Settling into Istanbul

The days here are long as we tend to get up by 9, head out for some sightseeing until 1 or 2 p.m., then home to work until 8 p.m. and then have dinner. We are generally getting to sleep between 1 and 2 a.m. Long, but really fun days. One thing to note is that Istanbul is built on a series of seven hills, however in a feat of geologic engineering, they have managed to make it so that no matter what direction we walk, we are going uphill.

Monday we acquired train passes. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but if Kafka were going to design a way to sell transit passes, he would have used the Istanbul system as a model, perhaps even deciding it was too complicated and bizarre for one of his stories. It started Sunday evening when we wanted to ride a bus to see a mosque about 40 minutes away.

You can only buy single ride passes at the bus/metro/tram stops and they cost 6 T₺ (which is about $0.67each — the Turkish lira is about 9 U.S. cents). However, the machines only take cash and gives no change. Our smallest notes were 50 T₺ and that didn’t seem worth it. So, we asked the guard where to find the InstanbulKart, the refillable train pass. He vaguely waved in the direction of another tram stop about 10 minutes away. We went there. Nothing. We found a sign to a metro station and walked over to it and it had a tourist information booth. It was empty. (We assumed because it was Sunday evening.) There were machines that apparently sold the pass. However, the language selection function didn’t work and the screen would go blank after about 20 seconds. So we tried a few times to translate as we went and then gave up. We planned to return on Monday. As we were walking out we found a sign that explained that due to COVID you needed a code that registered your card to you and gave instructions (in English!) to get them. We went home, got the code, logged into the app and tried again. Nope. That did work either.

The codes in the app were limited to numbers and ours were alphanumeric. Which brings us to Monday morning. We returned to the station hoping that there would be someone in the tourist booth, but yet again, no luck. We found a guard and asked him. In broken English he said you have buy the card from the IstanbullKart office, which was a few doors down. We found it easily, because it was the place with the line out the door. After about 30 minutes, we were able to purchase the cards and were informed that the card had no balance. To load it, we needed to go back to the station (technically we could load it at any station or tram stop, but the metro station was the closest place). We went back to the station, and tried our luck at filling the card. We were really lucky because after we tried and failed a couple of times, a mann wandered up and was waiting to refill his card. We stepped aside, figuring we would watch him and mimic those steps. He was kind enough to see that we were idiot tourists and showed us how to do it. Hurrah! We could now ride the transit system – at a discounted rate! The tram costs only about 3T₺ (we think).

Tuesday we took the tram (using our InstanbulKarts!) and visited the Turkish Archeological museum. The museum has three buildings. The main one has three floors, the other two are single story. Unfortunately, while the two smaller buildings were both fully open, only the ground floor of the main building was accessible as the others were undergoing renovation. The museum is really well done and houses an enormous collection of ancient statutes, sarcophagi, friezes and other antiquities. The main building’s collection is all from Turkey and the Ottoman Empire, with quite a bit from an excavation in Sidon (in what is now Lebanon). The other two buildings housed collections from Egypt/Babalyonia and Turkish ceramics. It was very impressive and well worth the visit. We purchased the audio tour (4T₺) and while almost all the signs were in both Turkish and English, it was worth having.

Tuesday was also our wedding anniversary, and we had a nice (early) dinner at a Mexican place called Los Altos which had a beautiful view overlooking the Golden Horn (thanks again Dana!). We spent the rest of evening the listening to the Bebop Project at a local jazz club which is about 3 minutes’ walk (uphill of course – both ways) from our AirBnb. It was wonderful.

Wednesday morning we headed for the Süleymaniye Mosque. It was about 25 minutes away on the top of one of the hills of Istanbul. We took the metro for the first time (using our IstanbulKarts again!). I think it took us longer to get down to the trains than the train took for the couple of stops we were on it. The metro is a DEEP subway system. I assume it is because Istanbul is built on hills and the trains run relatively flat, but I am not sure. Suffice to say the next escalator down had a sign over the top saying “Abandon hope all ye who enter.” When we left the metro, we walked (uphill, of course) to the mosque complex. It is only the third or fourth most famous mosque in Istanbul, but is was still extremely impressive. I am not including any of our photos as our amateur ones do not do the place justice. Please look at the photos in the link above.

After wandering out of the complex, we headed for a coffee shop that Dana (Sue’s friend) suggested. The directions were (I am paraphrasing); exit the back of the complex, go across the alley, head down a sketchy looking hallway, up the rickety stairs and the café is there. We followed the directions and found a rooftop café. We have no idea if it was the right one or not, but who cares. The place had huge windows and we had a great view from the Golden Horn looking back on the area where we are staying which is called Beyoğlu (it also had a roof deck, but it was a bit too chilly to eat outside).  We ordered the Turkish breakfast, which was enough food for a small (or not so small) army. It included:

I liken this to having the entire brunch buffet on your table.

bread

french toast

simit (a Turkish bagel)

Two types of jam, honey & nutella

harissa

five types of cheese

cucumbers and tomatoes

two eggs

some sort of processed meat product that was vaguely smoky

hot dogs

french fries

spring rolls (which are like blintzes but made with filo dough)

and a pot of tea.

We also ordered coffee, because we didn’t think it through. We ate and ate and ate, and barely made a dent in the food.

After we finished we headed back on the metro, took it one extra stop and walked an extra kilometer or two to allow some of the food to digest, before we sat down to work. Needless to say, we had a very light dinner of yogurt, fruit and nuts.

New York—My Kind of Town

It is Monday late afternoon—and if you are from the company I work for—it is after 5 p.m. I am sure. We arrived in New York on Saturday morning after another early morning flight. Every time we book a flight at 7 a.m., I think it will be fine. Just get up early one day and then we will have the whole day to spend in the city. But then the day of the flight comes and we have to get up at the crack ass of dawn and I curse Sue for letting me book an early morning flight. So what did we learn here? That is right—it is all Sue’s fault.

Anyway, we got to the Park South Hotel at about 10:30 a.m. and asked to drop our luggage. Much to our surprise, our room was ready so we checked right in. After a quick unpack and a deep breath, we set out on our way with no particular destination in mind. We wandered down 5th and around and about and stopped in for our first NYC food break—pizza! Afterward, we found our way to Madison Square Park and the National Museum of Mathematics. We were very disappointed to realize that it was a museum for kids. Bummer. We quickly checked the google and re-routed ourselves to the Whitney Museum. It was a bit of a hike, but 1.5 miles and a pretty chilly 45 minutes later we were in line. Steven forgot to mention my favorite thing: We got in free! A man with a corporate account had two extra tickets. Bonus for us.

The Whitney was great. In addition to their usual collection, they had an exhibition of Diego Rivera and others who were influenced by his murals. It was wonderful. We spent a couple of hours wandering through and then headed out. We walked north on the High Line all the way to 30th street and then straight across Manhattan.

We had dinner at an Indian place around the corner (don’t eat Indian food in NYC unless you like it bland. Every time I do it, I am disappointed. The food was good, but not at all spicy.) and ended the evening with a 9:30 show by George Coleman at the Jazz Standard club which is right behind the hotel. Mr. Coleman is a not-so-spry 84 years old. In fact, he needed to be walked onto stage by a helper and there were times that I thought he might fall off his chair. He has clearly lost some of his skills, but his band did their best to make up for his shortcomings. Decent show, but barely an hour and I was really hoping for more. Oh well.

Sunday was another chilly day, but us being us, we didn’t let it get in our way. Once again we laced up our boots and started our journey by grabbing a bagel and schmear at Bagel and Schmear which is next door to our hotel. Yum! Great bagels. We headed downtown to the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street. Very interesting. It is less of a museum and more of a guided tour of a tenement building that includes the history of the residents/businesses in the building. We enjoyed it, but it isn’t something I think I would do again.

20200301_141740We headed west on Delancy on one of our pie in the sky/it seems like good fun searches. I read on Atlas Obscura about a small piece of Manhattan called Hess’s Triangle that the city tried to buy and the owner fought tooth and nail for years not to give up. It is now a small triangle in the middle of the sidewalk on Christopher Street and is still privately owned. Bear in mind it was about 1.5 miles to get from the tenement museum to Christopher Street, solely to take a photo.

We headed back north towards the hotel and realized that we were a bit hungry and in need of a small sit down. We found a bakery just off Washington Square Park that had hamantashen. These were not your usual hamantashen, no poppy seeds and raspberry jelly to be found anywhere. We had six between us. Three halva, two apple and one chocolate. A perfect break. Once we finished, we headed back to the hotel and were back in time for Happy Hour.

For dinner, we headed to midtown to see my Uncle David & Aunt Marcella. We hopped the 6 train up to 59th and walked a couple of blocks to their apartment. We had dinner a very nice French restaurant called Match 65 a few blocks away. It was a great evening full of interesting conversation and great food.

