Monthly Archives: January 2014

January 31st, 2014

Incredible Istanbul – Day 13

No one can resist the charms of Istanbul’s narrow streets …


Every way you might turn, there’s a hill. Strong legs and good shoes recommended …



Zipping around the Bosporus in a speedboat sure beats those slow oceangoing vessels …


After a morning out in the cold and wind, a hot bowl of red lentil soup does the trick …


Mosques are everywhere, for example the Santa Sophia, definitely worth a visit. It used to be a Christian church …


Additionally, the ancient basilica cistern is a must see (made famous in Dan Brown’s latest book, Inferno). The entrance is easy to overlook …


Now it’s exam day, so I have to get back to cramming. The course has been rewarding, but tomorrow I fly back to Switzerland and back to real life. Time to start thinking about my next trip to Istanbul!

January 30th, 2014

Istanbul – Day 12 – The Shoeshine Trick

Granted, I’m naive, but I haven’t been pickpocketed. I haven’t been held up, even walking down dark streets. No, but it’s only because the real danger in Istanbul lurks in ranks of the shoeshine men.

One investment I made before my trip was a new pair of walking shoes. This being my 5th trip to Istanbul, I knew I needed sturdy walking shoes with plenty of spring. Here they are:


Running shoes, right, for the man who never runs, on principle. So how, you are asking, did I fall for the shoeshine trick?

Usually if a person needs help, I’m tempted to lend a hand. That was my downfall. The shoeshine man walking in front of me suddenly lost a brush. He was ten feet ahead of me on a not-so-crowded sidewalk. “Hey!” I shouted. That’s Turkish for “Hey!” (Advanced level stuff, you know.) The man turned, all gnarly-teeth showing in a big grateful smile. In one movement he was down on the ground with his portable shoeshine box. I’m thinking, running shoes? But I quickly understood he wanted to comp me a wash. My nice white shoes weren’t so white after 11 days hoofing it in soggy Istanbul.

So there I am, my right foot up on the pedal, and with my rude understanding of Turkish I pieced together the words “brother” and “hospital” and “America great country” etc. etc. Then he tapped my left foot, and by this time his friend had arrived – reinforcements I understood, in hindsight.

Unless you have a heart of stone, you can’t deny a man with a brother in the hospital fair compensation for a quick wash of your running shoes, don’t you agree? I was thinking, ok, two dollars, maybe three. When the tab came to nine dollars, my Turkish was challenged. I didn’t argue long. I forked over the money, realizing only then that the man probably had a button on the front of his box just to make the brush fall off.

Rain and wind don’t keep me from walking in this town. The very next day, I was walking near Taksim square, not far from my school. A shoeshine man happened to be walking in front of me. When the brush fell on the pavement in front of me I neatly sidestepped it and kept my eyes facing forward, the direction of the wise and experienced.

Ugly reality confirmed …

Zig-zagging through other pedestrians, I could hear the man’s plaintive voice receding into the background, talking about a brother, and a hospital.

January 29th, 2014

Istanbul – Day 11 – A View from the 8th Floor

Keeping it short this time. I had my group course from 1:30 till 5:15, and private lessons from 5:30 – 7:30, and still have a ton of homework to do and words to look up …

One picture I couldn’t resist sharing … this is the view from the 8th floor of the school.


You are looking at the Bosporus, almost at sunset. Gone are the sunny days in the 50s of last week … but at least it’s stopped raining!

January 28th, 2014

Fabulous Food in Istanbul – Day 10

Confession: I love the food in this town. The selection is extraordinary, and as long as you avoid the Four Seasons Hotel and other high-end choices, you can get by on a pittance. With only 29 minutes till the start of my course, and 10 minutes’ walk away, I had lunch in this nondescript self-service cafeteria off Taksim Square.

Even with the bottle of water the bill came to less than $4. They would’ve thrown in a complimentary cup of tea when I finished, but I was pressed for time. The nice young gentleman who took my picture bussed trays.

But a visit to Istanbul wouldn’t be complete without a rich meal of döner kebab and french fries, at least for all you meat eaters. I saw a TV program on how these babies are made. Meat pieces straight from the slaughterhouse including veal, lamb and beef are layered on top of each other with sauces slathered on and plenty of spices. There’s a place like this seemingly on every corner. Messy, but delicious, and as cheap as my veggie meal.

I haven’t repeated a restaurant once in 10 days, but I was tempted to return to this vegan/vegetarian restaurant, just because there were so many other things I wanted to try. Well, I have three days left.

Meatless options can be found in just about every restaurant, although this is clearly a meat loving culture.

Every fish lover would be happy in Istanbul as well. The fish is fresh, and served hot off the broiler or grill, usually with a few lettuce leaves and a slice of lemon. Side dishes are extra, but there are dozens of choices. If you don’t crave atmosphere in your restaurant, and avoid Starbucks, you can eat plenty for $20 to $25 a person per day.


January 27th, 2014

Taking the Istanbul Subway – Day 9

Yesterday it was cold, but today it’s hovering around freezing, and sleeting. The perfect day to try out the Istanbul subway. It turns out I only had one stop to go, but this saved almost 30 minutes of walking in the frigid weather.

Any newspaper stand sells the ubiquitous Istanbul card, which you can load up with money like a phone card. It helps to speak a little Turkish! You can also buy tokens in the subway stations. In the stations, everything is in Turkish and English, and the machines can be switched to English at the touch of a button. When the person behind you gets impatient, they magically switch to English, too! After several escalators you will find yourself on the track, which looks pretty much like a subway platform anywhere. The sign tells you how long till the next train is arriving.

Now I just had to find a seat!