When we arrived in Istanbul, the city unfolded itself to us as our taxi sped along the coast of the Marmara Sea, then the mouth of the Bosphorus. I probably didn't enjoy the unfurling view as much as I could have, since seat belts were non-optional, meaning: there weren't any. So I was using most of my energy on holding my kid as tightly as I could, and praying, as our tired-of-life driver raced the traffic lights. But the ruins, palaces, mosques with a thousand minarets, towers and lots and lots of water front did get a fair bit of my attention. It was like Rome, just times ten, hillier, more chaotic, and of course with a big dose of the East.
I had a sinking feeling though. I realized that Istanbul had been here all along, without me, when I could have been living my whole life here. Think of everything I have been missing!
We arrived in one piece at our incredibly lovely furnished apartment for the week (about 5 meters from the tower on the pic), replete with every modern amenity we needed plus a little courtyard filled with trees, bushes and flowers. Too bad it was still too cold to be enjoying morning coffees or late evening beers outside, but lovely still. There was a mosque just around the corner, so we got called to prayer morning, noon and night on very loud, very scratchy speakers. Oh my Allah, a sound.
The neighborhood was pretty happening. The city's main shopping drag wasn't far from our place, there were loads of quaint little shops selling everything from guitars to body lotions just around the corner, and cafés and restaurants were abundant. The two strapping young men we were there to visit in the first place, Peter and Martin, took us to the place from the video clip on our first evening. Very small and cozy, with homemade food and a very smiley proprietess, it did set the mood for our first trip to Asia Minor. The live music was just the icing on the cake.
I can't really remember our day to day itinerary, other than every day was action packed. There was a lot of walking to do, and that wasn't always easy. The streets are steep, narrow, sidewalks practically non-existant, and pedestrian crossings ditto. I shudder to think how life with a handicap must be here. We managed though, with courage and a prayer, to step into the street, in front of moving vehicles, with a stroller. We just followed the lead of the Istanbullus, and we were fine. It was only unnerving the first few days or so. They drive terribly as well. They all have the same symbol, either as a pendant or as a sticker on their vehicles, which wards off evil, thinking it will protect them from car crashes. Their traffic wreck rate is pretty high.
To get to all the "fun stuff", we crossed the Galata Bridge (see pic), which is an attraction all of its own. It's propped with men and their fishing gear, catching small silvery fish, that truth be told were'nt all that meaty, and even shrimp. Istanbul is known for its seafood, which makes sense given the proximity to both the Marmara and Black Seas. But fish from the trafficked Bosphorus? I daresay it would be easier to throw out magnets on a line for all the heavy metals there must be in those creatures, but well, at least the diner can skip out on the iron supplements.
Downtown is the place for the "real" sightseeing. There are markets and mosques on every corner. Some wares were reminiscent of the stuff people flock to Asia to buy. Copy purses, belts etc. We headed for the bazaars, which albeit were touristy, but the spices and Turkish Delights were satisfactorily far from Bangkok. We bought pepper, rosemary and special marinating spices as well as some ceramics.
Notice the little Police Station in the midst of the Bazaar. Those are everywhere. On one hand, reassuring to be looked after, on the other, strange to be constantly monitored.
We naturally visited the Sultan's Palace and the two most famous mosques, the Blue and the Sophia. We did take lots of pictures, but attempts of capturing the insane beauty of the depth and the lavishness of the places are futile, so use your imagination. And then some.
The kid was pretty easy to please on these excursions. There was so much to look at, that he sat kind of stunned in his stroller while sights and sounds whirled around him. Turks are incredibly child-friendly, and while Danes love children too, it's still of a totally different caliber. They would stop us in our tracks to kiss, pat and coo to Dante. On one occasion, a young man came out of a kiosk with a soda and a chocolate bar, stopped immediately upon seeing Dante, shoved the chocolate into his chubby little hand, and went on his merry way. So there wasn't really time to be bored. And if Mikael and I sat too long over a cup of tea, there were luckily lots of small colourful sugar cubes to be stacked.