Istanbul – A Turkish Delight
Mysterious, exotic Istanbul has intrigued me ever since I saw dreamy photos of a city of huge mosques and towering minarets, looking over the watery expanse of the Bosphorus teeming with bouncing ferries over to Asian shores dwarfed by massive ships gliding pass in seemingly close proximity.
I was finally realising my travel dreams; being a 20-something year old backpacker with the world to explore. I travelled from Athens on a very long bus journey through the Greek and Turkish countryside crossing what seemed a formidable border checkpoint.
I had read the timetable wrong (minor details) we were not arriving at 11 am like I first thought, but instead arriving 12 hours later – 11pm, another day sweating it out on the bus – but hey I’m on holiday.
Arriving late at night in a very foreign city in a foreign land should have been scary but it was exciting. Bring on the hostels – I have some new friends to make.
The next morning, we were woken by the call to prayer, yes, we were somewhere very different, and we were soon out on the streets in search of breakfast. We wandered the bustling laneways and through chaotic markets with constant questions asking:
“What are you looking for?”
“Where are you from?”
“Where are you going?”
And of course, they all had the best price for us. All was said and asked with a welcoming smile and plenty of theatre from the vendors proudly showing off their produce.
The atmosphere was overwhelming. it was alive and everyone had a purpose.
These were days of a limited budget and Istanbul was great value as we sampled the tasty breads and cheeses followed by some wonderful variety of fruit. Everywhere there was tea, small colourful glasses balanced on trays whisked through the lanes to eagerly waiting shop owners.
We continued through the maze; downhill to the Bosphorus where we watched the fishermen show off their skills on the Galata bridge and feasted on their fresh catch in a crusty roll while surrounded by eager cats patiently waiting for any unwanted scraps tossed from the fishermen.
Small shops abounded as we wandered back up the hill and we grabbed a sample to finish off a day with a Turkish delight.
I had fallen for Istanbul, its food, its vitality and its charms and vowed to go back one day…
Many years later, my travel partner, (who had never been to Europe), had only one request “show me somewhere different”.
So, after a journey which started by train at Montenegro through Serbia and Bulgaria, we finished in Turkey again with some interesting border crossings.
Changing at Belgrade we followed the old route of the Orient Express via Sofia and arriving at the iconic Istanbul station right on the edge of that mighty strait. The Bosphorus. I was back in Istanbul and again I felt that wonderful emotion of arriving in a foreign city, but more so because it was Istanbul.
I was back. It was bustling and noisy and chaotic and I felt exhilarated.
Think back to your last travels and how excited on arrival you were, that wonderful feeling of being out of your comfort zone, beginning an exciting, new travel chapter. The explorer. The adventurer and the discoverer come out in all of us.
Istanbul had changed, it has modernised. There are swish new trams and swanky new hotels and apartments overlooking that glorious stretch of water. My travel had changed, no more backpack or guidebooks, listing bargain hostels or cheap markets so to keep to our strict daily allowance.
As soon as we entered those lanes and alleyways, I again felt that sense of discovery and adventure and the delight of being amongst the chaos of the Grand Bazaar.
We caught a ferry over the Bosphorus and sampled the local food in a waterside restaurant. A wonderful selection of kebabs and salads with fresh juices were presented with a spectacular view to complete the experience.
In the evening, the streets were closed off and throngs of people spilled out for their evening stroll, so popular in the Mediterranean countries. The restaurant owners enticed us in to dine with promises of the best Turkish we will ever taste; it was a hard choice, but the most charming salesperson won and before long we were happily seated in a restaurant in the middle of a roadway which during the day is a busy thoroughfare. The food was incredible; a feast starting with tasty meze and golzeme, continued with traditional Turkish hotpot and variety of kebabs all accompanied with a very pleasant Turkish white wine – recommended by the owner of course.
Afterwards we joined the locals on their evening stroll and found a wonderful café. We finished this wonderful day by indulging in a tea, baklava or (you guessed it) a Turkish delight.
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