“I thought this climate was supposed to be Mediterranean” – Coleman Skeeter
Turkey is cold. Not NYC cold, but still, I was not prepared for the bitter chill that welcomed us as we exited from the Atatürk International Airport on Sunday morning.
After a brief negotiation with the shuttle driver, we agreed on a agreed on a 100 lira ride (1 Turkish lira = .537 US dollars) from the airport to our hotel, The Central Palace (which apparently has been nominated for one of the World’s Sexiest Hotels?). The hotel is welcoming, except for the lack of irons (which will make for a wrinkly week of business formal attire) and we’re within walking distance from many great bars, restaurants and local attractions.
A brief nap and then we’re back on the bus for a tour of some of Istanbul’s key attractions, including Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.
The Hagia Sophia is a beautiful museum with breathtaking mosaics, chandeliers and a massive dome, and at one time was the largest cathedral in the world for over 1000 years.
After a chilly tour through the museum, we visit an outdoor café and enjoy a warming cup of salep, a popular winter Turkish drink made of the flour of ground orchids, followed by simit from a nearby food cart. The salep was delicious and tasted like Christmas, while the simit was similar to a stale pretzel from a NYC food cart.
Soon after we approach the famous Blue Mosque, also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, a beautiful historical site that is still actively used for daily prayer. I take off my shoes and cover my head before entering, and am immediately immersed in the pervasive Muslim culture of Turkey, including the haunting sound of prayers booming through the mosque. After an insightful overview by our tour guide, including a summary of the five basic requirements of Muslim religion (see Note 1 below), we board our heated bus and head back to the hotel to prepare for a group dinner.
Dinner in large groups is always hit or miss, and tonight’s dinner was no different. The vegetarian appetizer plate had some unique and delicious items, but the main course of lamb and rice was dry and overcooked. However, the dessert of sweet syrup and fruit was a great finish to a lively meal.
After dinner, several of us head to Replik, a local bar featuring many flavors of Nargileler (or water pipes). We decide on apple accompanied with frosty mugs of Efes, a great local beer. After an hour or so, we walk back to the hotel through the still bustling Taksim Square and soon fall soundly asleep, in preparation for a busy day of company visits, eating and Turkish baths on Monday.
Note 1: Requirements of the Muslim Religion
- Accept Allah as the only God
- Pray 5 times per day for ~10 minutes each time
- Visit Mecca at least once in your lifetime
- Fast during Ramadan
- Donate 2.5% of your income to the poor