I just spent a week in Istanbul with Krisia. It was EXACTLY as much fun as it sounds, as in: a lot…We basically played incredible amounts of Backgammon (hence why I chose this picture, because under the outer chess cover, this is a backgammon set), drank LOTS of Turkish tea which is bitter but you get used to it, as it complements the food nicely, ate tons and tons of food and walked around a lot in between Krisia’s lessons.
Istanbul is just a magical place. I had been steadily dreaming of it since I first set foot in the Middle-East three years ago, and finally, it was time to pay a visit to this city of dreams. It is such a warm, friendly…exciting city. It feels so confident. Istanbul is just a powerhouse. It has a strong identity, and Turkish people are proud of their culture and their identity without being arrogant, so you end up in a place that has a strong cultural flavor, yet the atmosphere is light and fun. It was very much what I needed, and I enjoyed every minute of my stay there.
We ate our body weight in food, which was delicious. We ate stuffed mussels (check out Krisia’s post about Midye Dolmasi in July) almost every night, comparing different recipes until we found out that our two favorite ones came from…brothers who alternated locations in Kadikoy (the section of the city where Krisia lives, on the Asian side). We ate all sorts of rice and kebab and meat dishes, all more delicious than the others, and manti, which is Turkish ravioli:
That, my friends, is a picture of the best Manti on the planet. We sat there, quite stunned to realize that we were eating art as food. And we finished our meal in silence, aside from a few satisfied groans, which, try as we might, we were unable to suppress. It was my last meal in Turkey and I know I will dream of it for years to come. If you can’t quite tell what is on the plate, it’s meat-stuffed pasta (very small) and a dollop of garlicky fresh yogurt with spicy oil drizzled on top, and some sumac and I think dried mint. Delicious.
To be fair, I didn’t just eat and play backgammon, although I did mostly that. While Krisia was teaching one day, I went over to the Asian side with the ferry, behold the skyline:
And finally visited Sultan Ahmet (the mosque on the left with the six minarets). This neighborhood was the only part of Istanbul where the men were less than completely gentlemanly and respectful and would actually follow me and harrass me and other tourists with “excuse me…what’s your name? excuse me!! where you from?” If you’ve been to Istambul, you know how unusual it is for people to bother you. Which was a very pleasant thing…
The mosque was nice…but I was really moved by the underground cistern, not far from it, in which I spent about an hour, walking along the wooden platforms in between the columns and over the water. It was damp and fresh, dark and otherworldly:
Apparently, from what I’ve been able to find out on the internet (I had no idea then because I was just walking around absorbing the experience), this cistern was built after the Nika revolt in 532 AD. After the Ottoman Turks conquered the city, the cistern was forgotten about and no one knew it existed, it was rediscovered in 1545 and used to water the gardens of Topkapi Palace. I am glad I followed Krisia’s advice who strongly urged me to spend the money and go in…It was perfect and quite strange. In the Northwestern end of the cistern, they’ve uncovered two columns with the head of a medusa as a base, here’s one of them:
I’ll spare you the archeological details because in short, they don’t know why only two columns were shaped that way. It’s just cool, and that’s enough for me.
We also had a brief foray into the Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Spice Bazaar (I like to think of the Grand Bazaar as History’s First Mall because it is cramped and full of shops, just as driven to consumerism, there are no indications of what time or time of day it is, there is a food court for sustenance, you can buy anything at all you need or want or don’t, and I can’t stay there more than 45 minutes, all of which are my criteria for what a “mall” is). Here is a glimpse of my favorite one of the two, the Spice Bazaar:
Walking between the two bazaars, you wind your way through bazaar-y streets, full of market stalls, and random stalls in the middle of the road, where kids sell (Kris, what did you call this again??I can’t remember) funny drawy-things, or electro-LIKIT (mosquito-killing liquid-dispensing plugs from RAID) men carry HUGE boxes on their backs, sell Turkish flags or cherry-juice from an engraved metal pitcher strapped to their back.
If you look up, once in a while, you’ll see strange signs advertising very specialized shops. :-) a running theme, I suppose, in my travel blogs.
So that’s a flavor of Turkey: rich, diverse, very different, relaxed, hectic, pleasant…deep.
Here’s one last photo, one of the moments I’ve often returned to since leaving Istanbul. Admittedly, it was a very touristy environment for witnessing a mystical dance, but I’d always dreamed of seeing whirling dervishes and nothing was going to ruin it for me. I hope that you can feel something special in the photograph, because it was a moment of heightened experience for me. It seems wrong to have frozen their circular whirling motions and deprived it of the uplifting music that accompanies them in their journey, but still. I am transported back when I see this photo.
Thank you Krisia for being so wonderful…it was so good to see you and spend a whole week of laughing, quantum physics, Bartholomew and Backgammon, Manti and and ferries, Kadikoy and milshakes in the yard. :-)