Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Istanbul Review - Day One

When we arrived in Istanbul last Friday, we were greated by Ahmet, a Turkish man who spoke pretty fluent Dutch. He'd lived in the Netherlands for 22 years and was back in Turkey now working for a tour company. As we drove the half hour to the hotel, he explained a few things and commented on the city. I understood most of it. I wasn't that interested in what I didn't understand.

The first thing I noticed was that there are a lot of flowers along the highway going into Istanbul. That's a pretty good sign. Yes, the houses and buildings off of the highway were a little used up looking, but it's nice to see tulips and other flowers.

Ahmet told us that Istanbul is considered the third most beautiful city in Europe - after Brussels and another city. He also said that many Dutch people who visit tell him that it's much cleaner than Amsterdam. When we got out of the car, Fred said, "Brussels?" (He doesn't have a very high opinion of Brussels.) And I will say in no uncertain terms that "clean" is not a word I would use when talking about Istanbul. It's not particularly dirty, but there are sixteen million people living there. It's pretty gross in places. Amsterdam wins.

Mostly what we did on Friday was walk around and get a sense of where things were. We were close to most of the big things that we wanted to see. The Blue Mosque was just a few blocks away. So we took a quick walk to see if we could pop in for a quick preview. On the way through a nice little park, we were greated by a young Turk. He was chatty. We weren't quite sure what he was selling. He followed us and continued talking. He asked if we were brothers. We said yes, of course.

To make a long story short, at the end of our interaction, he invited us to be his guests at his cousin's tea house because "in our culture two cups of tea make four friends"...or something. There were only three of us, so that doesn't add up. So he was bait for his "cousin's" tea house. When we declined, strongly, he made a sharp left turn and waved us off. Some friend.

We'd gotten a restaruant recommendation from Ahmet. We were sat in a little alcove with other couples - strange seeing that we're brothers - and served in a slow, careless way. We were not impressed with the food. We drank Turkish beer. We should have dropped Ahmet's name. Cute restaurant, but it was nothing to write home about.

The hotel was pretty nice. It's close to the action, but on a little side street. Still, it was quiet and it had everything we needed. For € 170 a night it should have.

And that was the first day.

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