ON MY WAY TO ISTANBUL
Constantinople, Byzantium, Der Saadet, Miklagard… Hear how they sound, there’s sparkling around them. They’re magical names I long dreamt about when sitting behind my school desk. This, while some History teacher talked about the great Ottoman Empire. Teachers failed to enthuse my schoolmates. I, instead, was motionless. Listening in wonder, dreaming about horses, swords and battles among bearded fierce men. All confused in my mind with the astonishment of a place that was crossroads of the Ancient World. I always had a thing for History; for mysterious and distant civilizations. All things taking place in Istanbul felt surrounded by a halo of Arabian nights, in the middle of the Silk road. I could do nothing but dream about it. And now… Now, I’m on my way to Istanbul. I cannot believe it. I’m heading to the Der Saadet, the Gate to Prosperity.
We’ve planned visiting Turkey more than once. Always, for some reason or another it was a trip we were never able to do. I’ve many times dreamt the Library of Ephesus (… I know, me and libraries!); the archaeological site of Troy. Ankara, Antalya, Pamukkale and – this goes without saying – fly on a balloon over Cappadocia. Turkey has over 50 World Heritage Sites as well as many of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. I might need more than a year to see most of this country. Our family has always desired a road trip around Turkey. Mine will just be a touch and go visit, only Istanbul. Yet, I feel it won’t be too long until we finally embark on our big Turkey trip on the road.
The main reason is a Travel Exhibition: EMITT. It stands for East Mediterranean International Tourism and Travel Exhibition, hosted in Istanbul from 28th Jan to 1st Feb. A wonderful opportunity to see what’s going on in the Travel Industry in an area of great interest for our blog and our corporate services. Still, I can foresee problems. This event is in Istanbul! And Istanbul has so much to offer… I believe the Exhibition will come second on my list of priorities! Of course I will attend, I was kindly invited and I will be there on the 29th. However, I expect to spend the rest of the days making the most of the city.
What have I already arranged to do? Quite a few things!
What do I want to do? Everything!
What will I miss? A whole lot of wonderful things!
What I have already arranged
I will be staying in a wonderful hotel in the historic area of Sultanahmet. They tell me the spa facilities are wonderful, so I guess a visit to the Turkish bath or hamam are on the list. The heated pool? I’d say yes, of course! Mostly after a day wandering the Gran Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar and every available market (Yes, I have a thing for markets too!)
But there won’t be just walking. I’ll hop on a Big Bus to tour the city (a good option if you are short of time, when you have kids, or when it’s cold). This helps you get a better glimpse of many places when running short of time. It is a choice I never disregard during weekend getaways. With these tours you are free to schedule where to hop off, what to see, when to stop to grab lunch, and what to skip. In general, packages include a two-day option, so you can start and finish in a more flexible way.
I do not want to miss the religious experience of Sufism and the Night of the Whirling Dervishes. Even when they are famous by that name, the Mevlevi is an Order founded by Mevlana Rumi in the 13th century. Today they are a cultural brotherhood with an ideal of tolerance, forgiveness, and enlightenment. These sacred rituals are the sema; serious religious ceremonies with music performed by priests in a prayer trance to Allah. During the sema the soul releases from earthly ties and thus freely communes with the divine. Doorway is the literal meaning of Dervish. A passage from the material world to the spiritual one.
Agia Sophia, The Blue Mosque and The Basilica Cistern are three of the places I am not missing for sure. I know the first two are the best known and most photographed places in the city. It is the third one, the Basilica Cistern, the one that makes me more curious. A place I don’t want to miss. Known as Yerebatan Sarayı (Sunken Palace), it is the largest of several ancient cisterns beneath the city. It provided a water filtration system for the Topkapi Palace (another must see!) among other buildings. Its Medusa column bases are something I want to see with my eyes!
My wish list
I wish days had more than 24 hours! The more I plan this trip the more I discover all that Istanbul has to offer. The more e-mails I send asking for suggestions, the more I understand how kind the locals are.
I don’t want to miss Ortaköy (Middle Village in Turkish) or its white Neo Baroque Mosque.
I wish I could cross the Galata bridge. Step up the Galata tower (having a sunny day and a perfect sunset would be too much to ask for, Mr. Accuweather?).
I’d love to try some Nargile on a rooftop bar. And yes, I’m the imperfect tourist sometimes, I want to try the elma çayı (apple tea) with it.
I want to taste that famous Balik Ekmek (fresh fish sandwich). As well as all possible Turkish food a human being can possibly try: Lokum (Turkish delight), Lahmacun, Manti, Keşkek, Kuskus (the Turkish version of couscous). And if there’s more to try, bring it on!
Since the Turkish gastronomy has typical Mediterranean traits, it is connected with the Greek cuisine. It is also influenced by Central Asia, Sephardic Jewish and Middle East cuisine… I foresee a feast!
Another fun thing to do would be sailing the Bosphorus. Crossing again and again from Europe to Asia is not something you do every day. While doing so, it might be wonderful to admire beautiful palaces as the Topkapi, the Rumeli Hisar castle, the Dolmabahce, and other impressive mansions. And finally, who would want to miss a night out in Beyoğlu? The most active nightlife centre of Istanbul… Not me!
One side note, I’ve been recommended by a blog reader this book by Elif Shafak:
The Bastard of Istanbul
…and I am enjoying it so much I cannot put it down. Do you also read before arriving to a destination any book that it’s somehow related to it? This one looks good so far!
“We’re stuck. We’re stuck between the East and the West. Between the past and the future. On the one hand there are the secular modernists, so proud of the regime they constructed, you cannot breathe a critical word. They’ve got the army and half of the state on their side. On the other hand there are the conventional traditionalist, so infatuated with the Ottoman past, you cannot breathe a critical word. They’ve got the general public and the remaining half of the state on their side.”
Elif Shafak, The Bastard of Istanbul