Varied musing about hotels, shopping, dining, and other experiences…
The hotel we stayed at in Safranbolu was very nice. Old school style, looked like a German inn. The inside had an atrium where you could sit, the upper floors looked down from the interior hallways. There was a lot of carved wood detail, especially on the ceilings of the public areas. They had an outdoor porch area where we hung out. I thought of it as the internet café, as we were all doing things on our iPads, laptops, and smartphones while chatting, and drinking the beer that we had to buy at the little grocery store across the street. Because it is Ramadan, you have to be a little more discreet and respectful in regards to eating and drinking during the day, and in drinking alcohol at night. The grocery store was okay with selling us beer, but the windows of the refrigerated cases were covered with plastic so you couldn’t see the product when you walked in the store.
Did a little shopping in both towns, I bought a table covering that was printed with the name of the village, Yörük Köyü, and a nice pattern that reflected Hittite (~1800-700 BC) design elements. In Safranbolu, I bought a woven, collarless shirt, some Turkish delight, some hazelnuts (very tasty), and, of course, some saffron. It was 20 Lira ($10) for a few grams, a beautiful deep red color. I also bought a few crocus bulbs so I can plant them and harvest my own saffron. The people are very nice. They want you to come into their shops, but they aren’t pushy like the merchants in Istanbul. The prices are sort of fixed, but you could negotiate if you wanted. I didn’t feel the need to since the offering prices were extremely reasonable, if not dirt-cheap. The table covering was only 7 lira ($3.50). Bottled water is almost free: ½ liter for half a lira, I got a 1.5 liter bottle for .89 in a market in Canakkale – that’s about 45 cents! That was the exception, but it is usually between 1 and 2 lira.
I didn’t buy anything in Iznik, but in Bursa, I did some shopping for silk. I also bought a couple of toy tops from an old lady who was selling them by the Green Mosque. She demonstrated how to work them, which of course makes you want to buy them. They were 2 lira each. I bought two and told her to keep the change from the 5 lira note I gave her. Later, after we toured the tomb of Mehmet I, I asked if I could take her picture. She agreed, and even adjusted her scarf to make sure she looked good.
Dining has been good. I have attached a couple of photos. One is of the traditional appetizer or meze plate that they serve at the beginning of dinner. It has some vegetables, cheeses, and a couple of yogurt based sauces. The red sauce is a tomato-based sauce they put on lahmajun (a type of pizza).
Lunch is usually 3 courses – soup or salad, entrée, and desert, with bread and possibly some shared little meze on the table. For dinner, you have soup, salad, meze plate, entrée, and desert. And of course bread. The bread is very good, usually warm, always fresh. No bland white-bread disguised as a dinner roll here. *Note: Today at lunch and dinner, we finally were served the bland dinner roll, individually wrapped no less; I took a picture of it but refused to dignify it with consumption.
The best lunch we had so far was in Bursa. It is called Iskender Kebap, or Alexander Kabob. It is rumored to be named for Alexander the Great, who really has no direct connection to the Ottomans, but since they conquered much of the land he conquered, they’ve added him to their pantheon of greats. It is actually named for Iskender Effendi, the man who invented it in the late 19th century. It is slices of meat (tastes very much like a good Philly cheesesteak) sitting on top of chunks of toasted bread, with tomato sauce, sliced tomatoes, and a dollop of yogurt. A server comes along to ladle melted butter onto your plate. So you start off with a good steak sandwich and finish with a taste similar to tomato pie or Sicilian pizza without cheese. Delicious!
One night in Bursa we had dinner on our own. Brian and I had dinner with Susan, one of our group leaders. I wanted a couple of boreks, which are a filled pastry – sort of a Turkish hot pocket. They weren’t serving them. I’m not sure if it was a Ramadan thing and they had a limited menu or because they considered it a breakfast item. So I had a spicy kebap.
