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Middle East » Turkey » Marmara » Istanbul » Sultanahmet
May 31st 2011
Published: June 3rd 2011
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[youtube=te54NdF3yuY]Have you ever had an image or vision of a city in your head, only to get there and have it completely turned upside down? I had a picture of Istanbul as this crazy, confused, manic city, where you’re constantly on the look out. A place where crossing the road was a nightmare, where traders hassled you for sales or where pick pockets lurked on every street corner. I don’t know why this image was in my head, but it was. I had no basis for it. Instead we found a cosmopolitan European city with an Asian twist. The streets were narrow and lined with trees, chic café’s and upmarket restaurants were accompanied by kebab houses and carpet shops along colourful pathways. There was no noise and confusion, just a relaxed vibe as life went by. It was easy to immerse yourself into Istanbul life. We felt at ease and comfortable immediately. Istanbul is a place for strolling, wandering and getting lost. Little side streets to venture down, curious aromas from busy markets to tempt you in and jovial banter from carpet salesmen to bring entertainment to the streets. Middle aged men line the streets outside their shops, drinking apple tea and sharing the latest idle gossip. The captive Muslim call to prayer or Adhan, rings out around the city, providing even more atmosphere to an already charismatic city. This is Istanbul. A city with more culture and history than many put together. A place where east meets west.

Our first full day in Istanbul was to be action packed. There were palace's, mosque’s and markets to visit. We even had to try and fit in a cruise up the Bosphorus, the river that splits Istanbul. One part Europe, the other Asia. After a typical Turkish breakfast on the rooftop or our guest house, we made our way to Topkapi palace. Built around the mid 1400’s, Topkapi palace was home to Turkeys Sultan’s. Made up of four courtyards and a Harem, this palace has many weird, strange and fascinating stories. The courtyards are beautifully lined with trees and fountains and the Treasury contains some of the worlds most treasured jewel’s, one being an 86 carat diamond, the fifth largest in the world. It was once found in a rubbish dump where a beggar sold it for three spoons and is now known as the Spoonmakers diamond. A visit to the Harem costs a little bit extra and is well advised. Some people would say it was where the Sultans went to get their wicked way and it probably was, but it was also where women (who were slaves) were taught in the arts of appearance, music, reading, embroidery and dancing. There was a strict hierarchy within the Harem. The Valide Sultan (head mother’s) first child would become Sultan when the reigning Sultan passed away. If she or her first child (who had to be a boy) passed away, the second in line would move into her place. One Sultan had 112 children! I also heard that it wasn’t necessarily the first born son who was in line for the throne which throws what I have previously been told out the window. After Topkapi we sat at a nearby café and enjoyed another cup of the highly addictive apple tea.

Map in had we set out to find the Grand Bazaar. A market place full of anything and everything. Along the way we stopped off in a square and shared our first doner kebab. As we ate it we enjoyed watching the men slice off the meat from the large skewers and serve up to locals and tourists alike, a Turkish institution. We soon made it to the Grand Bazaar and entered what could only be described as jewellery street. We passed shop after shop, 100’s of metre’s long, of gold and silver shops. The a quick turn right and we were down carpet street, another left brought us on to shoe street and then a right into café street. The Grand Bazaar is a roofed market with streets not wide enough to pass a car through. We sat down at a café and had some more apple tea, along with some Baklava. We wandered a little more until we realised that if we were not going to buy anything the market had no more interest to us. We only saw a small portion and decided to go and check out the Spice Bazaar, a kilometre or two away.

The Spice Bazaar was full of wonderful and curious smell’s. Every type of spice you could think of. There were also stalls selling dried fruits, nuts, soaps and all kinds of flavoured tea’s. Upon exiting the market we arrived out near the launch site for the Bosphorus cruises. Here we took a tour on a small boat for an hour and a half, up one side of the river and down the other. It was interesting to see all the sites form the water as we went up the Asian side and back down the European side. The sun though was unrelenting and I had to cover up my neck and head with Michelle’s scarf, to avoid being burnt alive. I might have looked a but foolish but it was better than the alternative option.

After the boat trip we sat and watched the fishermen fish from one of the bridges. We had heard numerous times about Istanbul’s world famous fish sandwiches and knew we couldn’t leave without one. I couldn’t tell how many of these are sold a day but it seemed like the only thing anyone was eating. €2 for a fresh bread roll with some salad and a freshly caught grilled piece of fish inside. We sat on the steps of the square facing the Bosphorus and tucked into our feast. A little boney at the start, but with a little DIY we had made it safe to munch away on. We hopped on the local metro and it brought us within walking distance of our guest house. We rested up for a little while before heading out to eat. I had got a recommendation for a place to eat which was in one of the suburbs on the outskirts of Istanbul. Michelle was keen to point out that the suburb wasn’t even on the map. It was beyond the limits of it. Sometimes you have to be a little adventurous and 99% of the time any fears you might have can be reflected upon as being ridiculous. Luckily this was one of those ridiculous feelings of apprehension. We got the train for twenty minutes to an area called Cankurtan. We had arrived here expecting to go to a kebab house that was a bit grungy, with plastic stools outside for seats and lightweight aluminium tables to place our food on. How wrong were we. We found the place with ease but it was no outdoor kebab house. We were lead upstairs to a rooftop terrace, where it seemed all the rich and noble of Istanbul were out to eat. We were looking for a budget eat, instead we were dining at a premier restaurant. We had reached the point of no return. We had climbed four levels of stairs and just had to pretend like we were meant to be there. Starting off we had warm pistachio humus with fresh warm flatbread and also some small Turkish pizzas. For mains I had a shish kebab and Michelle had a pistachio kebab. This of course was followed by two delicious apple teas. What really topped the night off was when a young waiter pulled a flower from one of the plants and secretly handed it to me covered in a tissue for me to give to Michelle. A nice touch from a classy restaurant.

So another day was rounded off in considerable fashion. Istanbul had taken us in and captivated us, in the same way only cities like Rio, Buenos Aires and Barcelona could do. Luckily we had one more day to explore the former capital of the Ottoman empire. What else could Constantinople hold in store for us?

In a bit. DH



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3rd June 2011

Thanks for the insights
We have had the same impression of Istanbul that you had prior to your visit. I think many people have given that impression so I was surprised by your description. Whoa, we need to get you some sunscreen. Looks like unexpected dinner turned out nice. How was the pistachio hummus?
3rd June 2011

Sunscreen and Hummus!
Got my hands on the sunscreen. Luckily what you see didn't hurt. I think the flash on the camera didn't help me either. As for the hummus, it was brilliant!

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