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Dinner at Istanbul’s Mikla (Or, “Sometimes Blowing Your Budget Is Worth It”)

The view from the terrace of Mikla in Beyoglu
The view from the terrace of Mikla in Beyoglu

Some of the best meals I’ve had on the road have been dirt-cheap. A bowl of fresh bhelpuri, bursting with pomegranate seeds and topped with a handful of fresh coriander, on the streets of New Delhi? Fifty cents. A plate of spicy fried rice heaped with loads of fresh vegetables and a fried egg in Indonesia? A dollar fifty. A dozen piping hot buffalo momos in Nepal? That set me back an entire five bucks. Even in Denmark, one of the most expensive countries in the world, a massive (and I do mean massive…it was about the size of my head) slab of apple strudel only cost me about three dollars. In so many cases, I’ve paid for meals abroad by rummaging through the change pocket of my wallet…

…but every once in a while, a splurge is in order. Sometimes a girl needs to feel fancy. That’s what led me to Mikla, the fine dining restaurant located on the top two floors of the swanky Marmara Pera Hotel, on my second-to-last night in Istanbul. Continue reading

The ruins of Yoros Castle

A Boat Trip up the Bosphorus

Are you sure this wasn't on Game of Thrones?
Are you sure this wasn’t on Game of Thrones?

If you like your personal space, peak travel season is not for you. That’s definitely the case for Istanbul at the height of summer. The line to get into the Blue Mosque is almost always ungodly long, the Grand Bazaar is crowded with people looking for an amazing steal, and even Gülhane Park’s shady grass is strewn with loungers seeking to beat the heat. Cities are packed with people; it’s – duh – what makes them cities. And sometimes an escape to a quieter place, even for just a few hours, is in order.

In Istanbul, there’s the perfect alternative to the sun-baked asphalt and sweaty throngs: hop aboard one of the Şehir Hatları boats at the Eminönü docks near the Galata Bridge in the mid-morning and sail an hour or two up the Bosphorus River to Anadolu Kavağı, an itty-bitty little town that sits at the mouth of the Black Sea.

The steep bluffs surrounding Anadolu Kavağı
The steep bluffs surrounding Anadolu Kavağı

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The number one thing I wanted from the Grand Bazaar: a good quality mosaic lamp. (And I ended up with two.)

Shopping Nirvana at Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar

If you’re recovering from a shopping addiction, Istanbul – particularly the older, tourist-packed areas like Sultanahmet and Eminönü – is probably not the place for you. From every shop window, golden and silver jewelry winks, rich carpets beg to be touched, and vibrant piles of spices and teas tickle your nose with their pungent scents. I’d love to meet the person who makes it out of Istanbul without having lightened their wallet at least a little bit; they’d have to have a miserly will as unyielding as the strongest iron.

One of the main corridors of the bazaar.
One of the main corridors of the bazaar.

Of all the places to spend your lira in Istanbul, the most famous is probably the Grand Bazaar, a covered market that collects some four thousand stalls that peddle everything from jewelry to lamps to knock-off designer clothing to belly dancing outfits. Ceramics, embroidery, spices, Turkish delight, carpets…they’re all in the Kapalıçarşı (in Turkish, “covered market). Continue reading

Another Turkish name for the cistern is 'Yerebatan Sarnıcı", or "sunken cistern."

Beneath Istanbul Lies the Basilica Cistern

Unlike the rest of the city in August, the Basilica Cistern isn't boiling hot.
Unlike the rest of the city in August, the Basilica Cistern isn’t boiling hot.

In August, Istanbul is an oven. The temperatures hover right around ninety degrees, but the swampy humidity and sweaty crowds that mob the sun-drenched city make it seem far hotter. Any place that provides the tiniest bit of shade or breeze becomes a refuge from the heat, be that a marble mosque, a rooftop terrace of a café in Sultanahment, the shady avenues of Gülhane Park, or the air conditioned hallways of a museum. Istanbul’s best place, though, to beat the heat can’t be found in any of those places; it’s underneath them.

Another Turkish name for the cistern is 'Yerebatan Sarnıcı", or "sunken cistern."
Another Turkish name for the cistern is ‘Yerebatan Sarnıcı”, or “sunken cistern.”

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A First Taste of Istanbul at Cooking Alaturka

Any time I land in a new country, the first thing on my mind is always food. It doesn’t matter the place, it doesn’t matter the time, and it certainly doesn’t matter if I ate two hours ago on the plane. I feel like I haven’t properly arrived in a place until I have a portion (or two) of its food safely housed in my stomach. And it was the same when I set foot in Istanbul.

