12 July 2013

Turkey & Croatia :: The Details (Part II)

Where did I last leave you? Oh, right: Istanbul, my favorite city in the world. (Second to Seattle, of course). Splitting our time in Istanbul, Amos and I decided to head to Cappadocia (as spelled in English) or Kapadokya (as spelled in Turkish). I like the Turkish spelling better because it is phonetically closer to the pronunciation and easy enough on English speakers. Kap-a-do-kya. That's how I'm going to refer to the region, though I fear being one of those people who pronounces Paris "Par-ee" when speaking to other Americans over unlimited salad & breadsticks at an Olive Garden. (Because we all know those people, and those people are the worst.)

Ahem. Kapadokya is a region in central Turkey where the geological structures -- soft rock covered by a hard exterior of volcanic sediment -- have eroded to create fantastic towers and shapes in the desert. It is also a land full of houses built into caves, and these houses have been used by everyone from the Hittites and Persians to the early Christians, who used them as hiding spots before Christianity was an accepted religion. The more archeological work is done, the more Turkey seems as likely as Macedonia for the birthplace of civilization.

The Kapadokya region is bordered by several small towns strung together by two lane highways. Given that the sights are spread out and it can be logistically challenging, we used a guide service for this part of our trip. We booked a 3-day, 2-night package through Euphrates Tours. It just made things so easy: we didn't have to coordinate a thing.

We caught a 6:55AM flight out of Atatürk airport, and from the Sultanahmet district, it was an easy 30 minute cab ride (our hotel's free airport shuttle was one way only). Istanbul has notoriously terrible traffic, and it was nice to miss it by leaving early. We flew Turkish Airlines, easy-peasy, and touched down in Ürgüp, the largest city of the Kapadokya area, by 8am. We met our driver, piled into a (thankfully) air-conditioned bus, and drove an hour into Göreme, a town much closer to all the sights. We met up with our tour group and headed off, all before 10AM. It was incredible to realize we had been in cosmopolitan Istanbul only hours before. It felt like ages ago, in a good way. I love it when that happens on vacation.

Honestly, I'm not a huge tour group fan. It's rare that I feel like the amount of information you get from the guide is worth the awkwardness of having to be an active listen on tour. Using a book, you can skip the boring parts and spend more time on things you find interesting and not worry about offending. In a tour group, you always have to be consciences of other people, stay together, make small talk. You could do a private tour... with all the guide's attention on you... the entire time... and, wow... doesn't that make you sweat a bit just thinking of it? BUT, for this area of the world, a guiding service was totally worth it. All the sights are quite spread out, guidebooks are a bit hard to find, and the cities' economies run on tourism, so we were supporting well-paying local jobs.

My father's worst nightmare.

We stayed at the Gamirasu Cave Hotel in the little village of Ayvali -- and this is where a tour guiding company really knows their stuff -- a hotel I would have passed by, thinking it too remote. It was lovely: quiet and secluded, with an amazing pool and places to lounge. We were so tired from the long days sightseeing in the blasting heat that the isolated location didn't bother us in the slightest. We did have to eat dinner there, but the food was delicious and the prices affordable enough it didn't bother. I would recommend that hotel, even if you don't book a full tour.

Kapadokya was completely interesting and historical, and I enjoyed it very, very much. That said, I feel no need to go back. Amos and I saw everything we could want -- we even splurged on a hot air balloon ride (totally worth it) -- we have lovely memories and photos from our stay. It's not like Istanbul, where the vibrancy would make compelling return trips, or like the Canadian BC countryside, where my soul can unwind and relax (and thus I return). This was a one-time place, and there is nothing wrong with that.

On the third day, we flew out of Kayseri, another small town in Kapaokya (and there was some confusion on my part for the open-jaw-ness of our ticket. Double check, people! Always.) Let me say this about Turkish Air: I had low expectations, but it was a fantastic airline. Planes were new, flying was easy, food was delicious. It was real sandwiches on real baguettes with real mozzarella cheese and real and fresh tomatoes with mint yogurt on the side. You can tell a country takes its food seriously when airplane food and continental breakfasts are something to write home about. I mean, come on. Respect.

From Kapadokya, we went back to Istanbul for 2 days, then on to Croatia. On the map, these places are not that far apart, but we discovered it is quite difficult to get between the two. Our original flight, via Bucharest, was changed several times until we ended up on a plane flying back to Frankfurt, then back down to Dubrovnik. (And people complain about the airport hub system...). We left Istanbul at 5:45AM, almost missed our flight (the airport is surprisingly busy that early), but we were in Dubrovnik by 2PM. It was annoying, but, you know, perspective. It wasn't that bad.

