to the hotel (receptionists and bellboys alike) to the streets, bazaars, shops and restaurants. And it's not only English either, the number of people who heard my friend and me speak Spanish and started talking Spanish to us was astonishing. And even more surprising was their level, as if they'd studied for years and when you ask they go "Well, I learn with my customers." I want your customers, dude!! Thumbs up for Istanbul people, they are amazing at languages and even manage to be charming in every single one of them.
4. Men - at least in the more touristy areas - are really cute (in a cute way). I've been to Egypt and Morocco before and was a bit nervous about the whole young-women-traveling-by-themselves-in-an-islamic-country-with-a-machista-society thing, not wanting to generalize of course, but you know what I mean, right? I remember back in Morocco I felt pretty and whatnot the first day with all the whistling and shouting and by the third day I was ready to punch anyone who even looked at me for more than half a second. But not Turkey. Generally, boys and men were extremely respectful. We got tea and sweets and even flowers, but we never felt like we were being looked at strangely while receiving those gifts or like anything was expected from us in return, which is great. Because even a simple question like "Where are you from?" can make you feel awkward and uncomfortable when asked the wrong way. Did not happen to us there, not even once. On young waiter seemed to have taken a liking to us and was so sweet when he came over and - genuinely shyly - asked if it was OK if he asked if maybe some other day we would maybe like to go for a drink with him or maybe to a club, maybe (yes, he said "maybe" that often, genuinely shy, I tell you). We even would have gone, or I would have, but it was our last evening. And where in other countries you'd get a dirty look or a whistle in the street, the Turkish we encountered were actually funny, we laughed so much - and not about them but with them! My favourite: We were walking down a street when suddenly a newspaper seller on the corner behind us yelled "Excuse me, lady, you dropped something" so I turned around, confused because I didn't remember dropping anything. When I had walked all the way back to the corner looking at the ground trying to find whatever it was I had dropped he suddenly went "You dropped my heart!", clutching his chest. So cute and so funny!! We laughed all the way to the next corner and there we only stopped because we had to concentrate on not getting killed crossing the road. Positivest experience possible.
5. Vendors are not annoying but inventive! You know how it is when you go through a bazaar or a fruit and vegetable market or even a mall and you feel like Frodo when he falls into that swamp full of dead people's souls and they all grab at him and try to drag him under the surface... horrible! This is another thing that won't happen to you in Istanbul, or at least it didn't happen to us. Instead of trying to bully you into buying their goods, vendors there make you laugh and make you smile and get you into a really nice conversation and then you find yourself buying all the stuff you'll never again need in your life and you'll probably have to throw away - because nobody needs five ashtrays and three crystal mozaic lamps and a whole rainbow of pashmina and silk scarfs. But you don't feel bad about it because the experience is just so nice! Of course, there's still lots of them out there who haven't quite mastered the art of hassle-free selling, but they're made up for by stall owners who get you to have a closer look - while laughing with them - at their goods with invitations like: "Come here! You must buy something, I need money!" or, and this is my personal favourite, "Buy one - get me free!" This is a WIN.