Every coin has two sides. So does the city of Istanbul. On one side there are gorgeous, historic mosques, palaces, city walls and towers.
The Grand Bazaar is one of my favorite places to saunter around, sip tea, sniff spices. Here you can buy a fez, a hookah or the freshest Turkish Delight in the world.
But Istanbul also is endless traffic jams, modern skyscrapers and overcrowded Metros. I enjoyed buying an Istanbul card what allows you to travel on subways, trams and busses by simply scanning the card. It’s always a fun challenge to figure out how to buy such a card in a foreign city, how to upload money on it and then use it. The other challenge, of course, is figuring out where you’re going…. But with a subway map and a good sense of direction, I got exactly where I wanted to be. Besides, people were very kind and helpful. One young man wanted to speak English and asked how he could help. Other times people pointed and smiled and were always helpful.
I’m here to work at a Turkish school where children learn English. I do book talks and writing workshops all day, but have the weekends and evenings to explore. What makes this trip even more fun is that my friend and colleague, author David Greenberg, is here too. On Sunday we took the Metro, a funicular and a tram into the old city. There, we walked around the Grand Bazaar, the Blue Mosque, the Haga Sofia and charming old cobblestone streets of an ancient city that once was called Constantinople. To read more about these fabulous sites, including a Turkish Bath, see the blog from our previous visit:
We enjoyed Turkish coffee along a tiny alley, seated on cushions where kissing was not allowed! Then we found the old train station and feasted on warm bread with melted cheese. We goggled at so many breads, dripping honey combs, warmly coloured fruit juices. And everywhere are cats. Istanbul is a city where cats reign.
The language is fascinating. While I don’t understand a word, I can figure out some of the signs. Taksi. Banki. Müsezi. It almost seems Finnish to me some times…
Each evening I eat at a different, local place: shish kababs, döner (shaved roasted meat), warm thin bread, soft cheese, juicy tomatoes. One night we took another Metro and ventured out to crowded Taksim, a square in a very busy neighbourhood. An endless stream of people walked down the narrow street. Not many beggars to be seen, but some made money by playing music or selling trinkets. Stores included western clothing shops like H&M but also fantastic butcher shops, shops with long strands of something that looked like a skinny sausage but was actually a skin of fruit leather filled with walnuts… And flowers, beautiful flower stalls.
The highlight was going out for dinner with an old friend and several new ones from the school. The restaurant was called Gazebo. I would have never found it since the entrance was a green pathway, like a little alley next to a house, leading to a most wonderful covered terrace along the banks of the Bosphorus. Not only did we enjoy the great food but the view over the water of bridges and barges, fishes and twinkling lights was amazing. From the European side, we watched the Asian side of this bustling city that straddles two continents. Especially once a full moon cast its path across these fabled waters that connect the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea.