Boppin’ Around the Bosporus in an Istanbul Kind of Way
Istanbul, European Side
When I was a kid, I was something of a nerd. Ok… Ok, I can hear it now from my family…”What do mean “was”” I used to love to read the National Geographic every chance I got. I would dream about looking for adventure in far off destinations…destinations like..well.. like Turkey for one. So here I am, sitting on my balcony in Europe, looking across the Bosporus Straits at Asia! I really can’t believe it ….but it is true. I have read the stories of the silk road, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Constantine, The Byzantines, the Turks and they all happened right here, on the Bosporus. Way to cool for words, but I’ll try!
Getting here from our little adventure in Goerme was a bit of a mini adventure that involved a long bus ride (Lucia Barfed). A mad dash by taxi, baggage hanging out the back-end, to see if we could catch the last few minutes of the Turkish National Museum in Ankara only to have Riley refuse, once again, to go anywhere near the entrance. Watching 3 adults, 4 children and a very well intentioned, yet somewhat helpless Turk try to figure out how to cram 12 pieces of luggage into 3 small luggage lockers at the train station. Playing game after game of Yahtzee on the floor of the train station with the kids (Riley got 5 Yahtzees in one game). Looking at our train tickets and staring blankly at the huge information screen in the train station, trying to figure out which train / track was ours. And finally getting on the Ankara Express for the night train ride to Istanbul in the sleeper section. You know just another ho hum day livin’ the dream with the Lowell Clan in Turkey.
The night train provided some welcome relief and we all loved it! Never having traveled by train, I had no idea what to expect so it was with a sense of adventure that we piled the crew onto the creaking, steaming and diesel fume infested sleeper car. Our “room” was super cool, in that really tiny, yet fully functional, European kind of way. There was a bench seat, some luggage storage space, a small sink and a fold up bunk bed. The space was very private and comfortable to sit in but since we were all beat, we had everyone in their bed as the train pulled out of the station. I really felt like putting on my red velvet smoking jacket, heading down to the club car for a cigar and some port and then catching the murderer / jewel thief / international spy that simply had to be hiding out on the train. But instead I went to bed with the kids and fell fast asleep to the clickety clack of the rails, speeding our way to Istanbul. Catching the bad guy will have to wait til morning I guess.
After a perfect night’s sleep we wake up in Istanbul at 7:00 AM, just as the city is starting to shake off the night before. As we knock the cob webs out of our heads and collect our bags, our driver is there waiting to take us to the apartment we have rented for the next few days. We pile everyone in the mini van and head out into the thick of the morning traffic (Lucia barfed). Did you know that, with almost 13 million people, Istanbul is the 5th largest city in the world? I didn’t and was stunned by what we saw driving in. Tower after tower of apartments, homes spilling across the hills, people and cars and mosques as far as you could see in every direction. I was blown away as I had somehow always thought of old Istanbul, romantic as it may be, as some kind of “has been” old world city. Boy was I wrong!
Since we were in town early, our apartment was not quite ready yet so we were forced to sit at a sidewalk cafe down the street from our place and have breakfast and a few cups of coffee..damn the bad luck! Once the previous group had left, our driver came and got us and took us to our home for the next few days. The apartment itself was OK…not knock your socks off WOW, but it was good and we were happy. But the view…now here’s a WOW view with a capital WOW! No joke, we are about 400 meters from the water on a cliff overlooking the streets below with a 180 degree view of the Bosporus from our balcony. The barges, the ferries, the huge tankers and container ships, small sail boats criss crossing the straits,absolute chaos on the water…and we can take it all in right from our balcony!
So we drop of our bags, get a bit settled in as the place still needed to be cleaned, and we headed out to see what we could see. 4 days later, it seems, we returned, worn out, over saturated in history and culture and stuffed to the gills with kebabs, doners, fish sandwiches and stuffed peppers, it was time to head for home. Truly, the whole 4 days in the world’s 5th largest city went by in a blur. Obviously 4 days in a place such as this is simply not even close to enough time, but we managed to take in some of the high points and we all felt like we really got to see a bit of the city and got a taste of Istanbul. In a nutshell, here;s what we saw.
First was the requisite boat tour on the Bosporus (Lucia barfed…3 for 3 in less than 24 hours). On the water, wind and salt spray in your face, Ottoman era Yalis (old wooden mansions that line the straits), ferries, yachts, kids swimming in the very dangerous looking tidal curents…we took it all in while staring in disbelief at the sheer volume of humanity surrounding the water. We did the red bus tour to see the sights (Lucia barfed). We had a private guide show us the sights in old town and explain some of the details and rituals that take place in a mosque. We saw the blue mosque, the spice bazaar, the grand bazaar, and a local market. We rode the metro tram, the old electric tram and walked far enough to get us half way back to the US. We climbed the 217 steps from the tram stop to our street up on the cliff …many times. We drank so many vodka tonics that we burned through 2 bottles of vodka…or was it 3?? We spent about 2 year’s salary on a couple of rugs. In short we had the time of our life in Istanbul.
Of course, with any adventure of this type there are sure to be a few things that make you stop and laugh…after the trip is over. Like desperately trying to find ice in Istanbul for the aforementioned cocktails (there was none to be found…anywhere). Colburn and I cheating death by crossing the metro tracks to get on the “right” tram, only to have it turn around and take us in the wrong direction. Sweating profusely…all the time. Trying to gain consensus on the day’s activities with 4 hot, sweaty and slightly hung over adults and 4 exhausted kids, only to spend the day painting postcards and watching the ships sail by. But all in all we had a remarkable stay in Istanbul and in Turkey in general.
By the 4th day we were done. We had walked the 217 steps up the cliff too many times. We had eaten too many chicken and “meat” doner sandwiches (none of us were brave enough to try the “roasted intestine” doners although they looked really “interesting.” We had made our last foraging trip to Carrefour for more vodka. The trip, for us, was done and now it was packing up and saying goodby to Debo, Colburn and the kids as they were heading out to Cape Cod for a week and we were heading out to the Cotswalds for a week’s R&R in the cool rainy english countryside.
Traveling with family proved to be a great call as we had more fun with my Sister and her family than we had thought possible. The kids were great, we had some alone time, lots of together time and even some quiet individual time. Our kids were grateful to have their cousins to play with and I really enjoyed catching up with my sister…a year apart really is a long time. So my advice is put Turkey on your list of must see places. The country, the history, the food, and the people make this one of my favorite places I have ever been. Laura and I had some vodka tonic induced discussions along the lines of “We could live here.” We all know how those discussion go in this family. But for now it is adios Istanbul as we are off to jolly old England and the last leg of the adventure.