We did some research before we went to Istanbul (we read A LOT about the places we go) and Anson found a restaurant that offered traditional Turkish food with traditional Turkish entertainment. We made a reservation for Monday night and began our journey there in an Uber.
We really should’ve known better because earlier in the day we tried to get an Uber and it proved very difficult to get one that could actually find us among the maze of one way streets our hotel was in! This time our driver made it to our hotel and drove us to where the address said the restaurant was, but we didn’t see it. Our driver said he didn’t know and wasn’t willing to look at a map so we were basically forced to get out of the car and stand on the side of the road. Thankfully, our rule of always having data in foreign countries proved to be an excellent rule. We pulled up the map and tried to find the restaurant. It looked like it was in the park that was in the valley below us so we set off on foot.
Setting out on foot sounds great except for the fact that I wore wedges thinking that we would be driven to dinner! It didn’t take long before I took my shoes off and continued the journey barefoot in the dark (possibly not a wise choice…). We walked up and down hundreds of stairs and all over this park but were unable to find the restaurant. Our reservation time passed and we were getting seriously grumpy! We headed up some more flights of stairs to the opposite side of the valley where we saw a restaurant on top of a hill. We climbed a trail (as in dirt…) to the top and yep– THERE IT WAS!
We were so relieved to finally make it and headed inside. I won’t go into details, but as we sat down and finally relaxed we realized that this was not what we expected. It was expensive and we were pretty sure we were going to be disappointed, so we made the decision to leave.
We headed back down the valley and across to the other side where we thought we had seen some other restaurants. We walked…. and walked… and walked… (yes, I took my shoes off again!). We walked until we gave up and decided to head to the one restaurant I remembered seeing on top of the St. Regis Hotel — Spago by Wolfgang Puck.
Due to the evenings earlier misadventure, we didn’t start eating until around 11 PM, but it was truly worth the wait. We had appetizers, main courses, and dessert. Everything was so delicious that we forgot the trauma of our earlier dinner plans and wished we had come here in the first place. With the exchange rate, it even ended up being very reasonable for such an upscale meal and we couldn’t have been happier. (Of course, at that point we had been awake for about 34 hours straight so we were partially delusional!)
If you’re ever in Istanbul– go eat at Spago. You won’t regret it at all.
*The dim lighting was terrible for photography, so I have no food photos to share! The above photo is taken from the Spago website.
The next night we booked ourselves onto a dinner cruise on the Bosphorus River. It wasn’t in our original plans but when the dinner show Monday night didn’t work out we decided to try the dinner cruise. We really wanted to see some traditional Turkish dancing and eat proper Turkish food so this seemed like a good option.
The cruise itself was okay, though the food could have been better. In hindsight, a lunch cruise may have been much nicer so that we could see more of the river and sites as we went by. We did see dolphins at the end of the evening which were my favourite part! The takeaway from the night turned out not to be the cruise or the food though. Let me explain.
As the buffet dinner began, we watched uncomfortably as the couple seated across the table from us sat awkwardly in silence. The husband stared at his phone with a full plate of food mostly ignoring his wife. Strangely even though she fetched his food, his wife sat with a mostly empty plate except for the few bites of chicken he sparingly placed on her plate. It seemed to be an open question of whether she needed permission to eat or was just uncomfortable eating in mixed company.
The show, an exhibition of traditional Turkish music, singing, and dancing, began after dinner. Interestingly, we noticed that only the men were getting up to dance along with the dancers while the women again remained silent watching them. As the men laughed and danced together, the women seemed to be unwelcome or as least uncomfortable joining the celebration. Near the end of the evening, a traditional belly dancer appeared. It seemed in good fun until we witnessed some of the men grabbing her (in what might be described as inappropriate ways) and laughingly taking pictures with her. All the while again their wives sat in their seats quietly watching.
We left the dinner section and went to the top of the boat feeling bothered, incredibly sad and confused. This concept of seeing the women so blatantly disrespected was not something we had experienced before (and hadn’t seen amongst the Turkish people at all) and it was really disturbing to us. We talked about it for a long time that night and have talked about it many times since.
We left the dinner cruise feeling like we had wasted a few hours, but at the same time– it was so eye-opening that perhaps we needed to see what we saw. You can read about things, you can talk to other people, but until you see them with your own eyes, you cannot fully comprehend how some people are treated in other parts of the world.
The world is full of people and cultures that are different from what I am accustomed. Perhaps it is thought of as ignorant to be bothered by something that is potentially just part of a particular culture, but I would not trade the equality and respect I have as a woman for what I witnessed that day.
Two dinners in Istanbul: one that took a long time to get to, but was worth the trouble. The second was easy to get to but so difficult to finish.
Have you ever learned something from your travels that made you uncomfortable? How did you handle it?