We planned to spend 6 days total in Croatia, just around the Dalmatia Coast. For a two week vacation, we moved pretty slow. Amos and I have discovered that's how we prefer to travel. We like to stay in a place long enough to not be rushed, to try a couple restaurants, to get coffee lazily and without hurry, to walk all around and enjoy a bit more of the vibe. It also maximizes our time on the ground and not 'in transit,' where even when things go right, it can be a pain. We stayed put in Dubrovnik for 3 days and then spent 48 hours on the island of Korčula (pronounced Kor-chu-la), the supposed birthplace of Marco Polo.

Hotels in Dubrovnik are expensive. It's a city still bound by medieval walls, and, while charming, it has no place for large buildings. Apartments are easy to rent and way more affordable. Many residents rent out their places during high season and leave for the more modern (and more convenient for everyday living) suburbs.

We rented a charming one bedroom apartment for 80€ a night. It had an amazing view of Old Town Dubrovnik, a balcony, a basic kitchen, a washing machine, and about 400 stairs between us and the city. I went in cocky -- we're in good shape! -- and ended up so sweaty each time we finally made it back to the apartment. It ended up that we would pack everything we needed for the entire day before leaving in the morning, and it did impede us from ever "popping in" for a quick stop. But it got us out of the (at times) claustrophobic Old Town, and you forgot alllll about the steps when you sat on the balcony with a glass of chilled wine.

The view from our balcony.

Dubrovnik was beautiful, one of the prettiest places I've ever seen. It was so interesting to see a city where the walls built in the 1500s had protected the city from artillery shells in the 1990s. Yugoslavia was a place I knew little about, and I loved being in an area where the crossroads of Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Islam tied it historically back to Turkey, where we just were, and mainland Europe, a culture closer to my own.

[Also, a confidential to American history teachers: MAYBE YOU SHOULD MENTION THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE AT LEAST ONCE. Um, at one point 1 in 3 people lived under the empire and it was not touched on at all for me. Like, ever.]

The obvious downside to Dubrovnik was the crowds. Two words: cruise ships. At least two were docked at any given time, and it often rose to three or four. Old Town is home to 2,000 locals, at best, and it can face upwards of 9,000 cruise ship tourists in a single day. (Greater Dubrovnik has a population of 50,000). With that many people in town for only a number of hours, the city just can't handle it. All space is devoted solely to tourism: restaurants for tourists, kitschy knick-knack shops for tourists... the crowds are daunting. When you looked down Stradun, the main street of Old Town, it is constantly packed with tour guides raising up paddles as masses follow behind them, full of fanny packs and white tennis shoes. There's nothing terribly wrong with cruise ship tourism, I guess, but it rather kills a towns spirit when it seemingly is the town. We found the food overpriced and mediocre, with no need to worry about repeat business. (After one lunch, I asked Amos how is hamburger was. His reply: "My beer was good." So... yeah). We hit the couple tourist sights early or late to avoid the queues. With all of this, it was nice to steal away up the hill to our apartment each night.

Not that it was all bad or unenjoyable. We found wonderful swimming just outside the city gates, where we could jump into salty, clear water from rocks that supported the city walls as they rose from the ocean. It felt as 'off the beaten path' as you could find because you had to wind around outside the city gates for a while and persist past a few almost-dead-ends. This hiddenness made it.

We were jumping off of rocks to swim because there is almost no sand in Croatia. The lack of sediment gives it the bright, clear blue waters (bluest waters in the world! Visible from space!). We would walk around, get hot, jump into the sea, walk home. We spent an afternoon at a fancy beach club, renting chairs and being high class. It was an kind of fun and classy experience, but it turns out that Amos and I prefer free rocks.

We stumbled upon an older couple when we first found our hidden swimming spot. The woman, well into her 60s, was in the water, and after awhile, I realized she was in her underwear. It seemed her and her husband had found the spot on accident and jumped in despite their lack of swimsuits. We gave them a wide berth (the spot was almost empty), but the lightheartedness was contagious. It was sweet how, when they were done, he held up a scarf so she could have some privacy to get dressed. You just knew it was out of character for them: she was probably a teacher and he was probably an office worker, and when they returned back to their normal lives, they would look at each other and laugh about their secret almost-skinny-dip, that time they got crazy while on the Dalmatia Coast.

