Tuesday, 11 September 2012

fun trying

My sister-in-law Carol described Istanbul the other day as a 'treasure of the senses', 'there is never enough time to see all that Istanbul has to offer, but it’s fun trying'. Only two days in, and so many stories to tell. Hard to know where to start so this will be a bit random ... later we'll talk about turkish delight, me not getting robbed on the bus, ice cream, stray cats and lots more.

Maria’s thorough research before we travel almost always pays off. It certainly has in Istanbul. Yusef, who runs our little hotel is less a hotelier and more a travel adviser. He sits at his desk inside the front door and greets every guest by name. We all queue up to have an audience with him as we leave for the day … we offer him our plans and he suggests tips to make our exploring as enjoyable as possible. A great service.

We are very close to some of the main attractions in the old city. A short walk and we are in the Hippodrome (the remnants of the stadium where the Romans had chariot races and gladiator battles) which is close to the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace. The Hagia Sophia, is a church that was built (for the third time) in the 6th century – we wandered around its extraordinary spaces trying to take it all in. And then a walk through the park to the Palace where the Sultan lived and government functions happened – we lined up with thousands of others to see artefacts such as Joseph’s turban, Muhammad’s sword, Abraham’s this and Ishmael’s that.

We wandered through the shopping strip nearby, tried some food and wearied ourselves completely. One of Yusef’s suggestions for dinner was a winner – the pick being lamb cooked with spring onion, garlic, chilli flakes and cream.

But our first day was just a taste. Yesterday was amazing.

Sunday afternoon, and like most places in the world, Turkish families and friends congregate in parks and cafes to slow down and socialise. We headed through the city up towards the (huge) Bosphorus Bridge. We saw numerous wedding parties getting photographed in the park, families sitting in the shaded cool of open air restaurants, and countless people milling through market stalls and past street vendors near the water front.

It appears that in Istanbul, certain food and drink is associated almost ritually with particular places and time. Yousef would say things like, ‘then you can go here and have some yoghurt’, or ‘you will sit in the café near the river and take some rose with ice in it’. And so it happened, that we did what most seemed to do at the bazaar and have some kumpir for lunch – which is a massive baked potato, mashed with various toppings. Very yummy.

Maria and Johanna have developed a taste for apple tea, which is served in little vase-like glasses. It pretty much tastes like hot apple cordial, but not surprisingly seems to complement the ambiance and food really well. And speaking of food ….

Hoolly doolly. After tramming and then walking for a good 5 or 6 kilometres in the morning, we got on a bus back to Taksim (essentially city centre) where Yousef had suggested we should walk along a street ending up in a restaurant district where Turkish people eat meyhanes. Unlike the typical tourist faire meyhane restaurants are slow food … small plates of meze typically taken with a glass of Raki sipped between mouthfuls and conversation.

What Yousef didn’t tell us was that the ‘street’ was a mall, and that there would be thousands upon thousands of Istabulese strolling along, eating street food, shopping at designer stores and/or taking a detour up one of the side alleys into a maze of eating houses and boutique shops. After picking up a pair of sandals (mine are in the wardrobe at home – doh) we found ourselves an outdoor table at a meyhane and fritted away 2 – 3 hours sipping, nibbling, watching people, and (Johanna) playing tap the frog on the iPad.

Can't wait for today to unfold ...