As our ferry left the sleepy islands and chugged back towards the port at Istanbul, we watched the numerous boats of all shapes and sizes jostling for clear path through the busy port. Once again into the throng of this bustling metropolis. We had already had breakfast in the B&B, but as all good hobbits do, we went off to find second breakfast at a local Kaymak shop (see the end of the email to find out more). We sat outside and watched the world go by and then made our way back over the main bridge onto the western side of the city, where much of the sightseeing is to be had and where we were staying. Using the local trams, we made our way across town and checked into our third accommodation. A pleasant room with a little en-suite haman all to ourselves. Then back out on the road and on with our adventure.
The second part of our journey through Istanbul was to be culturally rich in every sense of the word. Having acquainted ourselves with the city, we decided to focus on the great souks and mosques. And time for me to go shopping! I’m not really into shopping, but the thought of picking up something to take home was irresistible. Martin is a patient man and together we ventured into the main souk and then into the spice market. The buzz, smell, and hussle and bustle is something we won’t forget in a hurry. Just magic. And being the Turkish custom to enjoy a good barter, we practiced our skills (with modest success) and bought two little paintings of whirling dervishes and brass Turkish style lamp – “Where are we going to put that?” – “Don’t worry we’ll find somewhere.”
Away form the hubbub we also visited several mosques – quiet havens or prayer and contemplation dotted throughout the city. Although to see the famous mosques are a must, I have to say they were an architectural highlight of the trip. Vast airy spaces, made of domed and arched spaces, richly embellished with ornament. An absolute feast for the eyes. And at the same time places of prayer and an overwhelming feeling of sanctuary. Would it not be wrong to do so, I could happily live in one. Like a sense of heaven on earth. More light and airy and brightly coloured, than the various cathedrals I have visited in the UK. Just breathtaking!
Having purchased a wonderful little book at Hagia Sophia, we were guided round the city care of “Istanbul Eats – Exploring the Culinary Backstreets”. Interspersed with sightseeing we explored various places off the beaten track that we would not have ever found by chance. After a very long walk at the end of one particular day we were introduced to Kaymak, the thickest clotted cream that is cut into slices and served with crusty bread and jam – cardiac heaven, well worth the walk. Also the best lamb kebabs I have ever tasted served with salad and flat breads and the compulsory “iki chai” (two Turskish tea’s).
Our taste buds found us zig-zagging from one side of the city to another. At one local cafe in the suburbs we had a glorius chicken “perde pilaf” – a domed crusty pastry that when you crack it open is filled with the tastiest chicken and rice mix. Just glorious. Perhaps the most memorable was a little vegetarian restaurant in a very orthodox part of town (we were obviously tourists, even the taxi driver had to ask directions), where we were welcomed into the kitchen, by an English speaking patron, to see all the pots of food cooking away – “What would you like to eat?”. Hospitality beyond anything I have experienced so far.
And now at the end of the holiday… did I fall in love with Istanbul? I think so yes! Its as classical and wonderful as Paris, preferable to London and definitely on the cards for a re-visit!