(Did I just project that whole story onto two strangers? YES I DID.)

Rick Steve's pamphlet on Dubrovnik seems to suggest that you would like to spend 3 to 4 days in the city. I would beg to differ, and Amos and I were ready to move on by the end of Day 2. We stayed on, eating watermelon gelato and jumping into the water, but were happy when our time was up and we caught the shuttle bus to Korčula. We had booked a tiny studio apartment near the city for 50€, and while the accommodation was only okay inside, it was right across from the water and had a little patio where we enjoyed fig newtons and views of Korčula's Old Town. It was here that we discovered that you don't order a bottle of wine at dinner; you order the house wine. It comes in a liter sized glass carafe, and it is both delicious and cheap. In case you don't realize, a liter is a lot of wine, as Amos can attest to my giggling halfway through dinner. We didn't finish the wine, and since it cost us about $12, we didn't feel too bad about it either.

We spent a quick 2 days in Korčula, renting bikes and wine tasting and swimming in Lombardia (a small town about 10km away). We read books on the patio, walked around Old Town, tried out various little beaches. Again, I found the food only okay, but the ambience was fantastic. It was a quieter, less crowded version of Dubrovnik. We stumbled upon a winery where they made Grk, a dry white wine produced only in Lombardia. The grapes are all different sizes on the vine and this makes them inefficient for large commercial wineries. The first cultivation of these grapes was with the ancient Greeks, hence the name. These grapes are a bit wild, and the process hasn't changed much in hundreds and hundreds of years; this particular winery had been in the family for over 300. A young guy was tending the shop when we stopped in. We did some tasting, bought a bottle, and then he casually showed us where all the wine was bottled. I now know that corks come in bags of 1,000 and that you can print professional wine labels off a home computer. The bottle is on our wine rack, next to a jar of fig jam, waiting for when we are sick of Nagoya and wishing we were back in a land where people believe in swimming in the ocean, instead of just using it for industry (ahem).

On our second to last day, we caught the bus back to Dubrovnik, and stayed at the swanky Hotel Lapad, in the modern part of the city. We got a killer deal on it from an online booking company, and enjoyed walking around that neighborhood, especially the part where we drank wine while sitting on a cafe's outdoor glider swings. The next day, our plane didn't leave until 3PM, so we laid by the pool in the morning and killed time before heading back to the airport via taxi (it's a 35 minute drive). Further proof of the good luck we had on this trip: Mike's suitcase broke, but on the last day, and we were able to use up the end of both our Croatian kuna and Euros at the airport cafe, buying a beer and a juice for the exact rate. I had it calculated down to the cent, and, seeing my neurosis skill at combining two currencies and exchange rates into one purchase, the attendant offered me a job. If I have trouble finding work when we return to Seattle, I know there's always a place for me at the Dubrovnik airport. (Tucking that away in my back pocket).

We flew back through, yup, you guessed it, the Frankfurt airport. Seeing at this was the third time, we treated ourselves to "A Taste of Germany," complete with 3 types of sausages, a pretzel, sauerkraut, mustard, and 2 hefeweizens. We had to make the best of our crazy flights, and my mother always taught me that the last day of vacation counts, even if it is spent travelling. So... large beers!

We caught the red eye home through Tokyo and arrived in Nagoya safe and sound. If this ends up being our last big trip while we are abroad, I can easily say we made it count. And that? It feels pretty good.

Resources & Budget:

We had a budget of $185 per person, per day, based on -- who else? -- Rick Steve's advice for traveling Europe. It assumed $150 for a hotel, split between two people; free breakfast at the hotel, $15 lunch, $5 snack, $25 dinner, $65 for entertainment & transportation, which includes all museums, sightseeing, souvenirs, cabs, &c. This did not include our flights, except for the one in and out of Kapadokya.

We found it exactly right for cosmopolitan Istanbul, too little when using a guiding service in Central Anatolia, and too generous for the laid back coastline. We never felt like we were "on" a budget -- we didn't deny ourselves much -- but it was nice to have it in mind and keep a gentle eye on expenses. (Obviously you could do it much cheaper, if you were of the hostel & grocery store picnic mentality. We all know how, at the right time in your life, those trips are a blast.)