For this trip, though, I hit the ground running. Rather than head to one of the copious Trip Advisor-recommended restaurants that surrounded my hotel, I got my hands dirty (or at least really garlicky) in a cooking course at Cooking Alaturka, a combination cooking course/restaurant tucked in one of the back streets of Sultanahment. Cooking Alaturka is run by a Dutch woman, Eveline, who’s lived in Istanbul for over ten years, and her Turkish right-hand chef, Feyzi. Over the course of six hours, Eveline and Feyzi taught us how to make five traditional Turkish courses. They’re quite a pair. Eveline’s enthusiastic and patient; she’s the teacher of the duo. Feyzi’s a man of few (English) words, but he had a wicked sense of humor that usually involved inviting us to try heaping spoonfuls of red pepper.

Ezogelin çorbası - red lentil and bulgur soup with red chili and mint. The chili added a kick, and the mint provided a cool complement. A squeeze of fresh lemon added a citrusy twist.
Ezogelin çorbası – red lentil and bulgur soup with red chili and mint. The chili added a kick, and the mint provided a cool complement. A squeeze of fresh lemon added a citrusy twist.

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Abu Dhabi’s Modern Marvel

The inner prayer hall of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which can hold up to seven thousand worshipers.
The inner prayer hall of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which can hold up to seven thousand worshipers.

When it comes to buildings, age is something to brag about. Structures like Stonehenge, the Pyramids of Giza, and the Coliseum are beautiful in their own right, but so much of our candid admiration of those places comes from their age. We marvel, not only at their beauty, but that they were built thousands of years ago, in times when modern machinery wasn’t even a glimmer in the greatest genius’ minds. To be impressive, to truly take our breath away, we assume that a building has to be old.

There’s something about a monument that was built, brick by brick and as a product of the sweat of manual labor, that makes us so much more appreciative of it. If the Taj Mahal had been built three years ago, rather than 350, it would still look just as majestic, but it would lose that romantic air that comes from being built without the hulking help of cranes and backhoes.

One of the reflecting pools at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
One of the reflecting pools at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.

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A Sweet Return Home

The only thing that compares to the adventure of leaving home is the sweetness of coming back to it.

I went from this...
I went from this…
...back to this.
…back to this.

My summer vacation has finally come to a close. After spending the past three weeks cavorting around Turkey, I’m back at my desk at Aomori High School, surrounded by exams to grade, lessons to plan, and grad school enrolment (!) to complete. And oh, how good it feels to be home again.

I feel like I say it after every trip abroad I take, but this one may have been my best yet. Turkey, to put it simply, was good to me. Its sun turned my skin a few shades tanner and my hair a few tints blonder. I perused its bazaars, climbed a few of its mountains, and dove into its Mediterranean waters. I descended to new depths underground and reached new heights above it. I consumed as much of its delicious lamb, baklava, hummus, and halloumi as my stomach could handle. And I made a whole host of new friends and even reunited with an old one. The next month or two of blog posts will undoubtedly be dedicated to all of those memories, and I already can’t wait to relive them again…

…but for now, I’m just happy to be home.

Anyone who’s left home for any substantial chunk of time knows how much of a relief it is to come back again. Last night, when I staggered through my shabby, cozy apartment’s front door, weighted down by a backpack substantially heavier than when I left, I think that I was just as happy as I had been when watching the sun rise over the otherworldly rock formations in Cappadocia a few weeks prior.

Adventures abroad are all good and fun, don’t get me wrong. I know that I’m ridiculously lucky in the life that I’ve ended up with, but I love both sides of that life; I love the comfort and contentedness I feel at home as much as the foreign adventures I enjoy away from it. My feet love to tread over as much new ground as possible, but after a while, I can’t help but crave familiar surroundings and the routine that I left behind.

After a few weeks of changing hotels every night or two, the only bed I want to sleep in is my own. After a few weeks of eating out for every meal (delicious though they all were), the only food I want is what’s been made in my kitchen with my own hands. After a few weeks filled with a go, go, go! mentality, all I want to do is stop, sleep, and watch the new episode of Doctor Who. In my soul, there reside both an ambitious dromomaniac and a Netflix-worshiping homebody. Too much time spent patronizing one means that the other rears its head with a needy vengeance.

For now, the hermit side wins out.

Permanent Resident of Dromomania Central

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