Next stop – Istanbul
Sometimes all the stars align themselves so that an event can come together beautifully. Before we arrived in Romania Dad suggested that Istanbul would be a place to visit while we have more time. We arranged my birthday as a Friday to Tuesday escapade with a group of people ranging from 27 to 87: my grandmother and great aunt, family, friends from Romania and we were also reunited with Mr. ST. We were a good combination of veterans and first timers. Chris visited before and spent a few weeks in multiple places in Turkey and he absolutely loved it. He had us sleep with the window open to hear the call to prayer in the morning. Probably around 5 am, at dawn, as though dreaming, I heard the voice through the speaker resonate everywhere and before I rolled over and fell asleep again, I felt less of a tourist for a few seconds, as if somebody took me by the hand and helped me enter a new world.
We spent three full days in the city and I am already looking forward to go back. It is hard to know where to start really. It is a huge place; with a population of approximately 12 million as it brings two continents together, Europe and Asia. The place has an aliveness to it, I have yet to see anywhere else, fueled by both locals and tourists. We found a nice hotel, convenient and standard but ideally located near the Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet and for the next three days we embraced it all. Spent a bit of time in each one of: Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Dolmabahçe Palace, the Basilica Cistern, the Topkapı Palace, a bus tour as well as a boat tour. I saw them, but so did thousands of others at the same time as us. So be prepared and patient to allow many others to see the same things you want to see.
As kids we heard so much about the Ottoman Empire in our history classes because they were a constant presence for hundreds of years. There is even the sword of one of the greatest Romanian rulers in Topkapı Palace. So to be here, surrounded by things we read in books was such a great experience. Aside from the history at every corner, you have an explosion of colour, beautiful mosaics, tiles decorated and painted, gold, blues, reds, and patterns. How can you not love a place where the sewer top is made of a beautifully decorated tile?
I appreciated the Grand Bazaar but I hated it as a place of shopping. It’s overwhelmingly big and as I mentioned before in the Maramures post, in places like these my sensory inputs get fed up quickly and I give up on buying anything. I did find a calligraphy shop I was eager to enter but it had a busy sign on it. So that was it for the Grand Bazaar but we did find a great place to shop. It was five minutes away from our hotel, Arasta Bazaar, and every time we passed through it I could have bought something. We found this shop with beautiful ceramics and even the name of the artists on the various items. I looked at some bowls and loved them but then I decided to look around because apparently that is what you do. You shop around. Well I looked around plenty but my mind kept going back to those so they are now in our possession. They are by an artist called Ibrahim Erdeyer.
There are tons of places to eat everywhere and with good food. But a lot of the places in the tourist areas are meant for tourists. Nothing wrong with that of course because that is what we were. But I did want to do a bit of research and choose something specifically for my birthday. Although located in the Old City, Ahirikapi Balikcisi is a bit hidden and it set up a beautiful birthday dinner for us with lovely fish dishes.
Lastly I loved the street art around everywhere especially around Taksim. In a place that celebrates traditional motifs, it is a beautiful contrast to see a modern expression of creativity.