This post is long overdue, but as promised, here goes.
P.S: it's a tad long, but hey, how do squeeze in a fabulous trip into a short post AND do it justice? Well, i've tried to do it justice here and any inadvertent miss is entirely involuntary. Have fun!
One of the first sights you see of Istanbul as you swoop in on the Bosphorous is all the minarets. so many of them. Glistening in the sunlight, these minarets tell a story. of how this ancient city which was a cradle for civilization came to such a unique standing. On the cusp of Europe and Asia, the Turks teach us a thing or two about living. And i'm not copy-pasting from a lonely planet guide or traveladda.com when i say its brilliant to see all those cultures co-exist harmoniously. The old and the new, the modern and the antique, the Gucci and the heavily mustached gentlemen murmuring prayers to the tune of the prayer beads in their hands, the centuries old establishments belonging to the Ottomans and the uber modern Tramway, the Hugo Boss blazers alongwith the North Face sports wear, modern pop music (Adele is HUGE in Turkey!) and ancient Sufi music for the Whirling Dervishes, the swanky European side of Istanbul and the more hip Asian side, the Boza (an age old millet fermented drink) and the ubiquitous Macdonalds (No, we did NOT eat there), Bohemian artsy types along with the likes of Orhan Pamuk, the briefcase toting gentleman in his BMW rushing to get to work and the 'i-have-all-the-time-in-the-world' gentleman sipping çay outside his shop. Yes, it is an understatement to say Istanbul is an eye opener. and a word of advice: The tourist trail, as convenient as it may be, is not the real Turkey. There's so much more to the country than the Hagia Sophia, the baklava and the touristy Grand Bazaar. Much much more.
We were joined by my darling nephew and his folks all the way from LA. So this trip meant a lot to us that way too. I pushed Ethan around in his stroller, cuddled with him and made him say funny stuff from the classic Mohanlal movies that his father and i still take pleasure in repeating and LOL-ing about.
We wanted to avoid the tourist wave so we went just before the season started. That meant the weather ought to have been cool and pleasant. But Mother Nature was on a different trip this year and it was cold! i'm talking 6 C, 5 C and even -1 C one night we were in Cappadoccia! What a welcome feeling when you are so used to sweating like it's no man's business in a festering humid place like Chennai. and we saw/touched snow!! Yay!!! :D
We went hot air ballooning in Cappadoccia, and in a word/phrase, it was out-of-the-world! a memory we will hold very dear to our hearts.
One of the other highlights of the trip was our Culinary Tour with Istanbul Eats. We spent a very memorable day with Angelis and three other gentlemen from NY and amongst other things, had a blast going off the beaten track, discovering the not so touristy side of Istanbul and listening to Angelis regale us with Turkish folklore and customs. We recommend Angelis and Istanbul Eats, it costs 125 USD per head, but is definitely money well spent. Its a walking tour that starts at 9.30 am and finishes with a mighty lunch at 4 pm. Apart from the regular stuff, we got a taste of the regular fare, the not so regular fare, the Kurdish district of Istanbul and the inside stories of how the many 3rd generation food joints still have their sway over the Turks. Not something you would find in guide books.
I definitely want to go back. and do lots more stuff. and of course eat lots more stuff. Maybe next time i will go to Izmir. and where Noah' Ark was found. But suffice to say, the first time was brilliant and we feel very blessed to have gotten the chance and have had such a fun time.
Here you will find a brilliant photo tour of Istanbul as seen through the expert photographic eyes of my brother (There are 5 chapters on Istanbul and i'm linking you up to one of my favs, but browse around and you will not be disappointed). If you still don't want to visit the mighty country, well, i suggest we meet. :)
|The mighty Bosphorous bridge bridging Europe and Asia|
|Up! - in Cappadoccia|
|Hot Air Ballooning!|
|Snowcapped mountains of Cappadoccia|
|My darling and super awesome |
|Ethan and me enjoying a moment|
|A refreshing glass of suyu Portakal|
|One of the floating restaurants that dock and set up stall|
|Mussels stuffed with flavored rice and|
served with a spritz of lemon juice
|A regular set meal at Cappadoccia- |
breads, kebaps, salad and lemon
|Kiosk selling Simit!|
|The Turkish cousin of the Pizza, the Pide!|
|Nothing like good hot chocolate!|
|Call it Laban or call it Ayran,|
buttermilk is buttermilk is buttermilk - and it tastes SO good!
|Dishing up traditional fare - Dondurma|
|On Istiklal Cadessi|
|The Galata Bridge|
|One of the gazillion döner kebabs|
|The Cup Griye, a delish concoction|
of ice cream, nuts, praline and caramel sauce
at the Baylan Pastanesi in Kadikoy
|The mighty, the delish, the Iskender!|
|One of the many seagulls accompanying you|
on the ferry ride along the Bosphorous
|The pudding: Ingredients are chicken breast, milk and sugar|
|Grilled Chicken wings|
The Perde Pilav is a wedding dish this is
made up of meat, almonds,
currants and rice at Seref Buryan
Things you won't find in a guidebook:
The Turks are very hospitable. They know how to treat their tourists right.
They LOVE (and i can not stress this enough) their food. Every third joint in Istanbul is an eating joint and in most likelihood, a good one.
Indulge in the street food Istanbul has to offer. It is pretty amazing. Drink up all the suyu portakal and load up on all the döner kebabs you can. It does not get any better.
Visit the Mado cafe on İstiklal Cadessi and try their raspberry ice cream (and the hazelnut, and the caramel) - it is to die for!
The Turks eat a LOT of breads. almost all very nice and with different twists in flavor. My favorite was the simit (i still daydream of the smell of sesame on freshly toasted crisp bread)
Visit Kasap Osman in Sirkeci and and try their Iskender kebap - again, to die for. It can be a welcome break from all the döners and does justice too!
Try the chicken breast pudding and the dondurma (ice cream made of flour made from the root of an early orchid flower).
The Turks know and are aware of Bollywood. Shah Rukh Khan', Kareena Kapoor' and Aamir Khan's popularity have permeated there as well (Dig this: We found a barber shop with SRK on the board outside the shop!!!)
They love their coiffeurs (yes, so much so that you will find one on every street)
They love throwing a fishing line off the Galata bridge. Sunday early morning on the bridge is a sight to behold.
Take the tram when in Istanbul, its user friendly, fast, efficient and super cool.
Take the ferry to Kadıköy and while on it, sip on hot çay and marvel at all the seagulls.
Walk down the Çırağan Caddesi to Ortaköy Mosque during daytime. This road has all the biggies - The Four Seasons, The Palace Kempinski, The Radisson Blu - and offers a breathtaking view of the Bosphorous. Walk down to the park on the Bosphorous in the University area and chill. Watch the yachts dotting the Bosphorous and snack on a Kumpir. It is cathartic.
If you are a beer person, try the Turkish beer - Efes. If nargile is your thing, try it out. There a garden café in Artist's lane in Bahariya street in Kadıköy. The outside setting may look a little shady but the inside will surprise you.
Most cafés and restaurants offer free WiFi. Heck, even the Mercedes Sprinter that came to collect us from the airport had a board proclaiming free WiFi and the password on the dashboard.
If your budget allows it, go to Cappodoccia in Central Anatolya for a sleepy few days that can be spent marveling at the unique landscape, hiking and just plain chilling.
I hope you enjoyed reading it as much i loved reminiscing and writing about it. Please don't hesitate to drop in a line and ask if you have any questions (i'm not a pro at Turkish tourism, but hey, i've been there and i loved it!)