When most people think of Europe, they think of London or Paris, Germany or Spain, but when I traveled to Europe for my first time, I went straight to Istanbul. Sure, there was a connecting flight or two in there, and one of the layovers was in Amsterdam for 8 hours (different story), but at the end of our journey Jeremy and I landed in Turkey in the middle of the night. We had hired a cab through the hotel who picked us up at the airport and proceeded to drive at terrifying speed down the highways with blatant disregard for the lane striping. But I digress. What were we here to discuss? Oh yes, the next morning’s breakfast. In Turkey!
Something to note, when looking for hotels in Istanbul (and most of Europe, or anywhere in the world, though your breakfast selections will be tastier outside of America), look for places that include breakfast as part of the package deal. It’s very easy to find, and you’ll save yourself some cash that way. Plus you’ll get a much more well-rounded, delicious breakfast than you might be able to score otherwise. Jeremy says in his budget travel days he discreetly filled his bag with breakfast rolls to last him through the day.
So in June of 2010, in Istanbul, I had my first experience with breakfast in Europe. We were at a lovely little mid price hotel situated in the Sultanahmet neighborhood. The particular street we were on was a bit off the beaten path. It was made of cobblestone that one lane of traffic could scarcely drive down.
As we awoke our first morning our jet lag less severe than we had expected (perhaps thanks to having a layover…in Amsterdam), our thoughts quickly drifted toward breakfast. Honestly, I really didn’t know what to expect. Being American, I was thinking perhaps something with scrambled eggs, bacon and lots of heavy, bready starches. However, I could not have been more wrong. And I am so thankful for that.
Each morning in Istanbul when we climbed the cool tile stairs to the airy patio, we encountered a fresh feast. We had our choice from among fruits, vegetables, eggs, olives, cheese, cereals and breads. It was one of the most impressive breakfast spreads I’ve ever laid my eyes on. Most of it was very healthy to boot. Of course they had a few pastries for those with a sweet tooth in the morning, but the vast majority of the offerings were fresh and wonderful.
When we made the complicated journey (a train, a two busses, two ferries and a short walk) down to the island of Bozcaada later in that same trip, I was pleased to find a breakfast of similar quality, but in an even more enjoyable setting. This breakfast was served in a specially constructed vine shaded hotel side building on the shore of the island. From the outside it wasn’t much to look at but when you entered, the common area was strikingly beautiful in shades of white punctuated by classic decorations. There was a large table in the center of the room with every square inch covered with some variation of olives, tomatoes, fruit and cheese. The room was open to the stainless steel kitchen from which this bounty sprang so we could see the old Turkish women busily working away at preparing our great breakfast.
I realized on this trip that what we typically eat for breakfast in America is subpar at best. Cold cereal, microwaved oatmeal packets, fast food sandwiches – all a mockery of real breakfast. Even the free breakfast in an American hotel is a travesty of reheated, processed food. In Turkey, I experienced REAL breakfast. It was truly rejuvenating to wake up to such a simple yet healthy and delicious meal. It set us up right for the rest of the day.
My favorite breakfast combination always included at least one boiled egg, tomato slices, cucumber spears, cheese, olives, and some type of fruit. I typically also took a piece of bread to help wrangle all this together. When assembled, this plate was so satisfying. So beautiful. So perfect.
Now I’m a coffee drinker and the only thing I think the Turks could improve upon is their coffee service. Most of what we drank was not very good. But then again, Turkey isn’t a nation of coffee drinkers. Despite the widespread notoriety of Turkish coffee (which we found was usually given to tourists), the Turks are a nation of tea drinkers. So when you got coffee in most hotel settings, it was usually instant, and God help you if it was brewed, as it was some wickedly flavored muddy water. But that’s okay. I don’t hold their difficulty with coffee against the Turks, because they taught me what a real breakfast is like. And for that I am forever grateful.