The second dinner in Bursa was at an open-air restaurant with a great view of the city. We dined before sunset, but as we were eating, we were watching the rest of the diners assemble around us in anticipation of the iftar, or fast breaking. It takes a lot of willpower to sit there patiently, as they have water, salad, and bread sitting at the table, waiting for the cannon to go off that signifies the breaking of the fast.
I have developed a liking for one item that I never ate before – lentil soup. They seem to have 2 varieties. One is a spicy version, that is reddish orange and has a nice bit of heat. The other is milder, yellow in color, and tastes like a not-quite-chicken soup. I think I’ll be making some lentil soup this fall. Another soup we’ve had is a lemon-yogurt with rice. It reminds me of the sauce you get when you make Yiouvarlakia, or meatballs in lemon and egg sauce.
On the way back from Edirne to Istanbul, we were supposed to stop for a picnic in the Belgrade Forest. Before we went there, we shopped in a Turkish supermarket to buy food for our trip. Michelle, Clara, and I bought bread, simits (a ring shaped bread with sesame seeds, tastes like a over baked bagel), cheese, olive oil, some of the tomato paste/sauce, hummus, fruit, and beer. Was kind of tired of eating meat. The traffic as we hit Istanbul was awful, and it would have been another hour to get to the forest and 1 or 2 hours to get from there back to the hotel. We had a bus picnic, with all kinds of food being shared, and spilled, trying to keep everything contained on a bus that was stopping and starting.
Since it is Ramadan, and a Muslim, though secular, country, you have to keep the drinking to a respectful level. Depending on the town you go to, drinking may be more or less tolerated than in others. The first night in Istanbul, I had some Rakı with my dinner. Rakı is the Turkish national drink, an anise (licorice) flavored liquor that is similar to ouzo or sambuca. You get it by itself in a small glass and it is clear. You then add water and it turns cloudy. I find it very refreshing to drink in the summer.
Another drink, this time non-alcoholic, is a yogurt beverage called yayik ayran, or just ayran. I had some in Iznik and don’t ever need to drink it again. It is thicker than milk but has a sour, yogurt taste. Not my favorite.
Completely random, but I must stop here to post the obligatory photo of the Asian style toilet. Discuss amongst yourselves the mental shift you need to make to use it. I’ll wait.
Alright, moving on…
In Safranbolu, most of us went to the hamam, or Turkish bath in the old part of town. It was smaller than the Çemberlitas bath in Istanbul, but still pleasant. I wasn’t really planning on going, but most everyone was going and I wanted to catch some of the reactions by the guys to the experience. Plus, I wanted to compare the “tourist area” bath to a more local bath. And it was only 35 lira for the traditional scrub and a brief massage. With generous tip, I paid 50 lira ($25). One of our leaders, Barb, was warning everyone that you were going to be completely naked, so if you were uncomfortable with that you should bring a swimsuit. Some of the guys were discussing wearing underwear, but I think everyone just wore the pestemal. It appears the ladies’ experience was a bit more “liberating,” because I was thinking everything I ever read about Turkish baths said that you almost never remove your pestemal. The attendants go out of their way to avoid having you “exposed.” As I expected, nobody on the guys’ side had to show the full Monty, at least nobody said they did. That evening, when we had a group check-in on how the institute was going, one of the ladies commented on the fact that they had to, or felt the need to remove their pestemals, which sort of makes sense as it has to cover more surface area for women than men to maintain modesty. This leaves less area to clean. She also commented that it was somewhat of a bonding experience. I countered a bit later that the gentlemen did not have that experience, and for that I was eternally grateful.
The hotel in Bursa had a spa facility as well. Bursa has hot mineral springs so there are many spa hotels. They had a large pool that was fed by the hot mineral water. After our busy day, I decided to have a spa treatment. I went for the coffee scrub with facial and massage. It is pretty much similar to the Turkish bath, but I was covered a paste of coffee grounds. A bit messy to look at, but it was quite relaxing and invigorating at the same time. I think it kept me up later than I wanted, as I probably absorbed the caffeine right into my bloodstream – like an allover transdermal patch. And I smelled good.
“Hello, my name is Ron, and I’m addicted to the Turkish bath.”