Euro Top Ten: #10 – Dinner in Istanbul

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#10 – Dinner in Istanbul

Sometimes, a layover is more than just a layover. And a dinner is more than just a dinner.

Sometimes, a single inexpensive meal can be the perfect bookend on an amazing journey – and open your eyes to a new world of possibility.

Our layover in Turkey, during our flight home from Europe, was a bit of a crapshoot.  It took a while to get out of the airport, and then I thought there was something wrong with my visa (turned out the issue was that the immigration agent was so busy flirting with me, he forgot to save my info and had to chase me through the airport. No biggie…).  We had no idea if we were going the right way on the train, or if our luggage was really safe being left on the plane (we only took carry-ons off), and we were holding fistfuls of money, since the exchange rate in Turkey was in our favor.  But as we got off the train to the sound of the evening prayer, all our anxiety faded away.  It was replaced with awe, and reverence.

Over the previous month, I had danced in British clubs, seen top-notch theater, admired famous works of art, eaten croissants on the bank of the Seine and wine on plazas in France, been massaged on a beach and hustled by someone at a train station, and more.  But the magic of Istanbul made dinner here my favorite moment of the trip.

The restaurant we stopped at, Mesale Cafe, had it all. Cushioned benches.  A cat at the table next to us that was bold enough when it was being fed to jump right up onto the table.  The sweet smell of hookah from people smoking around us.  And a perfect view of the live music and dancing – really spinning – on the stage at the front of the place, which drew us in initially.

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We ate like queens, tasting marinated chicken and meat crepe-like pancakes, made by women sitting mere feet from our table.  We drank literally every tea on the menu, and when we were done, our waiter said “just one more!” and then brought us a syrupy-sweet concoction that was a mix of all the teas together.

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We sat back against the pillows.  We paused and didn’t check Facebook.  We watched the dancers and smoke and shifting lights – and we realized that this was only the beginning.  If this city, that seemed so foreign and daunting, could be so sweet and beautiful and welcoming, nothing should hold us back.  We immediately started dreaming bigger – Katie of Thailand, me of rural Turkey, to visit a college roommate.

By the end of the meal, we were only out about $18 total – and in addition to our full stomachs, we gained an awareness that no adventure is inherently off-limits in this vast and wonderful world.  Even if you start with a layover, getting your feet on the ground is a perfect beginning.

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Spice market, Istanbul

 

Read my initial post about the best layover ever here.

The #10 is brought to you from the streets of Carcassonne.

All photos are my own unless otherwise stated.

Click here to read the other posts in this series.

Best layover ever?

The sun is shining over the Bosphorus River, reflecting right into our sweet little room at the hostel in Istanbul.  When we signed up for this 22 hour layover on our way home to Boston, it sounded like a great idea – but then the plane was late and it took us almost two hours to leave the airport and get into the city.  As we zipped past wholesale clothing stores on the train, we worried that we were wasting our time.

But then we got off the train to the sound of the evening prayer, and started looking around.

This place is amazing.  I’ve still only seen it in the dark but I absolutely love it.  In the few hours before bed, we shopped at the Arasta Bazaar just down the street, buying scarves and pottery and looking at the colorful tea options.

We sat in front of the Blue Mosque eating freshly roasted chestnuts and watching the colorful fountain.

Then we ate dinner at an open-air hookah bar, where we sat on velvet-covered benches, eating kebabs and meat and vegetable pancakes cooked by women sitting directly behind us and watching a Turkish dancer twirl to the sound of live music.  By the end of the evening, we drank every tea on the menu – and were rewarded with a free cup by our friendly waiter, who delivered us a mix of every type of tea plus ample amounts of sugar.  It was sweet perfection, new and welcoming and just lovely in every way.

Now we’re off to the spice market before leaving for the airport around noon.  See you on the other side of the Atlantic!

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Dessert and tea in Istanbul