Resources I found helpful while planning:

- Istanbul by Rick Steves, paperback book
- Dubrovnik Snapshot by Rick Steves, iPad edition

Blog Posts & News Articles:
- The (not so) Starving (new media) Artists Guide to Istanbul Survival Guide for the Kadiköy & Moda neighborhoods
- Iconic Itineraries: Nine Perfect Days in Turkey, published by Conde Nast Traveler
Cappadocia Guide: Turkey's Kingdom of Caves, by John Gimlette, published by The Telegraph 
Hither & Thither Travelogue of Croatia & Montenegro (August 2008). INCREDIBLY helpful.
- The Coastal Delights of Croatia, published by Rick Steves on his blog.

Other Resources:
Dubrovnik Apartment Source, for accommodations
- Korcula Explorer, for accommodations & travel information

04 July 2013

Turkey & Croatia :: the details (Part I)

When we landed in Frankfurt and were hopping over to Munich before heading to Istanbul (it sounds like a joke, but it's not), we had to go through customs. The German customs officer looked at my passport and itinerary:

"From Japan?" he asked.
"To Munich."
"To Istanbul."
"All today?"

Exactly. But 23 hours later, we arrived in Istanbul and all was instantly right with the world.

After Nepal, I had insisted on a more relaxed vacation -- something with architecture, where I could wear cute clothes, eat good food, drink nice wine, use indoor plumbing. You know, mix it up a little. I got all of this on our trip, with the added bonus of some tear gas and protests. (Which is fair: I said I wanted a relaxing vacation, not a boring one).

This trip was amazing. I think one of our best yet, and there is so much to dig into: Being in a country in protest. Being in a Muslim country. Living in a place being covered by international news and the WTF-ery and worried mothers that come with that. Experiencing cruise ship tourism, and Amos' first time in Europe. It was a big trip.

But first, let's talk about the details. Sometimes things just click with a trip. I even packed well, for heaven's sake. We didn't check baggage on the way there (due to the tight connections and the 3 stopovers), and it somehow worked perfectly. I read the enchanting book Birds Without Wings that managed to fill in some Turkish history for me. I ran out of shampoo on our very last day. Right?! Hashtag fortuitous.

We flew from Nagoya-Frankfurt-Munich-Istanbul (oofta) on the way there, via Lufthansa. Honestly, I think Lufthansa is only okay. I had high expectations after hearing some rave reviews, but they had several schedule changes which soured me a bit. The food quality was okay, but drinks were free and the water plentiful (clutch). Our long haul planes were spanking new and super nice; the inter-Europe jets were older workhorses. Let's just say I'd pick them over United, but I'd choose Korean Air every time when given the option. (God, you live abroad for awhile and all of a sudden you're a plane snob. But when you're on those flying metal hunks for 14+ hours, and paying a bajillion dollars to do so, the size of the TVs and the mirror in the restrooms begin to really matter).

I was worried about the international-domestic-international nature of our initial flight, and Germany impressed. So efficient. We left an hour and a half for customs... and got through in 5 minutes. Amazing. Frankfurt and Munich aren't fancy-pants airports, but I'd totally choose to fly through them again. Also, the domestic area of Lufthansa has a free cappuccino machine. I was classy and had three.

We landed in Istanbul late in the evening and used our hotel's airport shuttle for transport. It seemed like most hotels offered a deal for a free shuttle if you stayed 3 nights. It made it so easy for us when we landed. We hopped on the shuttle short bus and were at the hotel in about 30 minutes. For our first leg in Istanbul, we flew into Atatürk Airport and stayed in the Sultanahmet district (or "Old Town") at the Orient Express Hotel.

Man, did we find a gem with this place. It was a midlevel budget place with a fantastic location. Our rate was 109€ a night, and we got a free airport shuttle and continental breakfast, plus a 10% discount for booking through the website and paying cash. I am always skeptical about free breakfasts in hotel basements, but this thing was killer. A big bowl of oranges to press for fresh juice, thick yogurt, dried figs, fresh fruit, bread, sausage, eggs, a kitchen island sized cart of fresh cheeses, cured meats, peeled cucumbers, oh, and an actual honeycomb. It made me excited to wake up each morning. I'm not even kidding; I flipping loved it. The beds were a little thin, the view was nothing, and the pool, while clean and nice, felt claustrophobic. But I'd stay there again in a heartbeat since we were five minutes away from everything (tram stop, Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the best baklava shop). The service was really great, it had free and reliable internet, do I need to mention the breakfast again?...  it had everything we needed.

