The following are edited excerpts from email I've sent to Cammy; I've been emailing her more than blogging, but I think some of the stories I've told her are fit to print. [Note to Cammy: you don't need to read this post, but I've added some things.]
To get to Turkey, Matthew and I flew British Air. I was very impressed, but Matthew says that British Air is the European carrier that he's flown that he likes the least. He also says that in first class on Emirates, there's a menu of massages you can order from the flight attendants. I do not believe him on either count.
I had requested vegan meals, they were so-so as far as food is concerned (like, a couple of my noodles were crunchy when they should not have been at all), but
seemed to be about as good as the other food. Matthew says that his food stacked up well with other airplane food.
On our layover in London on December 26, Matthew and I had a pint each of Old Peculiar at the Museum Tavern; I highly recommend it. While we were there, a Scotsman walked in, and complained about how his hosts for Christmas only drank wine--he's not had beer since Christmas Eve! (He made it sound like forever.) He tried ordering a Pride of London, but they were out, so he settled on a winter ale. (I'd tasted it, and found it too bitter.)
At any rate, Pride of London has the approval of a Scotsman.
That night, we arrived in Istanbul. I will talk about the layover and the trip from the airport to our host in more detail on my regular-quality post on Tuesday.
December 27, we pretty much just sat around, recovering, until late in the afternoon, when Matthew and I went to Taksim Square, where we saw a rally and bought food. [Cammy tells me that, according to Wikipedia, rallies are illegal in Taksim.] I'm surprised at how useful my meager Turkish is. Most of the people selling food or working in shops know enough English, though, for us to get by. We just got back from Kahve Altı, which means Coffee 6; it's a hip bar where music was being played and we drank Efes Pilsen, which is the most popular beer of Turkey. [The joke I didn't get at the time is that kahvaltı means breakfast; kahve is coffee, and altı is six. I think that's the first Turkish pun I got, but I didn't get it until I saw a lot of breakfast places on Bolu mountain and looked it up.]
I liked it. There was music in the front; we sat in the back room, which had a tree growing out of the ceiling, heat lamps, plants, and the floor was a bed of pebbles. I should have asked if I could take my shoes off.
Matthew also got some rakı, which is Turkey's biggest liquor. Cammy says, "Rakı sounds like magic," and she is right. It is clear, but when you add water (a customary way to drink it) the water goes cloudy. Matthew is trying to figure out why it does that. It is like a whiskey, but made with grapes, and has a licorice flavor (it's flavored with anise). When I get back home, I'll try to find some.
Onur, one of our hosts, tells us that AROG is in theaters. I've seen GORA with Evan; AROG is its sequal. GORA is a Turkish-language sci-fi parody movie. Evan loved it. Paul and I will try to see AROG while we're here.
On January 2, Paul and I traveled from Istanbul to Ankara by bus. Onur told us that Varan was the best choice for inter-city travel, because they alternate drivers every three hours--this makes them the safest bus company. We recommend Varan for its excellent service and the picturesque stop for lunch on Bolu mountain. It is evidently much more expensive than other bus lines, so we'll try a cheaper one as we travel to Izmir, and will report on the difference. All of the busses are supposed to have great service; they serve beverages and snacks, and the attendants are very polite. Ours wore a vest and bow-tie.
There are two feniculars in Istanbul. Look it up on Wikipedia, for realsies.
Props so far:
Elizabeth and Onur for giving us places to sleep in Istanbul
Martha and Sarah for also helping us find our way around and giving us tea and mousse
Max, for tips on vegetarianism in Turkey
Tahiry for showing us around ITU and telling me how awesome Boğaziçi is
Cindy, for introducing us to the largest continent in the world and giving perspective on getting transplanted to Turkey, and not minding nargile smoke too much
Mike for showing us around Bilkent
Deniz for hosting us in Ankara
Matthew and Paul for being excellent low-key travel buddies