Turkey 1: If all else fails…Köfte

The time has come – we are leaving Europe. Although the geographical border is the Bosporus Canal, you can already feel at the frontier, that the atmosphere is different. Heavily armed border guards are patroling everywhere and the vehicle queue towards Greece seems to have no ending. Luckily almost nobody wants to leave Europe. We have to show our documents five times to grumpy officers, before we are allowed to continue. One was very unfriendly and bossy towards Miriam, so she was fairly pissed off afterwards – oh dear, this could certainly be fun…

Our plan is to reach Istanbul before sunset. We are well in time and the route passes unspectacular areas anyway. We already knew, that Istanbul is a huge city and we have seen many cities with way more than 10 million residents before. However Istanbul is another dimension. It is listed with ~15 million people, but if you follow the southern coastal road D100, you constantly ride in an urban area all the way from Silivri (~75km/47mi before Istanbul) to Gebze (~90km/56mi after Istanbul).

Sure, not all of that is part of Istanbul. Nevertheless you are passing ~165km/103mi of city – crazy, isn’t it? Or in other words “it is absolutely terrible!”. Unfortunately we also didn’t know, that the 23th of april is a turkish holiday, so even more people came into town. The traffic is unimaginable – not only because of the nearly one million insane taxi drivers, that almost run you over without batting an eyelid, while being busy with their mobile phones. Of course, we can’t make it to Istanbul before darkness, what makes the traffic even more dangerous. Luckily we can find a nice hotel downtown and decide to stay there for 2 nights. We are in a desperate need of a little rest after that.

The next morning we visit Istanbul’s centre and it is very pretty. Although it probably would have been nicer without a holiday. All the mosques are closed for tourist and it is hard to see anything due to the massive crowd. We are chosen to by carpets and forced to drink some apple tea, while we have to explain the efficient vendor, that we neither wanted to by them, nor couldn’t transport them on our motorcycles. We manage to visit the famous Underground Cistern, the front court of the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar. We pass the Great Palace, walk through the city garden all the way to the pier and eat “baby-lamb-guts” with bread. Yeah, that’s right – “baby-lamb-guts”! These smart turkish cooks wrap them around a shish and makes it look like Döner Kebab to “trick” german tourists. Kidding aside, the dish is called Kokorec, it’s a turkish culinary specialty and quite tasty without reflecting too much, what is primarily in there.

It is not that easy to order food at all, by the way. As soon as you enter a real local restaurant, you usually can’t read the menu card anymore and nobody really speaks English. Hence – if all else fails, we just order “Köfte”. It is minced meat in all its variety and you can never go wrong with it. Unless you don’t like onions, because then you are screwed in Turkey anyway. Another great option is to go into a turkish worker/tradesman restaurant. You can usually read Lokanta/Lokantası on the outside and they are a little bit more like canteens, where you can see the dishes directly. The food there is delicious with a very reasonable price. Afterwards they usually offer you a tasty cay (black tea). Beside that, the people working there are always extremely friendly and happy to see foreigners coming to their local restaurant.

After a whole day of Istanbul we have seen everything important for us and are happy to continue the next day towards Denizli. The 90km to Gebze are very exhausting and ugly again. Afterwards we turn south and the urban area finally ends. We don’t really get it, why many people are very crazy about Istanbul. Probably most of them only see the airport and the city centre. Once you have seen the vast surrounding urban area, there is not much left of the inner city’s splendor anymore.

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