Sunday, July 3, 2011

Honeymoon Day 16 – June 16 – Istanbul, Turkey

Our plans on Thursday were all worked out – a ferry cruise up the Bosphorus, an adventure into the Asian side to try a restaurant recommended by a friend, and an evening in the new part of the city – until it started pouring down rain while we sat at breakfast.

We decided to forget about the Bosphorous cruise – even if the boat was still running in the storm, you wouldn’t be able to see anything through the rain and fog. Instead, we ended up having a quiet morning in the hotel and getting some extra sleep – not a bad alternative at all.

When the rain finally subsided, we caught the metro to the Istanbul Modern museum.

The museum focuses on modern Turkish art, and the first exhibit when you walk in is one of my favorite art museum exhibits I’ve ever seen. The exhibit showcases Turkish art from the early 1900’s to the present. The little plaques next to each painting explain who the artist is, where they studied, and who they studied with, which is really interesting – funny to imagine all the international ties in the art world. The plaques also talk about what was going on in Turkey at the time – who was ruling, and what debates were occurring in the public and among artists. Going along all of the paintings, you really get a sense, not only of the context or importance of one painting, but of the evolution of Turkish art and art debates in relation to current events in the world. When the paintings become more impressionistic, you have a sense of why artists have made this change. When you see paintings of people working in machine shops or fields, you understand that the choice of these subjects, rather than the scenic water views popular in the past, are significant.

Even later in the museum, when the focus wasn’t on the evolution of art through history, the explanation plaques next to each painting were particularly interesting. They would give you not only basic information on the artist or the painting, but also some pointers as to why this particular painting is interesting or important in the world of art. The plaques would sometimes point your attention to the direction of lines, the use of particular colors rather than others, the direction of gazes, and many other details that you may not appreciate if you had no background in art (like Jeff and me). They were some of the most interesting and helpful descriptions I’ve ever seen in an art museum.

The basement of the museum has very modern, temporary exhibits. These were interesting, but a little overwhelming in their use of light and sound and video, especially after more than two quiet hours of strolling and reading upstairs. Jeff and I headed to the café for an espresso and a tea on the patio overlooking the water and Sultanhamet (the old town).

An aside – the espresso and tea together cost about $9 – which brings me to one of my un-anticipated findings in Istanbul – it’s expensive! I’m not sure what I expected – maybe something at least cheaper than the states on average, but meals in both the old part of town, which is touristy, and the new part of town, which is a bit fancy, always seem to be about the same as U.S. big-city meal prices. Unless you want to buy a doner or other sandwich from a to-go kiosk, you can pretty much expect to spend $30-$40 for lunch for two people. It’s not super expensive, but it's still more than I expected.

After the museum, we went on a somewhat round-about walk, ending up back on Istiklal. We decided to have dinner at a place just down the street from the restaurant we’d eaten at the night before, because it had looked good to both of us passing by. The restaurant is called “Canim Cigerim Ilhan Usta.” They really only serve one thing – kebabs, and they specialize in liver. They don’t bring out the menu – they just ask: liver, meat, or chicken? (Jeff chose liver and I chose meat.) Then they bring out durum bread (which looks like tortilla) and a bunch of plates of side items – mint, parsley, some other green leaf, peppers, spiced onions, finely chopped tomatoes and onions, and grilled tomatoes, onions and and peppers. Then, they come out with what seems like a million long, hot metal skewers with your liver, meat, or chicken. And then you eat. It was really good, and a lot of food, and despite my previous comment about high prices, was only about $25 for both of us.

After dinner, Jeff and I decided to retrace our steps to find the cute side-street lined with pubs that we had seen on our walk the previous day. We did manage to find it, and settled into a cute two-person table right along the street. We tried the local beer – Efes Pilzen – which was not bad, and talked about wedding things.

Jeff and I have gotten into the habit of constantly using the words ‘husband’ and ‘wife.’ They’re still so novel, that it still doesn’t feel quite real to say it – that Jeff is my husband and I’m his wife. It’s so exciting! And so we say things like, “Do you want another beer, wife?” Or, “Ok, husband, do you think we should take a taxi or walk?”

Sitting on a cute pedestrian (mostly – it seems like there is no place motorcycles won’t venture) street, having a relaxing drink, marveling at the fact that we’re in Istanbul, and we’re married, is a pretty incredible feeling.

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