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Around the World in 210 Days

The Sights, Sounds, Smells, and Tastes of Turkey

TURKEY | Thursday, 13 December 2007 | Views [4679] | Comments [5]

Actually, not only were we punishing Richard for pestering us to post, but our internet went down for a little bit, from what we are told is part of an ISP strike that is going on right now. Yes, the strikes are striking in Istanbul to.

Anyway, since Mardi requested detailed senses-based descriptions of Istanbul, today’s blog is broken down into categories.


The Sights.

Istanbul in the winter is not exactly snowy, but there is quite a bit of rain. The day we arrived was perfectly sunny, and since then the weather has oscillated between that and gray rain. The gray rain is chilly, but it’s actually not too bad. And best of all it keeps the tourists at bay (that is, they wait until the summer). Even with the gray skies, though, Istanbul is a colorful place. As we mentioned, the bazaar is full of clothes, cloths, and rugs, and they come in blues, browns, reds, yellows, oranges, greens… even this new-fangled white color. When you walk into the produce areas of the bazaars or even down the street, perfectly stacked pyramids of tomatoes and tons of green vegetables light up the tables. As the sun sets, the pedestrian streets with fish, produce, and souvenir shops are lit with warm orange lamps, which looks so welcoming against the dark blue sky, and with the cold air it seems like you are walking into a hallway lined with fireplaces (although I’m pretty sure any warmth we are feeling is because of the elbow to elbow crowds that frequent the area…). 

We caught a ferry to “the Golden Horn,” an inlet of the Bosphorus, and floated up to an area called Eyüp. The trip took an hour, and allowed us a duck’s-eye-view of Istanbul’s mosques and palaces, as the sun was beginning to set (what can we say, we’re late risers). The area is near the tip of the Golden Horn, and has a hill that looks out on quite a bit of the city. As we approached the hill, we saw strange gray rocks speckling the tree-filled area. Once we got close enough, we realized the entire hill is covered in graves; a huge cemetery. Kinda creepy, but we were told the view from the top was worth it. To get to the top, we had to take a füniküler. Adding this to our list of fairly uncommon forms of transportation, the füniküler (funicular) is usually a car that traverses a hill by cable or tracks. Andrew remembers taking one in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania when he was a wee seven years old, but since then had not seen any until we took one in Paris. I really just like the word. Füniküler. It sounds like it could be used to describe pleasing things. Like, “Do you like eating simits?” “Heck yeah, man, they’re füniküler!” Anyway, this one had two cars on each side of a huge cable, powered by an even huge-r wheel, much like a ski-lift. It was cool, although ominous at times when the wind would shake and we looked down, realizing that if the cable snapped we would conveniently land in a grave. The view from the top was worth it, and we made it just before the sunlight disappeared, so we got to see the buildings beginning to light up from the inside.  Istanbul is a beautiful beautiful city.


The Sounds.

Today was particularly full of sounds, as there was a protest going on at the riverside, complete with loudspeaker yelling and rock music, and there was a soccer match between two rival Istanbul teams, so there was plenty of drunken chanting, honking, whistling, and cheering emanating from the stadium when we passed. The other usual sounds of the city include, well honking is a big one. It’s not exactly “New York” levels of honking, but anytime a person gets the slightest bit impatient, or if they see someone is contemplating turning into their lane, or if they see that a pedestrian is contemplating doing the “3 meter dash” across the road, they will tap their horn. Just a tap, although they will pull out the “laying on the horn” for special bouts of road rage. 

Another sound is one that is hard to replicate, mainly because we don’t know what they are saying, but all of the street vendors and shop owners shout and sing… something, usually the name of the product they are selling. For instance, the umbrella men will stand on the corners singing (by this I mean shouting rhythmically), and it sounds something like “marlimah-marlimah-marlimah-marlimah!”  One thing that most people shout that we have finally figured out is Bir Lyra, over and over, which means one lyra we are happy to say and often one of us will spend the afternoon chanting this to the other. 

