The February President's Week break in New York schools is one of our regular travel times, and a welcome escape from bad weather...usually. We've given up on the idea of only traveling to warm places, but we did think that Istanbul, based on weather forecasts and past history, would be a relief from snowbound New York.
After a pair of cold but tolerable days, the snow began to fall while we were at dinner. A dusting to an inch, the advance forecasts had said. One to two inches, Accuweather said a day before. In the end, the entire Istanbul area was blanketed with 12 to 24 inches, the heaviest snowfall in over 50 years, and clearly not one the city was prepared for. Above, what it looked like one hour into the storm.
Many roads slowed to a crawl or less; hundreds of accidents were reported, transit was disrupted, and, at least in the central areas we saw, there was little if any plowing. What snow was moved, was moved by shovels, brooms and squeegees wielded by local shopkeepers, workers and residents.
But not to paint too bleak a picture! In many places the snow was beautiful, or at least picture-worthy, and when it seemed too much, there were always endless glasses of strong Turkish tea available. We happened to have scheduled a culinary walking tour of the Beyoglu area for the first day of snow, and despite misgivings we made our way to the starting point and ate our way through the storm.
Along the way, we found that one of the things Istanbullis do when it snows and needs to be piled up is to decorate the piles into snowmen...and women. Here are some of our pictures of our snowy days and the snowmen of Istanbul.
One of our favorites offered us a cold beer as we passed; a far happier moment than the sad fellow at the right, waiting for a bus that will not come.
Not a snowman, but a man in the snow; Everywhere we went, we found these carts selling 'simit,' a delicious round bread shaped like a large bagel but quite different in texture and flavor, usually with sesame seeds, but sometimes not.
Of course, the snowmen didn't completely distract us as we walked through the streets and markets, admiring the food on display, and stopping frequently with our guide for brief lessons and snacks...and more tea. Here are some of the street scenes, some with snow decorating the lens as well as the street.
We stopped to watch a snowman under construction, then went on for more food and tea. When we returned, the snowman had been finished and decorated with a placard explaining, in Turkish, that here a man had been made from snow, but there is no way to make snow from a man!
Even stallholders in the market got into the snowman thing, one with an icy mini version in with the seafood, and another using a cabbage and a cauliflower for an approximation.
Of course, it wasn't all just food and snowmen in the snow; we had a good view of snow decorating the world in other ways. Below, the facade of an Armenian church tucked away through a passage behind a street of market stalls, and some more street scenes.
Kokorek, advertised on the stall above, is considered a cure for hangovers, as well as a cheap protein fix. It's made by rolling lamb or goat intestines or both around sweetbreads and other "leftovers" to form a kind of huge sausage which is grilled over flame, and then sliced off and served. I wasn't going to try it, but I did. Not bad at all!
By our next food walk, two days later, there were only little flurries, although walking was difficult (slush here, ice there), and new views were on hand. Above, walking from breakfast to the ferry to Kadakoy, on the Asian side, for more food. Looking across at the ferry terminal, the white snow on roofs even looked inviting. And the roofs of vans looked inviting to Istanbul's persistent gulls...
While all the snow disrupted life for some, others shrugged it off, or found some fun in it. Case in point of the first: these two men at their regular outdoor breakfast, at a makeshift table outside an open kitchen that can only be described as a hole in the wall.
Case in point for the second: students at three of Turkey's universities turned out for politics and fun in the snow. The three sculptures below were the result. At Ankara University, leftist students made this Karl Marx impression...but it's got a pun built in; they labeled it not Karl, but Kar Marx, kar being the Turkish word for snow.
In response, a group of nationalist students from Ankara’s traditionally right-wing Gazi University made a snow wolf. The grey wolf is the symbol of Turkey’s nationalist movement.
On a less-political note, students of Anadolu University built a large and menacing snow dragon. It went viral on social media..
I'll be posting more from the Istanbul trip in the weeks ahead...but in the meantime, here's a picture that isn't about the snow...just good for a laugh.