Great start to our trip.  Tomorrow is a work day. ;-(

 

 

The hiatus was longer than I expected

We apologize, we truly meant to restart the blog as soon as the wedding was over, but the next week or so was a bit of a whirlwind and so here we are, married for 18 days and still haven’t updated the blog.  We are slackers.  In our defense, we are also honeymooners, so there are other things occupying our–or at least my–mind(s).

For those of you who missed the cliff hanger at the end of last season; here is a quick recap….During our trip to Hawaii, Sue was foolish enough to agree to marry me.  We spent much of the summer planning the wedding.

We did the deed and got hitched on October 5th. Put the date in your calendar–yes, we expect cards every year.  The following week, we took a four-day weekend and went to New York.  The trip was planned well before the wedding, as we were allocated

Image result for springsteen
Gratuitous Bruce pic

Springsteen on Broadway tickets.  Once again, for those of you who did not watch last season….these were the second set of seats we bought as we went to see the show last December.

We flew out on Thursday morning.  When we arrived it was a bit chilly, overcast with a little rain.  We grabbed an Lyft to our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn/Tribeca.  Once we had checked in, we began wandering.  Our first ramble took us south to the Financial District.  We stopped on the way for lunch at Picasso’s Pizza.  Nothing special just great pizza–Yum!  After lunch we walked down to a store called 21st Century.  Someone Sue knows recommended it, and since we didn’t have any real destination in mind, we went there.  Sue perused and tried on a few things, but nothing caught her fancy.  We wandered out towards City Hall (a bit accidentally, as we were trying to go back up town).  When we got near Pace University, it started to rain pretty hard, so we hopped onto the subway and took it back to our hotel.  We had a quick rest then got ready for dinner with my uncle who lives in Midtown.  After dinner, we were still wide awake, so we caught a late night set at Smalls jazz club.

img_20181011_235751780_ll
The piano at Smalls

Our tickets for Springsteen were for Friday night.  We planned to spend the day wandering in Central Park, then perhaps visit the Frick Collection.  However, fate, greed, or good luck intervened. At some point early in September we discussed the price of Springsteen tickets on StubHub.  I asked Sue at what price she would be willing to part with ours.  She gave me an unreasonably high number and said let’s try and sell them for that.  We listed them for sale and lo and behold while waiting for the subway on the way to Central Park, the tickets sold!  Sue did a magnificent happy dance on the platform, and then we hopped the train. We spent the next few hours giggly about our good fortune and looking for something to do that night.  We had walked through Central Park, bought tickets to a Broadway play called “The Nap“, and decided to grab lunch (by the way it was now about 3 p.m.).  We got back on the subway and went back downtown to Sweet Chick, a chicken and waffle place we had visited last December.  Lunch was fabulous, but we were stuffed, so we decided to walk back to Midtown to see the play–a quick, 3-mile wander.  The show was a farce set in Sheffield, England, about a snooker match that someone is trying to fix. It was very funny, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Saturday we had no fixed plan.  We woke up, and started with a long wander south.  Then we turned uptown and visited the future showroom of one of my clients.  As we were walking down the street, voila!, we found a national park.  On E. 20th is the birthplace of Teddy Roosevelt.   Of course we had to visit.  It was pretty cool.  They have a guided tour through the main rooms and the ranger gives a really informative talk about Teddy and his family.   We had dinner with one of Sue’s friends at a very nice Italian place. After dinner, Sue and I decided to go to Cocoa Bar for dessert.  After some really yummy desserts, we walked back to the hotel.

Sunday was our last day in New York.  Once again, we did not really have a plan, other than to continue our wanders.  We saw a notice for a pickle festival.  For no other reason than it seemed funny, we walked over to it.  It was  pickle stand next to pickle stand for 4 blocks (and person jammed up aimg_20181013_182109250_hdrgainst person for said blocks).  I had a sour pickle on a stick….Yum, but somewhat interesting for a late breakfast.  From there we visited the New Museum and then International Center for Photography.  Both were interesting, but I preferred the photography.  By now, we were hungry so we headed back into Chinatown and found a nice little noodle place.  It was great, but I do not recall its name.  We walked back to the hotel to grab our bags and head to the airport when we received a notice that our flight was delayed a couple of hours.  So, we relaxed in the hotel lobby, went for a little walk, had a drink and then it was time go.  We grabbed a Lyft to the airport and flew home.

Great weekend, great honeymoon.