Well tonight is my last night in Istanbul for a while. In the morning I head off to Paris to visit some friends (and hopefully Ms. Mona Lisa as well). What have I done these last few days since returning from Cappadocia? EXTREME BUDGET TRAVEL!!! (Insert tacky camera effect here)
When I returned to Istanbul I made a decision. While the city is very nice, I had reached that point of moving on, you know that point I mentioned before, when you just know its time for a new adventure. So, I considered my itinerary, and knew that the five days I had booked in Istanbul at the end of my adventure would be entirely too many days spent here. So, what did I do? Booked a trip to Athens, Greece!! Wouldn’t you? $210 later and I had my side trip arranged and plans to hit the #20 mark on my list of visited countries.
Having made that decision though, I was really feeling a tightening of my budget. Reevaluating the remaining funds and days I realized that I’ll need to average under $50 a day to stay in budget, and this with my week in Paris, on the dollar devouring Euro, fast approaching.
So, for the last few days I’ve been extremely thrifty. But thats not to say I’ve been a snail hiding in the shell of my room. This is what I did do:
On Nov. 25th I rolled back into town after riding the night bus from Goreme. I napped, and woke up ravenous, so I found some quick food (16TL). Well satiated I went for a wander through the Grand Bazaar and finished my shopping. 120 TL later and I had the fabric I had been looking for. I’ve fallen in love with the “big pillow, low table” concept they use here, and really wanted some of the beautiful pillow cases. They were just out of my budget though so I’ve consoled myself with the promise to make some of my own out of the fabric I’ve gotten. On my way home I stopped at the market and picked up some groceries for the next few days. On my uber-budget, this eating out had to stop.
On the 26th I managed to pull the day off for under 25 TL. I ate breakfast at home, a banana-yogurt-honey affair, and then spent the day on the Princes’ Islands. For 14 TL I could travel RT to the islands, and that included the metro from my door to the docks. The islands were a bit of a disappointment, but the hour long ferry ride to and fro was enjoyable alone. Especially the return trip, when we passed a pod of dolphins.
On the 27th I spent the day at the Spice Market and surrounding area. I enjoyed wandering through the stalls and admiring the piles of saffron, white pepper, cinnamon- the list goes on. I passed a fresh coffee shop and the scent hit me like a sack of potatoes. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get such fresh Turkish coffee. Luckily they sold many weights of coffee and I walked away with 107 grams for only 3 TL. A taste, without breaking the budget. Exiting the Market, I realized I was near one of the bridges, the one with the restaurants and shops beneath it. I went to take a peak and was struck by another wonderful scent- this time it was the unmistakable scent of fried fish. I noticed a large crowd of excited people surrounding some silly restaurants whose kitchens seemed to be on boats out back. I realized that these were no ordinary kebab booths, they were serving fish fries! I was intrigued, and for 5 TL a sandwich, I was hooked. I passed the teller my money and with the timing of a ballet, he reached back to the swaying boat and took a sandwich from the chef. Fresh bread, fried fish, and a lettuce/onion salad were stuffed into a paper wrap and handed off to me. Entrepreneurial kids circled the patrons like seagulls; selling tissues, wet wipes, and sodas. The sandwich was a delicious surprise find and totally worth every Lira. On my way home, I stopped in the same market from a few days before and picked up more groceries for my remaining meals. Total spent for the day: 24 TL.
On the 28th, I spent 9 TL. Yup, nine. Thats like $4.90. In the morning I went for a walk, saying my good byes to the city. I spent some time in a coffee shop, doing some writing and enjoying a latte and a snack (the 9 TL). In the evening I cooked some of my groceries for my landlord, Erdi, and his friend. I supplied an epic veggie dish stuffed with onions, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers; and he supplied some fried fish of his own (much better than the fish sandwich!) and some bread. It is nice to have a family dinner at home sometimes, with whomever your family may be at the time.
Today, my last real day, was the 29th, and I admit I may have splurged a bit above my EXTREME BUDGET requirements. But the day was so fabulous that I don’t really care! I started out the morning with a walk in the park, it was so warm I barely needed my jacket. After lunch, taken at home, I met up with Maree and we went to a Turkish Bath. We went to a local one, recommended by Erdi, which had reasonable prices. Just the bath was 30 TL, you could add a body scrub (5 TL), soap massage (5 TL), or oil massage (30 TL). I went for the works. What the hell right? Gotta have the full experience!
It was well worth the 70 TL, let me tell you. So you go in, and its this stone room with a big warm stone platform in the center. You rinse yourself off and lie on the platform, getting warm and relaxed. The attendant comes in and scrubs you down with this tough exfoliating towel, then sends you back to the platform to relax. When he’s done everyone who’s waiting, its time for the bubble massage. This massage was really tough and hard. Deep tissue stuff. A strange juxtaposition with the slippery light bubbles floating around you. You rinse off and back to the heating platform you go. I was the only one who requested the oil massage so after the other bubble massages were given I was up again.
Now, I know that massages are different everywhere, and I’m up for anything. I’ll do anything once after all. But when this massage started I was a little apprehensive. I asked the attendant to go a little more gently this time, I don’t like really tough massages, and he says in his broken English “It ok. Bubble massage hard, oil massage soft.” Ok. So I lay down, on the heated platform, in front of the other bathers, and he squirts me down with oil. I mean squirts me down. Like the scene in Van Wilder when the Indian friend tries to seduce his sexy blond girlfriend and ends up catching the room on fire because he uses an entire bottle of oil on her back. Yeah, like that. And he proceeds to give me the most soft, sensual, massage I’ve ever had. It was amazing. Here’s why it was amazing:
Because usually when you get a massage like that, its being given to you by your lover, and you start out thinking aw he’s so great, what a nice guy. Then right around the time you’re a total puddle of goo, totally relaxed and happy, you realize that your lover isn’t really that nice and selfless of a guy. He’s rubbing you down because he either a) wants you to give him a massage next, or b) is horny and thinks this is a total turn on. Which it might have been, at the start, but by now you’re so totally relaxed and comfortable that all you want to do is enjoy the warmth and maybe doze off. Which is EXACTLY what you GET to do at the end of this massage given by a strange attendant, in front of all these other people, in a stone room! Awesome!!
So anyway, after my warm and relaxed nap I gave myself another scrub to wash off all that oil, and then Maree and I headed out. You can stay as long as you want at these things, but after two hours of luxurious lounging, we were getting hungry! We headed back to her hostel to collect some more friends, and then we all wandered over to this new restaurant district that Erdi had recommended to me. If you’re curious, it can be found under the aqueduct near Aksaray neighborhood. They were famous for this fancy mound of rice and their lamb dishes. Which was exactly what we ordered. And it was exactly deliciously amazing. He was right again. The rice, flavored with pepper and chicken, and filled with bits of chicken, was wrapped in a sort of pastry and looked kind of like a sandcastle when served. It was called “Perde Pilav” and I highly recommend it should you come to Turkey. Especially since one can serve four (as a side) and only cost 10 TL.
So that’s how my EXTREME BUDGETING week went. I walked a lot, made frequent use of the available home kitchen, and did some strategic spending.
Tomorrow, on to Paris, and the hardest test yet for my bare bones budgeting.