It was well after dark when we first arrived into Istanbul, and I have to admit, there was a moment when I wondered what I was getting myself into. We crossed the Bosphorous Bridge from Asia into the heart of the 2nd largest urban area in Europe and the population density began to rapidly increase. Our gruff taxi driver negotiated steep, hairpin turns through some of the most derelict neighborhoods we’d ever seen; passing crumbling buildings, piles of debris, and rows of sex shops in what was once a bustling red-light district.
“Please let our place be just another mile down the road” I thought, but just a few moments later…we were home.
We made our way up hundreds of stone steps, set our bags down and moved towards the window of our apartment when we were greeted with our first view of this ancient city. I had to break out my camera for a photo of this view; It might be my favorite image from the whole trip. Our building was perched atop a hill, and was already taller than many of it’s neighbors, which gave you the feeling of floating above this massive sea of buildings in a sodium vapor haze which seemed endless. We drifted off to sleep.
Pigeons pacing inside the ceiling and the morning call to prayer woke us up far too early – the Turkish Cay (the national drink of Turkey, a small hot cup of black tea) couldn’t have come any sooner. We headed across the street and through some of the less traveled backstreets on our way to Galata Tower, an imposing stone structure that dates back to 1348. Our very first day time glimpse of the city, the tower provides an amazing panoramic view of the minaret-dotted city skyline and quickly gave us our bearings.
Our Turkish journey included longtime friend/esteemed world traveller Shannon, who had planned our itinerary for us. Shannon is also an intrepid traveller who likes her trips to include more adventure/less chilling out. The first day, we devoured everything the city threw our way, heading out at 10AM and not returning home until we’d had our fill of Yeni Raki at our local nightclub, Peyote, at approximately 2AM. This was in fact, much to much fun considering we had to get up early on day 2 to begin our culinary walking tour of Istanbul.
Despite feeling a bit worse for wear, the Istanbul Eats walking tour of the city was the high point of our stay in Istanbul. Our guide Angelis provided several of the most memorable food experiences of the entire trip; from delicious, tender, sweet and salty battered anchovies (I’ll never look at the humble anchovy the same again), to Offal soup (cow stomach) which is supposed to be a top hangover cure (I’m still sticking to the breakfast burrito in that department). But the ultimate revelation was that our apartment was just a 3 minute walk from Durumzade, which was visited by Anthony Bourdain (3 min 25 sec in). This was, still is, and is likely to eternally be the ultimate kebab shop for me. Delicious homemade flat bread basted with the juices of the lamb skewer grilling over hot charcoals and dressed with spicy Turkish sauce, chilies, fresh tomatoes and greens; so good I actually was so consumed with the delicious taste that and for once, I did NOT take a proper photo. Let your imagination fill in the gap.
All this wonderful food came at just the right times as we spent a lot of time walking the city, and the need for refreshment came often. The need for shelter came often too as we frequently found ourselves being chased indoors by the persistent weather. We visited the requisite tourist sites, the Hagia Sofia, the Sultan Ahmed, or Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern – all staggeringly beautiful and…old! The phrase, The Old Country had never really registered in my consciousness until this trip. The first recorded humans in the region were there in 50,000 B.C. and in the southern part of the country, they’re just beginning to uncover the remnants of cities from over 10,000 years ago. This put things in an entirely new historical context for me – it’s quite profound to think of how our lives, culture, and traditions compare when looked at alongside the culture and traditions of a people that have lived in the same region, more or less continuously for a thousand generations. I was ready to see more… Stay tuned for the next leg of our trip.