Sunday, May 31, 2015

MENU's Aegean Odyssey. Day 5 Istanbul & Athens: Taksim, Galata, Piraeus

Our self catering apartment was the one with the extended balcony in the red building. We did have a sea view, as the ferry port was right in front of us. The area, which is the old Armenian quarter of Fatıh, is very central, but not very modern and, in fact, we saw quite a lot of urban decay and lots of immigrants. We found it fairly dirty, as is most of Istanbul, but friendly, and we felt quite safe. The railway station in the front had recently closed, but express trains did go through now and then. We found that the best route into the centre was to take the bus on the other side of the station, which got us to the Galata Bridge in just a few minutes
The bus runs along the sea front on Kennedy Avenue. They have a similar card system to our MyCiti bus cards, called Istanbulkart, which you load up with Lira. It works on buses, trams and the Metro and it is cheap, especially if you get pensioner rates!
We had decided it was time to see Taksim Square and the Galata Tower on the other side of the Golden Horn so, first, we took a tram
and then the 140 year old funicular up the hill
It is only when you get to the top that you realise how steep the slope is
And then in Istikial Street, an old fashioned tram. The Turks relate this street to 5th Avenue, Champs-Élysées and Piccadilly/Regent Street. It was more like Oxford Street, very busy; lots of shops, but not much of the high end businesses
We arrived at lunch time and the streets were full of business people looking for lunch
There are still some beautiful historical buildings that haven’t been too commercialised
We found our lunch place, Ficcin, a Circassian restaurant which had been recommended to us
It is in a small side street and the restaurant has taken over many premises on the street level, so the street is almost one restaurant
This is the menu. Prices are reasonable (one Turkish Lira is currently R4.50) and this was our first chance to eat Mezze. Portions were generous
What we had. The best dolmades we had ever eaten. Lynne does not normally like the bland, sour rice wrapped in scratchy vine leaves. These were deep fried, slightly spicy, the centre was mixed with meat and pine nuts and they tasted amazing. Some humus and an artichoke heart in olive oil
Circassian chicken is one of their specialities and comes as a rough dip mixed with walnuts, garlic and gentle spices. We ate these with bread and drank the local beer Efes, which is not bad
Then came the last dish. We ordered lamb and aubergine and we think the waiter was a bit squint, as we were served the dish below, "Ficcin", a Circassian pastry stuffed with beef, served with salad. It was delicious. This had also happened with the Circassian chicken and they delivered a mashed red pepper paste with walnut, but we sent it back for the chicken
At the next table, a father taking his son out to lunch. And although it was threatening rain, most people preferred to eat on the (rather chilly) pavement
A good selection of Turkish wines. They are improving in quality but, this being a Muslim country, they are not easy to find other than in tourist places. Yes, those grapes are plastic
Our bill with tip. R324 for this exciting but humble lunch is not bad
The pictorial menu outside the restaurant
It makes things easier than trying to understand impenetrable Turkish. But everyone in the hospitality industry there does seem to speak good English, as well as German and sometimes French and Italian
Lots of dried fruit, exotic spices and loukoum in a shop on the main street
Enormous dates and other dried fruit and nuts. Prices are high
A "recycled" chair in an art gallery. We were horrified at the number of plastic bottles we and everyone else used, as you need to drink bottled water in most places and heaven only knows what happens to the empty bottles. We tried to reuse as much as we could by buying 5 litres and refilling our small bottles
The very good Uninvited Jazz Band playing in Istikial Street. Busking is not frowned on
All the ice cream men wear this same uniform. It seems very popular
as is fresh juice which you can have squeezed for you in a minute
There are lots of entrepreneurs in Turkey; it does look very poor behind the front fascia
Finally, we found the Galata tower, and the huge queue. So we didn't go in because we had to make our way to the airport and time was becoming short
Its history in Turkish
We had been told there was a winery near to the Tower. It is actually a wine shop and wine bar called Sensus Wine and Cheese beneath the Anemom Galata hotel
The owners say that they sell many brands of Turkish wine but, in the tasting we had, we only tasted wine from their own farms
Normally a tasting of these wines costs TL50 and we saw that they were pouring very generous glasses. We spoke to the young sommelier, Sinan Aksoi, who is part of the family and was educated in the USA (so he speaks very good English) and asked if we could please do a larger tasting, but of less wine. He agreed and we tasted 6 wines. The quality was much better than we expected and many of the varietals we were tasting were completely new to us. He only charged us TL30 for the shared tasting; we shared one glass

The wines we tasted. The Cab Franc on the left was classic, elegant and restrained on the nose but full of fruit and chalky tannins; needs time but very good. There was a delicious white blend with Narince, Colombard and Viognier which reminded Lynne of Cape Point Semillon with a bit of Nuy muscadel added! Many have musty noses but are not faulty, we think it is the grape varieties used. Many have a dry muscat background. We didn’t buy any, but they were mostly very drinkable
Definitely a place to visit if you are interested in Turkish wines. Sinan was extremely knowledgeable about the wines, so was able to give us lots of information about the varieties, the locations and the growing conditions
It is a large shop, also a restaurant
And they sell cheeses. It is possible to do a cheese tasting, but we did not have a lot of time and we were not that keen on the Turkish cheeses we had tasted. They use an awful lot of cheese in their cuisine. Mostly feta-like or cottage cheese or, sadly, rubbery processed
John managed to peer into the Galata tower and take a photo of this relief
Looking UP!
And a poignant reminder of John's past, working in the photographic industry, on a defunct shop
We took the Metro back to our apartment 
so that we could fetch our luggage
Later that afternoon we took a taxi from our apartment to the underground. We got stuck in a huge, nerve-wracking traffic jam, but there was no alternative. You cannot wheel two large suitcases through these busy streets
The Metro was the quickest and cheapest route to the airport, to catch our flight to Greece
Turkish Airlines’ planes are very modern and provide slightly more leg space than any of the other airlines we normally use. But the female staff are rather brusque. Someone should tell them that they ought to be nicer to the passengers. They do order one about a lot. And there are endless announcements on each flight, in Turkish and strangled English, that are hard to understand, and disrupt one’s watching of films
We arrived at Athens Airport at 20h45, cleared customs and baggage by 10 and took the bus to Piraeus, where we were to spend the night. It takes an hour at this time of night and much longer during the day
The hotel was supposed to be a short walk. But we had no idea where or how to find it, so took this taxi. He did three complete circles until we got there and charged Euro 20. Hmmm. Tourists are such a target. We had an easy walk back to the port the next morning with our cases and it took 8 minutes
Smart taxi and we couldn't spot the meter. Which is why we prefer public transport when we can find it. For the amount we spent on the taxi, we could have really upgraded our hotel room
The Eva hotel. Said in Bookings.com that they spoke English. No, they didn't. Rude receptionist, a Visa machine "Not working", which looked happily on line. They prefer cash so that they can save paying tax. But we didn't have enough Euros, so John had to walk unknown dark streets to the ATM, with a huge penalty for making a withdrawal. The first room they showed us to smelled like the smoking room in a Gauloises cigarette factory. We balked and they moved us to this more fragrant one. Wonder why they need wall to wall mirrors? OK, we know
It was cheap, and the sheets were Egyptian linen and spotless. There was even silent air conditioning. We had to be up at 6 to get the 7.15 am ferry to Santorini, so it was only somewhere to lay our heads and shower in the morning. Onward to the sunshine. But breakfast first in a cafe at the port
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© John & Lynne Ford, Adamastor & Bacchus 2015
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