When last time Jordan was a trip in impromptu, Istanbul happened to be the transformation of a dream over a longer period. The place in my fantasies was a land of Golden Glow; an escape to the magical past as Alice did to her wonderland. Nah, Turkey din't disappoint me; stories and more..
One feels in gut the appealing idea of dissolving boundaries traveling through Turkey; the East and West fusing up to form the Nation. This formed my first visit to the that side of the Globe.
Literally a major portion of Turkey lies in Asia and the rest of it in Europe though the whole of state is officially considered in Asia.
Budget airlines like Fly Dubai, Pegasus and Air Arabia fly from UAE to the Asian Side of Istanbul whereas mainstream airlines land at Ataturk International Airport which is at the European end. The heart of city is easily accessible from both airports. These airlines except Pegasus have an extensive service through India to opt for a connecting flight.
UK and Schenken visa holders easily get an on-arrival visa whereas the rest of all have to apply through the Turkish Consulate / Embassy at respective places. Visa charges are 225 dirhams from UAE and is stamped in a time of 2 working days.
It was ten in the night when we landed at Sabiha Gökçen International Airport. The arrival gates should have been empty without those hotel-pick-up staff who lined up with the name boards held high. Our driver paced up the highways shearing the cold winds. From the heights of the road, the downtown seemed like a million fireflies sown over the valleys; my friend was explaining on the high population density of Istanbul.
Sultanahmet was our home for 3 days. In all travels till date, I went for some random hotels that offered reasonable rates. This time I got too lucky. The view from my room was breathtaking. The thought of catching up the blue hour rather killed my sleep. The frames were pretty good I guess. I was expecting the 'Azaan' (prayer call) from the Sokullu Mehmed Pasa Mosquewhich adjacent to my room. Surprisingly there happened a medley of Azaans in different tones and rhythms for the next 20 minutes from the countless number of mosques around. If not for Cairo, Istanbul should have had the title, 'The land of thousand minarets'.
To wake up before the Sun, then to chase her blushing morning face had been making my days for past many months.
One perceives the spirit of vintage air walking through passion nested alleys of Sultanahmet. Those withered though lofty houses had a lot to talk. Turkish architecture is famous for its wooden homes with bay windows. Tulips and rose plants graced every window base; their reds and purples radiated rapturous waves across the streets. Inside me, I was adding shades to the concept of a house I pampered.
Sultanahmet is the oldest city of the area and was essentially called as 'Constantinople' once. This peninsula along with few independent cities, towns and villages nearby comprises the current Istanbul.
Istanbul is so widely spread and wonder-packed that one takes a minimum of 5 days to roam in peace. It dint seem to be a good idea to stick to the typical itineraries. And therefore we decided to miss the city for a day.
The route was marked to Bursa and an adjacent village with estimated driving time of three and half hours. We were guided by Mr. Noori, a Turkish native is his own MUV. Duration of journey was reduced by the two ferries that came in the alternate route he took. The saved gasoline expense was later paid as tolls. We assumed a lesson that 'to accompany a local native always eases the trip'. But sooner came moments when Google Maps won over him. So we concluded that it makes the perfect pair to have experience on your right hand and technology on left.
The huge ferries sailed majestically over the Sea of Marmara escorted and accompanied by a spirited fleet of sea gulls. They competed among themselves not to miss the bread crumbs tossed by the passengers on deck. The life they brought in, that transcendent vibes in their squeaky cries, I rather wished to be one among them living the moment with expectations not above that piece of bread and then to get flushed far away with the wind.
Every ferry had restaurants on deck letting the passengers warm themselves in cold, with the hot 'Sahlep' which tasted like an arrowroot porridge, savory and sweet. Black tea or Shai served in inverted-bell-shaped-crystal-cups forms the typical welcome drink of Turkey. If you get a chance to mix the tea, have enough care in the amount of decoction; Turkish tea is exceptionally strong. What more, you get 'n' varieties of 'Teas' in Turkish Market, most of which are dried fruits and flowers themselves or their extracts.
Curiosity gushed in my nerves as we got back to land. The road curved through hills and valleys. From the side windows of the car, the landscapes were perfect canvases of yellow, green and grey. Sheeps and swans, merely white spots. There wasn't a single moment without the 'wow' factor. Rain-clouds gathered over the Bursa town as we drove uphills. Freezing cold wind hustling through the maples, odd water droplets that slipped the clouds. Nothing balanced the awe of that weather. But the cable cars from Bursa to Uludağ were cancelled due to the winds.
