You were the biggest surprise of my trip!
I plugged Turkey onto the end of our holiday with the dual intention of attending a Dental Congress there. It gave me an excuse to spend 4 nights in Istanbul and I was more curious than excited about this stop.
From an expectation and enjoyment ratio, Turkey blew me away. I wish I could have spent more time there. I wish we had a whole month there. I wish I wish I wish.
Coffee and Turkish delight
Alas, I only had the 4 nights and techincally I wasn't even supposed to be holidaying. My days were allocated to learning. Eventually, I reverted to my rebellious school kid habits and skipped some lectures so that I had more time to explore the city.
Marc and I did some looking around on our own. Our first night, we found a river cruise that had food and dancing. It was... interesting. The cruise was very popular so it was quite crowded. There was such a diverse mix of cultures on board.
Tea and potato puff for breakfast on the Bosphorus River
Marc then went on a day trip to Gallipoli whilst I attended the congress. We reconvened and partook in a day tour around Istanbul itself, run by Circle Tour. I thought about writing a separate post for the Circle Tour but decided not to because so much of what we experiened in Istanbul was during the Circle Tour. The concept is that you go 'off the beaten track' and follow a local around the city with a small and intimate group and experience aspects of Istanbul that aren't strictly 'touristy'. The day begins early, ends late and the itinerary is fluid.
I loved that we tried some delicious and interesting local foods that I normally never would have dared to. Just think of kokorec, a grilled sheep instestine sandwich. Sounds good?
Stuffing options for kumpir
Something a bit more universally acceptible was the huge baked potatoes (kumpir) with customisable fillings. We were given forms to fill out to dictate what would be mixed into our potatoes.
I went for a mix of cheese, butter, pickled veggies, chili, corn and peas. It was topped off with a blop of sour cream. They were incredibly filling but so delicious. Who doesn't love a stuffed potato?
Our guide also took us to his favourite baklava vendor. Baklava is so delicious! We got to try a couple of flavours, one of which was a pistachio baklava. Hello, heaven? This was my idea of baklava perfection.
Aside from the food highlights, I also enjoyed our cruise between the continents of Asia and Europe. I thought the hamam (Turkish bath) was one of the strangest experiences of my life (imagine being scrubbed down by a big Turkish mamma while she's in her undies and you're in the nude... at a public bath on a hot stone) but strangely enjoyable. I certainly felt clean afterwards.
We walked through some of Istanbuls richest areas that bordered onto slums. It was quite a lot to take in and I'm glad I got to see all that.
Meat platter, eggplant, tabouli and flatbread
Let me talk a bit more about Turkish food. Marc and I didn't have too many proper meals of our own because we spent a lot of the time either apart or in tours. We did meet up with a friend of mine who was also in Istanbul for the congress. We had a few drinks at a rooftop bar (amazing views but quite expensive) then shared a delicious meal.
Eggplant kebab and lamb kebab (in background)
Istanbul connected with me because you can definitely tell its an Asian city, even the parts that aren't strictly on Asia. Before Europe, I had only travelled to Asian countries so my idea of a big city was hustle and bustle, huge populations, mess, markets, stalls, tall buildings and chaos. What surprised me was even some of the best known capital cities in Europe just didn't have that explosion of city life that I expected in a big city. Istanbul certainly did.
After a point, I sort of gave up trying to attend my lectures so we booked a day trip out to Bursa. Marc chose this tour and funnily enough, it comprised of lots of shopping stops. Yes, it was one of 'those' kinds of tours, not that I minded because we were nearing the end of our journey and I needed to pick up souveniers.
Fresh berries from a street stall in Bursa
Bursa itself was a nice town that carried all the quaint elements of Istanbul without the chaos.We passed by the grand mosque and had a look around the green mosque. I might not be religious myself but I have to say, mosques are incredibly beautiful buildings.
BBQ on the mountain
We had a BBQ on a mountain, visited a 600 year old tree (so amazing) and tasted the sweetest, freshest fruit sold right by the street. At night, we wandered through a marketplace that had lots of food and merchandise.