I told Amos on the way to Turkey that I was going to try and limit myself to one dairy item a day, since my body doesn't love it the way I wish it did. Friends, I couldn't limit myself to one dairy thing at breakfast, and I couldn't even feel a little bit bad about it. It was delicious.

Okay! Enough about the hotel breakfast! Our first day, expecting to be tired with the travel and jet-lag, we skipped out of the city and decided to cruise along the Bosphorus Strait. Following the advice of trusty Rick Steves, we used the public ferry for a whopping $13/pp (round-trip). The ferry took us all the way up to Anadolu Kavağı, a cute little fishing village where we could see the Black Sea. The Bosphorus winds down from the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and splits Europe and Asia. Along the side, you can see all of Istanbul's attractions and impressive skyline, but you can also get a feel for how big the city is (15 million people) and how important the city's location would have been for thousands and thousands of years (the Bosphorus is the only way for Russia, &c. to get down to the Mediterranean and have ocean access, and it gets narrow in parts. You control the Bosphorus, you control everything.) On the ferry, it's easy to see how Istanbul was and is a crossroads for so many cultures and people. How could it not be?

Blah, blah history: let's talk about the food on the ferry. My love. We stopped at this little village called Kanlıca for a couple minutes to pick up some passengers... and some yogurt. This little village is known for it's yogurt, and shortly after we left Amos and I were happily eating farm fresh yogurt sweetened only with a little bit of powdered sugar. Add to this some çay (ubiquitous Turkish tea, pronounced chai), a couple fresh cherries, the wind in my hair, and I had to keep telling Amos how happy I was. It was beautiful.

We cruised the Strait and ended at Anadolu Kavağı, where the ferry docked for about three hours. We were able to climb up to Yoros Kalesi (castle) ruins and see the Black Sea to the north, the outline of Istanbul to the south, and the largest Turkish flag imaginable. Don't tell the George W. Bush, but Turkey has bigger flags. By far. We also ate a small picnic of hamsili ekmek, the local bakery's bread made with corn flour, leeks, tomato, peppers, and fresh anchovies. Not surprisingly, I loved it.

That night, after a dinner of kebabs from a little street shop, we walked past the Four Seasons to see the fancy hotel (that we sooooo couldn't afford). It used to be an old prison that had been converted into a luxury hotel, and I had wanted to see what all the fuss was about. We considered getting a drink there, but it seems pretty dead and boring, lovely as the lobby was. Instead, we went across the street, found a little open air bar, and smoked nargile, which is basically a hookah filled with flavored, low-nicotine tabacco. I'm not a big smoker, but it was pretty fun and smelled delicious (like eating, but for your nose). The scene? We were sitting on bean bags over a clear glass floor that allowed us to see down into Istanbul's old underground city ruins. Awesome. The thing was that this place -- in the tourist district, right by a hotel, with the potential to be super gimmicky -- didn't feel fake. There were Turkish people there, there were expats, there were tourists. That seemed to be Istanbul to us. Real, even when it wasn't real.

The next 3 days we spent seeing the city: the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapı Palace & Harem, the Mosque of Süleyman the Magnificant, the Underground Cistern, the Chora Church, the Galata Bridge, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Market, Rüstem Paşa Mosque, the Galata Tower neighborhood. (I liked all of these places, and have left the so-so sights off this list and outta this blog post. Bam, efficiency). It was fantastic. Some days were long, some short(ish), but all were heavy on walking, sightseeing, eating, and drinking Turkish coffee (or Türk kahvesi) with an order of pistachio baklava.

We used the Rick Steves book with little trouble, though I wish I had downloaded a podcast or two of his (apparently, you can get them free with the book purchase) and made a copy of the maps for when we didn't want to lug the entire book around. It had good information and decent summaries which allowed us to skip some attractions that didn't speak to us -- hello Istanbul Archaeological Museum -- and hit other ones that did, like the nargile. (Sidenote: we downloaded a Rick Steves' pamphlet to our iPad for our Crotia leg, and while a little harder to flip through, it was so much lighter to carry. I don't know what you're supposed to do with that information, but I thought you should know.)

"Can you get one of us with Jesus?"
Medusa's head repurposed to support a column in the Underground Cistern.
Waste not, want not.

The carpet's decoration helps worshippers line up when they pray.
I think this is genius.

