Tram ride from Eminonu to Sultanahmet: Tram rides and walks seem to be a more authentic way to get to know the city. You also get to see more of the insanely beautiful Turkish women. Trams are super crowded though, and the internet had warned us about holding on to our belongings. We get down at Sultanahmet and JM calls out to the three of us to make sure we have our wallets and bags. The moment after, he realizes that his camera pouch is empty. We re-board the tram and look around the floor. But it's obvious it just didn't fall off. This time around, the jokes start almost immediately . Fortunately, he had downloaded his London pictures. And the rest of us had Greece covered. I sigh about losing a few awesome Facebook profile pictures.
In front of the Sultanahmet Mosque: It's a little cold and overcast and the steam coming out of the brass container made it look all the more tempting. The four of us decide to try the Sahlep, a Turkish hot beverage. 3 Liras for each cup, he says and even as HW hands out the money, he tells us that the guy is overcharging. It shouldn't be more than a Lira. We notice that unlike other roadside one-man stalls, he doesnt have the price written down anywhere. We stand there sipping the Sahlep (which I really like, by the way) and see what price he charges other people and to find out if there's any price discrimination. An Asian tourist couple comes by and they dish out 10 Liras for two drinks. Price charged is directly proportional to distance from Istanbul, I make deduction as we move on with a smile that says 'we know you cheated us but it's ok.'
Looking for dinner near Sirkeci: It's a small by-lane and there's hardly any crowd. It's our first night in the city and we are looking for some Turkish cuisine. The restaurant manager comes out inviting us. The menu has a lot of variety and is priced well. The next door restaurant guy also comes out and requests us to come over. The attention is pleasantly surprising. We tell them we will come back soon and walk off to explore more before deciding. A few minutes later, we are back there. We tell the guys to decide where we should sit.
'Two of you can come here and the other two can go to his place'
'How about all four of us come to your place and we promise to come back later to his place.'
'Ok my friend. Remember, it's a promise. I'll wait for you'
The meal is fabulous. And half the items are on the house - bread, a spicy tomato based paste, salad, and Turkish tea. We order a chicken and a lamb curry based dish (cooked with onions, bell peppers and served with rice). The guy was supposed to close the restaurant at 11 but its closer to 12 by the time we get done. It's a small place and the look of satisfaction on the guy's face makes us happy too. We ask for the check to one of the waiters and he is almost embarrassed that he doesn't know English. At each instant you get the feeling that they are trying hard to make sure you are satisfied. The look on the waiter's face says 'I'm sorry I only speak Turkish. I hope it doesn't take away from your experience here.'
It's a very different feeling from dining in an American restaurant. Yes, it's Istanbul and the restaurant is small and all that. But beyond that, you feel an underlying authenticity about the way these guys go about feeding us. For all I know, it's their job and all of it is a well thought out script. But I like to think otherwise.
Next day, we come back to the other restaurant. The manager remembers us and shakes our hand. He seems genuinely happy that we kept our promise.
To be continued....