Cheap flights to Istanbul can be found during the winter from most of Europe. Istanbul in winter is wonderful. The crowds are less, the sites are still magnificent, and the energy of this amazing city still pulses.
Leaving Sulltanahmet and the European side of Istanbul behind, I headed over to Kadikoy to see my friends Alp and Serap. This friendship is yet another example of why I love using couchsurfing when I travel. These guys first hosted my wife and I on our honeymoon trip to Turkey and since that time have become some of our favorite people.
One of the things that makes both Istanbul and Izmir wonderful for me are the ferries. As public transport goes, there isn’t much better than using ferries. The cost is the same as a bus or the metro but without the crowding, with amazing views, you are on the water, and best of all (okay at least ranking very high) is that the tea on the ferries is pretty cheap at usually just 75 kurush or about 50 cents per cup. Turkish tea is strong and I like it, but it’s not for everyone. In particular, Moroccans seem to have a big dislike for it. Anyway, the ferry ride was, as always, lovely.
Landing at Kadikoy I met with Alp and we did a quick consultation with our stomachs and realized that it was time to get something to eat. He took me to his favorite lahmacun (pronounced lamb marjoon) joint where we spent the princely sum of three lira each to get one meat and one cheese only Turkish style pizza. Pide, the canoe shaped Turkish pizza is wonderful, but lamacun is, for me, the real Turkish pizza. Usually it’s about 7-10 inches across, round, and sprinkled with cheese and lamb meat. Alp turned me onto a very Turkish condiment spice to put on it – poison sumac. It’s sour like sorrel, but delicious on the lahmacun. And usually, lahmacun is only 1-2 Turkish lira.
Having satisfied the needs of our bellies, we took a long stroll along the shores of the Marmara sea. The day was beautiful, but still chilly. I was surprised to see old me swimming in their speedos as we went along. I asked Alp “Isn’t it a bit cold for swimming?” He told me that the Black Sea people swim all year round. Neither of us had any intention of swimming though and you’ll forgive me for not wanting to take pictures of old men in weenie bikinis – I’m sure the image in your head is enough.
We stopped at a fishermans chai house and sat in the sand next to the water as grizzled old fishermen played backgammon and drank Turkish coffee and tea. A Turkish mom showed up with her child bundled up in winter clothes, but the bucket and shovel at the ready. It was the first time I saw a kid playing in the sand in full winter gear at the beach. It made sense, but struck me as odd.
From that point we just wandered through the very modern and interesting neighborhoods of Kadikoy. A stop at the Cultural center where we looked at books, watched people, and then back to Alps where we ordered take-out hamsi (hamsi are the anchovy/sardine like fish that are unique to the Black Sea and delicious – especially in December!)
In truth, there was some sadness during that evening as one of Serap’s birds had taken ill and died that night. I know how hard it can be to lose a pet and my heart broke as I saw the sadness on my friend’s faces.
In the morning, I set out to go to the airport and back to Izmir and Manisa. On the way, I passed what must be the Wall Street of Turkey on Bayhariye Caddessi in Kadikoy.
Boga Heykeli, the bull statue in Altoyol, Kadiköy is one of the hundreds of meeting points in Istanbul. It was made by Houillav Dir Isidore Bonhver in Paris in 1864. It was brought to Germany in the late 19th century when the Germans defeated the French. In 1917 it was presented to Enver Pasa, Commander-in-chief of the Ottoman Army, by the German king Wilhelm II as the symbol of power. The statue changed many places until it was brought to Kadiköy in 1969 and placed in the garden of Kadiköy District Administration opposite the Besiktas Ferry Station. The statue was finally moved to Altiyol in Kadiköy in 1976 and it has been a meeting point for Istanbullu since then.
The trip to Attaturk International Airport is much easier than the trip to Sabiha Gokcen. I just took the ferry to Eminonu, then took the tram to the airport with just one change. Once arriving at the airport, I had to walk through what seemed to be miles of empty, tiled, underground tunnels. The echoes and the fact that I was seemingly the only person down there made me feel like Maxwell Smart or a survivor of nuclear holocaust who finds himself suddenly alone. And in fact, I felt alone. My wife by this point was back in Morocco and I was on my way back to the home that no longer was home for us to pack up the rest of our stuff, figure out if Turkey would work for us, and move on with life.