Time flew faster than the winds, and we rushed to Kebapçı İskender, a remarkable restaurant in town, the historic makers of authentic 'Doner Kebab'. Wikipedia has the best description of this exquisite recipe 'It is a kind of döner kebab prepared from thinly cut grilled lamb basted with hot tomato sauce over pieces of pita bread and generously slathered with melted sheep butter and yogurt. Additionally, one cylindrical köfte can be placed on top. It is commonly consumed with şıra as a drink to aid digestion. Tomato sauce and boiling butter are sometimes poured over the dish, at the table.' . Lazing on the restaurant chair after that sumptuous celebration, I smiled about the story what my boss once told. A friend of him had switched from his vegetarian status after being in Turkey. True that, you miss the pulse of Turkish cuisine sticking to a vegetarian diet.
The wheels rolled finding way in the busy lane traffic of the Friday evening. And there was this village living in the magical era of past with every bit of heritage preserved caressed by affectionate souls- Cumalikizik. Houses made of wood; its facade blessed with vineyards and figs. Hospitality that makes you feel so important. Tales of this blissful village, its people and life shall resume in another detailed episode.
The story shifts to Istanbul again. The rain-clouds showered themselves over the city through the night and the following day. The city was freaking clean even in the rain. Kudos to the Ottoman's town planning and the Governments keen maintenance.
Streets were a spring bloomed in colourful umbrellas. The street was too familiar. I strode back to the memories of 7th Standard English Text - 'The Umbrella Man' by 'Roald Dahl'. That amalgamated feeling of excitement and doubt which freezes you seeing the same characters and frames that you've once fantasized reading that old story. And suddenly I was that twelve year old teenager blowing off the smoky condensed moisture in air.
Crossing the streets, the trams rang bell to give way. It was interesting they dint have annoying horns. Grand Bazaar was nearby, another world built in with the 3000 shops of crafted goods, one among the oldest covered markets in the world. Each brick was maintained and cared to retain authenticity. When you walk through, don't miss to take looks at the different roof patterns at each part of the market. However, purchasing in Grand Bazaar is going to loot your pockets unless your bargaining skills are made use of.
1 Turkish Lira ~ 2.05 AED ~ 30.5 INR (Timely Exchange rates applicable)
Turkey amazes anyone with an architectural taste. The Topikapi Palace and Hagia Sophia are wonders in themselves. Hagia Sophia stands apart from many historic prayer halls as its a Church turned Mosque holding features of both; an architectural marvel.
Along the street, you more often meet a street vendor dressed differently to catch your eyeballs. He shall serve you with some exquisite street food or may pose with you for a photograph at a reasonable price. Turkish people generally won't nag you to snatch your wallet. Days were shorter, it got dark by 4 in the evening. That night was the 'whirling dervishes show' where I booked tickets for. Sigh !! For a change, its good to get jolted of disappointment when you reign in the kingdom of euphoria. All those seeking the eternal feel of dervishes in Sufi musical night should make themselves to Konya (Turkey) on a cold December for the Mevlevi Festival which is the only genuine event of its kind.
The sky regained its blue colour on the third day morning washing off the grey shaded rain clouds. The maples ahead of the Blue Mosque stood contrasting in their yellow coats. Istanbul was in teenage of alluring 'fall' before the 'winter'.
The Blue Mosque was at walking distance from our hotel; the morning rays of Sun through the stained glass scattered on the red carpets of the mosque. Sea gulls and doves flew in circles above its dome making. I wished I could spend one whole day in tranquility the place offered me. With another sigh I jotted down, next time.
Roaming around wasn't hard with the extensive public transport system.
It costs 3 TL for one token in the Tram-Tunnel system which networks almost all places of Istanbul. Tunnel is an underground funicular railway controlled by two pulleys. The two tunnels connect Karakoy to Beyoglu and Kabatas to Taksim. Tunnel in Taksim is the second oldest of its kind in the world, the first being in London. Rest of places are connected with buses, trains and ferries.
Princess Island was kept pending for the last day. The set of islands were among the best summer destinations in Turkey. Pristine and placid as only bicycles and horse carts were permitted on its streets. The horse carts were designed so not to let the dung on streets, but it carried the stench in the sacks all way it traveled. You would love to hire an Ottoman era cottage standing tall and appealing with its white fascia besides the Sea of Marmara.
Ferries service from Buyukada and is worth the 5 TL you pay for it. It takes 45 mins from the Asian Side and an hour and half from the European Side
What I wished for was missing all the way. The vintage tram service in Taksim. I rushed in there after the Sun as place is said to be at its best in the night. Sadly the tram service was on maintenance the same day.
With a never ending flow of crowd and vendors, its decorative lights, the very live air, there I stood at the centre Istiklal Street, like a tree in a flowing lake. Camera clicked endlessly at the faces that passed by; the spirit of accompanying your soul when alone in a crowd, a very disoriented crowd often gives the sense of self discovery.
We settled for another of delectable dinner before waving bye to the city of thousand surprises.
That was the short but sweet story of the magical city. Turkey is a sure-not-to-miss place for every hopeless romantic in this world.
Photos: Shahid Mohammed &