But first, our cast of characters for the trip:
Mike and his Dad, Pat, who the kids (and I can't help myself, I do it too) call "Pa". Pa met us at the airport grinning ear to ear and holding up a sign with our mutual last name on it. That's the kind of guy he is, even after travelling all the way from Seattle to meet with us.
Mike's Mom, Colleen, the loving shutterbug whose photos I will be unabashedly and unapologetically using along with mine and Mike's for the rest of the series. And those kids of ours, of course, those awesome little adventurers:
and me and the kids.
Wait, did I say kids twice? Well, no matter. You know how it gets with children. They take up way more print space than their small size might imply.
After just a few hours on a plane, compared to the marathon flights Colleen and Pat had to endure from the States, we met up and emerged from the airport into the very different light of Istanbul. It is light with the clarity I associate with European cities, and you could sense from the very first moment how the city is positively steeped in history like a perfect cup of tea.
Unlike Dubai, whose seasons are Nice, Hot, Hotter, and OHmyGODgetmeOUTTAHERE, Istanbul was enjoying her gentle spring. At 21 C, exactly half the temperature we'd left behind (42C), the kids in particular were feeling a little chilly, but they, like they always do, acclimated after about a week.
Ersan, our driver, drove us in his rather distinctive eggplant purple Mercedes van to Buccoleon Palace in the Sultanhamet district, a small, tidy place of understated elegance overlooking the Marmara Sea, where trains went past frequently enough to delight Thomas but not loudly enough to disturb guests.
Outside were the narrow streets of cobblestones, inside the rooms were creamy and we had our own garden balcony, a prefect place to relax with a bottle of Raki. But more on Raki later.
Wisteria and the Turkish flag
Istanbul and the Marmara Sea
The first day we had little time to do much beyond exploring the immediate neighborhood, a place where the loudest thing was the frequent cats, where bread gets delivered to your window like this:
the windowboxes are flowering and along the streets parking spots are reserved for dusty, ancient cars by the careful placing of large used gasoline cans blocking any interlopers. No tour buses, just small stores and little places to dine modestly.
Except for us. We accidently were ensnared into a delicious but deceptive meal. Up flight after flight of stairs, we followed the proprietor who'd recruited us in off the street to a table where we could watch the light shift from day to blushing sunset over the city and sea. It was the sort of establishment where they brought first an enourmous platter of starters and then another of lovely seafoods to the table and you picked and chose from each according to your whims. You have a nice bottle of wine, you discover that clear burning anise flavored liquid known as Raki.
We, being no fools, had checked the menu prices, but faltered in our wisdom and fell easily into the trap of unstated market priced "you must try this" fish. That nubbly pink one in the back there.
We knew we were in trouble when the meal ended and the assistant waiter brought us the bill, apologised, stuttering, and fled before we'd opened it.
It's a bad sign when the apologise as they give you the bill. Perhaps we were fools. 600 Turkish Lira ($390 USD). No wonder he ran. What can you do, lesson learned. That's what they make credit cards for, right?
Both our hotel manager and travel agent were appalled. "You ate WHERE for how much?!"
Ah well. It was a very good and quite unusual fish, after all.