As mentioned before, still the most interesting sound in Istanbul is the call to prayer, which is harder to write out, but may sound something like “HayaaAAaAAaaaa ey ooh yaaaaAaaaAAAAaa.”  Which when written like that kind of looks like an Enya song, but definitely isn’t.  Each time we walk through the market we feel like we are walking onto a Matt Damon soundest. 

So Istanbul, in a nutshell, sounds like this: “honk-honk-marlmimah-AaAaaaAAAa-honk-whistle-honk-birlyra-birlyra-aaaaAAAaaa-marlimah-marlimah-malimah-aAAaaaa.”


The Smells.

There aren’t exactly specific smells that we have noticed yet, except any time you walk past a fish shop… Even the crowded buses and markets aren’t too heavy on the unpleasant “odour de bodies.” Actually, the market does have enough produce that it smells like a fresh, eclectic salad. That’s a nice smell. The simits smell like sesame seeds, the ferries smell like cigarette smoke, and streets have a tendency to smell like bus exhaust.


The Tastes. 

Ah the tastes, believe it or not, today marks the 12th day in Istanbul and we have not bought one thing from a McDonald’s.  This is in large part because the milkshakes are 2.50 obviously, but really because you can buy so much street food like Doners or Kebaps for 1.50 that it is becoming less economical.  The first day we were here, Collette and Hande ordered us two pizzas (think canoe shape), and four doners (think burritos).  Andrew ate two doners and a pizza, Alex ate one doner, a pizza, and many bites of Andrew’s second doner.  One thing we forgot to mention about our trip to starbucks, is that they have their red cups here too, which has made for a very merry holiday season.  That night Hande cooked us a delicious vegetarian dish for dinner, with very authentic vegetable chicken.  We also stopped by a simit shop one day and had a couple of pizzas and a chocolate simit.  It was füniküler.

In more Recent Times

Well, we have once again lucked out.  Our hosts here are phenomenal.  Hande teaches Turkish to Americans, and Collette teaches English to Turks.  They both have taught us how to explore Istanbul, and really are just beautiful people.  We love them!!!  Some of our hosts in recent times have been less than Valerie and Benoit standards, so it is nice to be staying with people who aren’t crazy or hermitish…although if you are thinking of traveling, err on the side of hermitish.  Anyhow, Valerie and Benoit would approve.  Quick news update, Valerie and Benoit had a beautiful baby boy named Armand. We will post an updated picture soon.  So anyway, Hande (pronounced like the Korean car Hyundai) and Collette have traded off days of sheparding us from place to place.  Hande is studying for the GRE (which she is taking as we type), and so we have had many excuses to visit her at Starbucks during her study sessions.  Collette has an awesome book and movie collection, so we have had many excuses not to go outside at the slightest chance of rain.  Collette’s birthday fell last Wednesday and she celebrated it in style in Taksim.   We ferried ourselves over to Europe and took the TramVay to the füniküler which we took to Taksim Square.  There we met up with about ten of Hande and Collette’s friends, and dined like Sultans (pre-Republic).  You pay a fixed price for each person, and get unlimited alcohol and about a seven course meal, replete with two desserts.  Now, the cost of these meals is a little high, but you have to realize that a beer can easily cost 8 lira, so Andrew and I needed to make sure we drank up the cost of our meal.  Hande and Collette ensured that this happened, making sure our beer glasses never emptied.  There is so much to say about the food. Every piece of it was awesome.  The first course—Appetizers went on for about three rounds, it consisted of three eggplant dishes, beans, salad, cheese, tempura like seafood, fried cheese (think mozzarella sticks), then the main dish was either a fried fish, sardines, or chicken and steak kebabs.  Then dessert consisted of a honey soaked cake, followed by a fruit plate, and some tiramisu that one of the guests brought from the Italian consulate.  It wasn’t quite as good as Valentina’s, but it did have coffee.  

