After a stopover in Frankfurt, we arrived at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul at two in the morning. Sleepy and jet-lagged, my family and I gathered our luggage and waited for the person sent to pick us up from the apartment rental agency I’d arranged a flat with.
We waited an hour and then we began trying to contact them, to no avail. They finally picked us up, four hours late, saying they had mixed up our arrival time. We arrived shortly at our “flat,” a dilapidated building at the end of a run-down alleyway, adjacent to a police station. After an hour of trying to gather our wits, we left the
apartment rental agency scammers, notified the police, and they urged us to leave the neighborhood, helpfully hailing us a taxi.
Without a place to stay, we turned to the one district we knew of: Aksaray. My uncle and his wife would be arriving from Iran the next day, and we had arranged to meet near an Iranian travel agency in this neighborhood. The trouble is, there are endless Iranian travel agencies in Aksaray. Nevertheless, we found the right one, and several hours later, via yet another agency, we secured an apartment. Keyvan and Maryam, the husband and wife team who helped us, not only rented our apartment to us, but showed us around the neigborhood too. Aksaray is a mixed residential area, and it reminded me of some of the older neighborhoods in Tehran.
We wearily stopped at a nearby restaurant, Pacaci Hasan, to fill our stomachs before we settled in for the day. I can’t remember the name of what I had, but it was a very spicy eggplant dish, sort of like khoresh-e bademjaan:
We were also served green salad, barbari flatbread, buttered rice, and ayran, Turkey’s version of doogh. It was a shame we were too tired to really eat or enjoy the dishes, but the food’s quality still showed. After lunch, we returned to our apartment and rested for the remainder of the day.
The next morning, my family and I awoke to the sound of my uncle and his wife at the door. Keyvan and Maryam had surprised us by bringing our relatives to us rather than us meeting them at the agency! There was much catching up to do – I hadn’t seen my uncle in seven years and I hadn’t seen his wife in ten. We exchanged gifts, and much to my delight, they brought me a small jar of Iranian caviar, one of my most coveted foods:
I would spend the next week savoring a bit of it each morning with Turkish flatbread and butter.
Feeling refreshed, we relaxed over tea and fruit at our apartment, before getting ready to explore. We headed out through Aksaray and began walking down Laleli, the main street in our greater neighborhood, full of shopping centers, hawkers, street vendors and the general feeling of the new starkly contrasted with the old, which permeates so much of Istanbul. We walked all the way to Istanbul University’s gates, right on time to hear the call to prayer at a nearby mosque.
On our walk back, we stopped at Koska, a sweets shop, to buy a variety of freshly-baked Turkish delights. I came to love this shop over the next couple of weeks, not just for the name (I know you Persian-speakers are smirking right now), but for how amazingly delicious their pasha Turkish delights are.
Despite our rough start, we were back on track and falling in love with Istanbul. I couldn’t wait to see more.