Istanbul's treats and treasures
05.09.2012 - 09.09.2012
Although it was not my first time in Istanbul, it was the first time I had arrived by plane. Big mistake.
Don’t get me wrong, Istanbul is lovely, but the efficiency of the Turks, the start of my vacation is definitely questionable. After a smooth landing, mum and I debarked the plane swiftly, confident that we would indeed arrive in plenty of time for the first evening of wedding festivities. However after waiting for our bags for just over an hour, and another fifteen minutes for our airport car, we realized that we were going to be horribly late, even if by some miraculous event there was no traffic on the roads… there was. So instead of getting glammed up for a party, we simply dropped our bags off at our hotel on the Bosporus River, and headed out to sample some of the local delights. Not particularly in the mood for a drawn out sit-down dinner, we instead wandered over to the waterside, where the tantalizing wafts of street food such as Kumpir (giant baked potato served with butter, corn, red cabbage, salad, sausage, and basically anything else imaginable piled on top) and Borek (a crispy filo pastry with spinach and cheese filling) drew our attention. Match that with the unbeatable view of the Bosporus bridge, and the idea of looking across a continental gap (the European and Asian sides of the Bosporus), it was clear that Istanbul had much more to offer than what I’d originally thought.
Tip: Take a relaxing cruise down the Bosporus river, day and night time cruises offer a vastly different atmosphere. If headed out for the evening cruise, take a jacket, as spots for the best view get a bit chilly.
Grand Bazaar… Saturday… lunch time rush hour… nuff said. Imagine this: Hordes of people, both locals and tourists alike, packed like sardines in a can in a never-ending maze of shops, all potentially selling the same junk at exorbitant prices, all calling out “Konichiwa!” Maybe I shouldn’t have worn the hat.
After meeting up with friends for lunch near the palace, a few of us decided to try to find a famous sweet shop, internationally renowned for their milk and rice puddings. Problem was, we only had an address and name to go by… AND it was wrong. After our first cab broke down at the entrance of a tunnel and then proceeded to rip us off, it took us a tram, a train, another taxi, and about 15 minutes on foot until we finally found it. Considering the epic journey it took us to get there, I was worried that no dessert would ever be able to fulfill my expectations… but actually it was pretty darn good. The sweet honey cake with the creamy cheese topping combined both texture and flavor to top the charts as my favorite, followed closely by both the rice pudding, rich and decadent with a burnt top to give it a slight hint of caramel, and the world famous milk pudding, using fine-minced chicken for texture but not taste, the sticky texture of the pudding combined with the light dusting of cocoa was the perfect afternoon treat. Plus I figured after all that walking I could afford the calories anyway.
Tip: Find a reliable cab to take you all the way there and it will probably only take you 25 minutes from the old town. Do it my way means allowing for 90 minutes of travel time.
I could live 1000 years and not see another wedding like this. Well… scratch that, I could see another wedding like this on television screenings of royal weddings, or at the movies. So I’ll never see another wedding like this… live.
Using the Ciragan Palace as the setting, every detail had been accounted for. From the crystal chandeliers as you enter the palace, to the lights and décor of the outdoor dinner setup, overlooking the Bosporus. After the procession of the bridal party in perfect unison, the beautiful bride enters atop the stairs, her full lace dress made for a queen, her glow of happiness radiant on her face. After a long, and ok… slightly awkward ceremony by a Buddhist monk, the couple share their first kiss, and a hundred sparklers lined along the water and the entrance to the palace light up the sky. Obvious cue for applause not necessary. This, along with the several bands imported for the event, made it a wedding well worth remembering.
Alrighty, now for all the touristic stuff. It’s possible to see most of the old town in a day, as we started out at the old hippodrome area, then over to Sultanahmet Mosque, otherwise known as Blue mosque due to its interior décor, Sophia Hagia museum, and then the Topkapi Palace, famous for its large armory and jewel collection. (Impressive pieces include a tri-emerald dagger, as well as a whopping 86 Caret diamond)
Tip: If you’re planning to propose, don’t do it in the 5 day window before or after seeing this, because comparatively, nothing is gonna match it.
We then finished our day with a trip to the spice bazaar for local treats such as Turkish delight, or lokum (try stalls 18 and 43, the white honey Turkish delight is amazing, and while it is a little on the pricey side, the owner of both these stalls is a character not to be missed.) and after took a detour to the Galleta tower, to take in the panoramic view of the city.
So while Istanbul, with its eclectic mix of religious history and hustle and bustle of city life might never be quite my cup of tea, I can certainly appreciate the cultural heritage and landmarks of the original city of Constantinople, and will never forget my time spent there.