The company at the party was superb.  Across from us, were two expats from Britain who worked for an American shipping company which designed boats, the man Simon reported having spent 8 pounds on a single tube of imported Pringles that were Salt & Vinegar flavored.  When he opened them he discovered they were in crumbles, but it didn’t seem to take away from the 16 dollars can.  Next to us was a German guy, a Turkish guy, a Polish girl, two Americans, and some more Turkish and German people at the other end of the table.  Needless to say there was a great mixture of people and food.  It was an excellent time. 

Since then we have pretty much hung low, we went to the market with Collette and some German girls from Switzerland en route to Damascus.  (Collette is part of a wave of couch surfers we have run into recently and the two girls were CSing their way to the middle east).  Couch Surfing is this interesting program Marina introduced to us in Florence.  There is a webpage where people who have extra couches, beds, or rooms and are willing to host people free of charge for a day or two meet up with people who are traveling and need a couch, bed, or room free of charge.  It’s a fascinating program, and Andrew and I are going to get in on the action when we go to Ephesus, we hope.  On that particular trip to the market, Collette took us to one of her favorite restaurants where you can get Turkish pancakes, called gozleme.  They stuff them with potatos, or spinach, or cheese, or hamburger, or all of the above.  When we walked in, there were ladies sitting in the front two tables rolling the dough for the pancakes and then stuffing and throwing them on the grill.  It reminded Andrew of the tortilla factory at Rosa’s.  But lets not make him think too much of Mexican food :)

I think that’s it for now.  We will post more later,…when we’re damn good and ready. 

Tags: Culture



Color me happy

That was wonderful!
Especially glad you left out the sense of touch. Nobody wants to hear all that from two unemployed newly weds with time on their hands.
I thought that might be were you were going with couch surfing.

By the way if you look up funicular in Wikipedia you actually see a photo of the incline in Pittsburgh PA that Andrew rode on AND that same photo is what Sandy has as her screensaver.

When I read phrases like:
" took the TramVay to the füniküler which we took to Taksim Square."
I get suspicious that Alex is just making up words but if thats what it takes to get her talking it is worth it.

I must go now (for a while) and bask in my joy. I am so ecstatic that I may drive around the streets of Lubbock today saying,

  Richard Dec 14, 2007 8:52 PM


Did you ever sing the song "Funiculì, Funiculà" in grade school?

It is about the inclines in Italy!

  Odessa Slim Dec 15, 2007 2:35 AM


thank you so much for this post, while reading it i could close my eyes and imagine i am there with you seeing hearing smelling and tasting right along with you although of course i did have to peek now and again so i could read what i was doing. i will let everyone know that your power cord and adaptor are on the way so there will be no excuses for delays in posting. annie will be taking it to you so you have off until the 25th. i am working now so will not be able to read the post daily as they have ways of spying to see who goes onto the net, so will have to wait until i am at home to check up on you two. will write more later as right now i am going to take a nap before heading to hobbs. so have a wonderful time off and will hear from you on Christmas day won't we? love mom

  mardi Dec 18, 2007 9:09 AM


Just wanted to wish Andrew a happy birthday.
Your mom and I will drink a Dr. Pepper in honor of you.
If I figure right you are 23!
Same number as the number of ingredients in a Dr. P. Coincidence? I don't think so.

No telling what we will have to drink in honor of your twin brother Daniel. He drinks harder stuff but after all he has been around 12 minutes longer than Andrew.

Who would have guessed you would have turned 23 in Istanbul? Just doesn't seem real...but I know it is because I know that is how you likes to keep it.

A few more birthdays and you will catch Alex.

  Richard King Dec 18, 2007 10:19 AM


I am asking please.
Are these ones still having travels in my country.
I miss Istanbul as one who misses home with its comforts and most enjoy postings and other talks they make though postings are rarely often. These ones must remain contacting because it is said in my homeland...

The sheep separated by the flock is caten by the wolf.

  Abdulkadir Dec 20, 2007 4:44 AM

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