Istanbul David June 2, 2014 Travel Immediately after our wedding, Deena and I went to tour Istanbul. Istanbul was formally a layover on our way from New York to the Maldives, but since our layover was 6 hours, we decided to skip staying in the airport lounge and actually explore this wonderful city. Looking back, this was a great choice. Our tour in Istanbul was organized by Salih, who is the owner of a company called “My Local Guide Istanbul Private Tours”. Salih is, in a word, amazing. Months before the trip, Salih took the time to answer many questions, and organized an amazing itinerary for Deena and myself. Deena and I like to think of ourselves as foodies, so Salih signed us up for his “Taste of Turkey on Two Continents” tour. On the day of the tour itself, our plane arrived roughly one hour late. We were a little worried about this posing problems for pickup, but after we sped through customs (thanks to the Turkish e-visa we got in advance), we went through the exit and Salih’s private driver was waiting for us with a sign! After handshakes all around, we were taken into a private Mercedes-Benz van, which took us from the airport to Salih himself, who was waiting at a small café in Istanbul. Even though we were an hour late, Salih took this change in schedule in stride, and used our interests to customize a slightly abridged trip. With no further ado, we headed from the café to a dock on the coast of the Bosphorus. After stopping at the dock, Salih bought tickets to the ferry, which would cross over the Bosphorus and take us from the European part if Istanbul to the Asian part of Istanbul. On the ferry, we had the opportunities to take a few photos, including one of me and Deena: And Deena and Salih: Once we arrived in the Asian side of Istanbul, we went straight to the local bazaar, where we first picked up some street food (fried dough) and then toured areas such as the fruit market. After buying some cherries and young plums to snack on, we then toured the fish market, which had a pretty impressive selection. One thing that we found interesting was that the stall owners traditionally filet open the gills of the fish to show customers that the fish is fresh! While in the fish market section, Salih bought some stuffed mussels (mussel dolmas), which were essentially mussel shells stuffed with herbed rice and cooked mussels! After squeezing some lemon on top, these appetizers tasted absolutely amazing. Below is Salih opening one of these for us! After walking around the market, we went to a lovely authentic Istanbul diner to have a 4-course meal. Salih did a great job of choosing the various appetizers, and walking us through the merits of each one! After the meal, we were a little behind schedule), so we quickly walked back to the ferry (sadly bypassing Deena’s beloved Starbie’s) On the return ferry, we had a chance to see places like the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, albeit from a distance. It was very relaxing to see these attractions while drifting on a perfect night with a gentle sea breeze. After docking at port, we stopped at a famous sweet shop and picked up some baklava. We then took the baklava to a century-old madrassah (old Islamic school converted to a café), where chai and hookah were in order! We closed the day with good conversation and good company. At roughly 11pm, we walked from the madrassah to Grand Bazaar, where Salih’s driver was waiting to whisk us away to the airport for the next part of our trip. Although our visit to Istanbul was short, we absolutely loved it, and couldn’t thank Salih enough for making it a wonderful experience. We were able to connect to Salih on Facebook, and hopes he can come to New York so we can take him out as well!