Mike and I aren't tour group people, for the most part, so having a guide book, a basic plan, and seeing where we end up is our preferred way to travel. Given the unrest in Istanbul while we were there, the amount of sights to see, and our unfamiliarity of the city, I did plan out our daily activities pretty clearly. (Monday we are seeing A and B, then lunch, then C and a break at the hotel). This was really nice because it made sure we weren't trying to go see something that was closed, it planned out food stops to make sure we would eat before we (me) got hungry (and cry-y). We adjusted on the fly, of course, but it was a great game plan. We did most of our sightseeing early and headed back to the hotel to rest in the afternoons when everything was packed and claustrophobic. There is nothing more satisfying than leaving a museum and seeing a long queue that you avoided hours before. Also, if you get to the Grand Bazaar early, the salesmen are still having their çay and cigarettes and are too preoccupied to hawk at you. Yessssssssssss.

Besides sightseeing for our first days in Istanbul, we ate 5TL ($2.50) fish sandwiches on the Galata Bridge (complete with a sunset and a bottle of rakı), red mullet from the well-known Balıkçi Sabahttin, mezes from the surprising delicious İmbat Restaurant on top of our hotel (what?! At a budget hotel?!). We happened upon the famous baklava shop Hafiz Mustafa 1864, which was epic and where I insisted we go once a day. Amos, resolute in his anti-coffee beliefs, was swayed to try Turkish coffee, and we would have one an afternoon. (He had no sugar in his because if you are going to do something, do. it. all. the. way.) We drank wine while sitting at a table in a crowded alley which also functioned as the restaurant's "patio." We ate in the quiet courtyard of Caferağa Medresesi while listening to calls to prayer from he Mosque of Süleyman. We hit touristy spots, cheap spots, expensive spots... and pretty much scored each time. Even the misses weren't bad. Food seemed really reasonable, especially when compared to Japan, and the service seemed wonderfully attentive but not overbearing. We tipped 10%, on average... except after a bottle of rakı, when I tried to give the waiter all of our money, and Amos got put in charge of tipping. Accidents happen, you guys.

Lunch at the Pudding Shop (and I just think he is so handsome.)

After four days, we skipped out of Istanbul and headed inland to Cappadocia for a couple days. We then flew back into Istanbul, and stayed on the Asian side for two nights before leaving Turkey. If I was to go again (and, man, I certainly hope to!), I'd skip staying at the lovely Orient Express in Sultanahmet and instead just head over to the Kadıköy neighborhood. It's an easy 20 minute ferry (3TL) to the European (and more touristy) side, but the neighborhood pulses with a realness and a vibrancy that is nothing short of fantastic. Thousands of people cross the Bosphorus each day for their commutes, and the ferry terminal in Kadıköy has alleys and streets lined with food stalls and shops to grab a bite to eat or a drink on your way home. You have stalls devoted to just cheese, to just fish, to just figs. The nightlife was incredible, with live fiddles and dancing and dinner being served until 1am. It's liberal and relaxed and a place where I wish I could live for a month. In fact, it's recently become a life goal of mine. (The only thing downside about the Asian side is trying to get back to the Atatürk airport, especially when your flight time changed from 10:40AM to 5:45AM. Hence the lack of Lufthansa love around these parts.) We enjoyed two nights there, and our last meal in Istanbul was actually at the amazing Kadı Nimet Balıkçılık, which -- literally -- buys your fish fresh from the fishmonger when you order it. I don't know how we simply walked in and scored a table (by the open window), but this was a blessed trip. (English website here).

It's amazing that I came home at all. And that I still fit in my pants.

Speaking of pants, there is a higher standard of modesty in Istanbul and Turkey. Nothing crazy;  I would have been technically fine in shorts, but I tended to feel more comfortable in pants or long skirts, shoulders covered, and decent necklines. I didn't feel out of place because I don't wear a headscarf. In fact, it seemed like between 10-25% of women wore them, with the percentage changing depending where you were in the city. The rest left their hair uncovered. I didn't buy special clothes or really think too much about it, but I tried to be respectful of the place I was visiting and the beliefs and customs of those who live there. I will write more about this in another post  -- because I want to address visiting a predominately Muslim country -- but I didn't find it a huge issue while traveling. Also, I do realize Istanbul is more than food. There is amazing and rich history in this city, and we soaked up a lot of it. Don't worry, I'll talk your ear off about that soon.

Okay, this is turning into a novel, and there is only so much editing down I can do. I'm breaking this bad boy up -- stay tuned for Part II: Cappadocia and Croatia. (UPDATE: here is Part II)
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