istanbul_mosqueJust back from Istanbul, and I have to say that exploring somewhere new is just good for your psyche. Not that this is a newsflash for anyone, but it was a good reminder for me. Just the small act of finding your way around a strange place and showing yourself how self-sufficient and resilient you can be gives us each a lot of faith in ourselves. I liked Turkey and the artifacts were really something to see — we think the rest of Europe is old, but when you are standing below ground in a 3rd century cistern, or turning the corner to see Moses’ staff from the parting of the Red Sea, you begin to have a whole other understanding of antiquities. The plunder from war was very good to the Ottoman Empire — and they have the emeralds and diamonds to show for it!

My son fell in love with this yogurt drink that they guzzle like Coke: Ayran. (I’m happy to report that we found some here in NYC at a Turkish restaurant on 14th Street.) We had lots of kebabs and these huge overstuffed potatoes called kumpir, We stayed in the Beyoglu area and that definitely felt like the place to be — lots of people out til all hours and just a palpable sense of energy, particularly on Istikial Street. Our favorite restaurant there was probably Konak Kebob, and head to Mado for dessert. It really is amazing how many different versions of baklava there are.

On the Bosphorous you definitely want to have a fish sandwich over the Galata Bridge in Eminonu. They catch it in the river. fry it up on a boat and hand it off to you to eat at a little wooden table, lemon juice optional, all for about $3. (And when the young men come around trying to sell you handwipes, buy them! Your hands will smell fishy.) Nearby is the Spice Market, which I liked better than the Grand Bazaar. Definitely worth a walk through if only for the spectacle of the colors and variety of spices. Further up the river is the Assk Cafe, which is a nice spot in a more quiet, exclusive area.

If you head up that way, the Hotel Les Ottomans has one of the nicest spas I’ve ever been to and if you want to experience a Turkish hammam, this is the place to do it in style. Go for the hour-long Citrus Remedy, where you get exfoliated, cleaned, massaged and moisturized, plus you get full use of the facilities, including the meditation room and steam room with salt inhalation. The ice exfoliation was particularly…reviving!

We took a nice boat ride on the river up to the Black Sea and headed over to the Asian side, where we had a tasty lunch of fresh fish kebabs and then took a bus down through a bunch of small towns. We got off in Kanlica to sample the yogurt.

Of course there’s the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and the Aya Sophia, and a little off the beaten path is the Istanbul Modern art museum, which had some interesting pieces and a hip vibe. (If you’re not Turkish, don’t be fooled by the “Free Thursdays” promotion — it’s only for the Turks.)

We finished up our trip with a traditional Turkish breakfast at Namli Gurme Karakoy, sitting outside near the Bosphorous, drinking Turkish tea and sopping up cream and honey with some Turkish bread.

All that’s left to say is “tesekkur ederim,” which means thank you and took us about half of our vacation to master. Someone gave us the tip that it’s like saying “tea sugar and a dream” really quickly, all together, so I pass that on to all of you.

Dry Me

Like most things in life, until you actually try something it’s hard to appreciate or understand it. Add towels to that list. I had heard of pestamels and seen people using them, usually as scarves and usually by people who some would refer to as “earthy.” They are thin towels, usually with tassels on the end, sometimes with stripes woven in. We are familiar with our western ways where bigger is better, and an absorbent towel translates to thick and cozy. But the beauty of a pestamel is that it’s super absorbent but never heavy, and it dries quickly. This makes them perfect for beach towels and as a regular towel in the summer. I was amazed how well it worked on my hair, getting most of the water out in no time flat. Like anything, there’s better quality pestamels. Jennifer’s Hammam in Istanbul carries particularly nice hand woven ones, and you can choose from cotton or bamboo. Definitely worth having a few around for the summer. And yes, in a pinch they can double as scarves, wraps…even a tablecloth!

Etc.

Slowly but surely we are getting over the time difference. Our first few days back we were all up around 5am and then ready to crash by 9pm, always fun…Finally the weather seems to have taken a turn for the better. Let’s hope it stays. I, for one, am sick of wearing socks!

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