I stanbul has been so much in the news lately, but always for something bad. Coups, bombings, violent events, you name it. Gathered around a table a few days ago, we were talking about trips to places that we have been and we would really like to go again. Sitting in front of a table full of food, there was no other place that could pop into my mind than Istanbul. All the flavors of the world in a single city!
What can you write about this magic place? Near our hostel, there was this graphic designer’s store, Aponia, with the most amazing people inside. I think that whatever you read from this point onward, cannot describe it better than how they chose to express it graphically:
Exactly that. From all the places I have been, I have come to realize that the most beautiful ones, are those that are not “pure”. Always the places where different cultures, people and ethics collided have the strongest character, the greatest beauty and most interest. And Istanbul is the prime example of a city that chaotically balances between all cultures and civilizations.
The trip to such a peculiar place, could not have started more unexpectedly. I had made arrangements to go to Athens for the opening of the exhibition of a friend of mine and as I was trying to convince Nektarios to join, the conversation suddenly took an interesting turn and we ended up booking tickets to Istanbul. After all, if you go to Athens, Istanbul is just an hour flight, right? And then, as we were getting ready to depart, the weather started freaking out both here and in Istanbul; fierce winds, heavy rain and snow.
After several hours of delay, we finally reached Istanbul late at night. Our plan was to walk from Taksim to our hostel, but as we got out of the bus and faced the snow storm, we immediately understood that we could save money through something else. Taxi!
We woke up next day to find the snow still falling as we opened our window. So, we opened up the map and decided that we should visit first what was closer and what was indoors (and warm!). Istanbul Modern was what we chose and we simply hoped that the map was accurate enough so that we wouldn’t freeze till we got there.
Istanbul Modern was great but I think that we should have visited it some other time. The simple reason was that we hadn’t had the time to see anything else from the city and the excitement and agony was prevalent. I had seen so many photos from street photographers before coming here that I wanted to go out and see where the life was beating.
We started walking towards Taksim square and Istiklal. The first encounter with the local delicacies was when I bought my first simit. It was something like our “koulouri” (a circular kind of bread usually encrusted with sesame seeds), but dare I say even better. Of course this meant that every day since that moment I would buy a simit from some street merchant.
We crossed the Galata bridge to get to the other side of the city. Quite interestingly, I felt that the bridge itself had a life of its own. It didnt just feel like a crossing that connects two separated parts; it was as if it was another “neighborhood” of the city.
We entered the spices market. The paradise of all secret ingredients of the world. All I could think of was that my mother would be in heaven in this place, until I was interrupted by a shop owner who wanted us to try some turkish delights. To be honest I never really liked those sweets so I tried to flee away and the same was true about Nektarios (who doesnt like sweets at all). But you know what, Turks are the best merchants around so we ended up in the shop in front of a huge selection of different delights. Needless to say that they were so f…ing great that we could not stop eating!!! Not only that, we bought a considerable amount to bring back home!
Wondering the streets on the other side of the city revealed a different face. More oriental, more closed, more mysterious. Fatigue got into us (as well as cold) and we had to get back. On our way back we went through a small alley that we were pretty proud to have discovered as a shortcut and were amazed why it was not shown on our map or the locals didnt go through there…. Until we discovered why….
Nothing is missing from this city 🙂
Next morning we set up our course towards all the places that you can’t skip when visiting Istanbul: Hagia Sophia, Top Kapi, the underground cistern, the grand market. The cold weather and snow were our allies, since the number of people visiting them was significantly reduced.
For some reason Nek was always hungry. While this could be frustrating, in Istanbul with so many opportunities for amazing street food, it was a joy as it presented an opportunity to taste all the wonderful delicacies, be it doners, kebaps, sandwiches and whatever else. In this whatever else category, the most amazing street food was to be found… In Ortakoy, they have those huge baked potatoes that they fill with everything you can imagine. And the result is something incredibly tasteful!!! Oh my, after “diving” in two such potatoes, it took us a while to be able to stand on our feet. Amazing!
As the night fell, we headed back to our hostel. Early next morning we had a flight to catch. I had to admit that I was already feeling sad to leave so soon. At the same time I was extremely happy that we were crazy enough to decide such a trip. Just a few meters away before we reached the door of our hostel, as I was trying to remember if it was anything significant that we had forgotten to do, Nektarios reminded me about this pastry shop right next to us that a friend of his has been telling him ever since we stepped out feet in Istanbul. To be honest we went there just for the sake of it and just to have something sweet as a goodnight taste.
We just bought a small box of syrupy sweets. Just before falling to bed, I opened the box and tried the first one.
The f…ing best sweet I have even bought. A journey to another world!!!
My last (and sweetest) memory from Istanbul. The truly most tasteful journey!