Istanbul this time around is the best. Every other trip I’ve had a small group with me and/or stayed in an international hotel. Rather homogenized really but safe and sterile. A none-the-less wonderful place to be and to share with others.
This time, however, I have the honor and opportunity to be shown around one of my most favorite cities. I am living in a friends beautiful apartment with a view of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and Topkapi Palace just across the bay. The building is perched up high on the hill and the window where I’m staying is the length of the house. Maybe 70 feet long, floor to ceiling windows about 10 feet high.
The view is the most incredible moving art work you can imagine. Like a Rembrandt on a daily canvas. Nature at it’s best. Each morning I awake to a new landscape, colored by the time and tides. The sky changes color every other minute. Today there are the shades of grey (not those from the current bestsellers in America), from pearl to charcoal. Even the domes on the mosques glow a golden gray. Yesterday the sun was so bright almost everything was white washed by the glaring sun, the glare matching the surf behind the heavy ships at sea.
At night it is a real treat. The sea is dark, matching the sky. The night lights on ships pass by on magical mystery tours. The mosques and minarets are aglow with flood lights on their horizons and then…the call to prayer. Afterwards some of the properties on the sea have an explosion of fireworks. You can hardly hear them but they glow in miniature flares along the sea and are reflected there.
Ships of every size crisscross the Bosphorus headed towards the Mediterranean. Massive ships loaded with 100’s of containers connecting the world with worldly goods; tiny fishing boats gather every kind of sea food for the restaurants and kitchen tables. Cruise liners the size of small islands or towering buildings on their side carrying tens of thousands of passengers; ferry boats traverse this amazing body of water all day long, moving its citizens to and from work. So unlike those in Chicago that have sails or motors carrying 2-200 people in the summer only.
Across the channels I see the islands that separate the Asian from the European side of Turkey …huge and busy is this landscape. This view cannot be the same twice. Time, weather, light and traffic flow interrupt the possibility of the mundane. It is not possible for this to be a bore, it is a very real, relaxing change that let’s you know just how important this life is to so many. I’ve see no planes overhead, but today one state of the art helicopter passed over with the buzz and hum of a bee.
Ok, now I’m looking out of the window to the full moon shimmering on the ancient waters, I thought I had seen every possible miraculous scenario. But this just may top all the rest. It’s heavenly here atop the world looking out into the ancient modern landscape. Sounds from the call to prayer backed by the engines and the hum of the world.
I’m in a wonderful neighborhood that firstly amazes me because Istanbul is so large and populated. I lost track of the fact that there are communities with in it. This one is the “SoHo” of Istanbul, with cool little coffee houses everywhere and delicious restaurants tucked up a flight of stairs, around back a column and down a winding staircase into a gracious outdoor garden filled with flowers and candles that you could not possibly know is here.
The shops are hip and have antiques and vintage items from around the world and across time…some made by the people here. Some so very tongue in cheek hip that you want it all to bring back to show those at home what imagination is indigenous to other parts of the world. A place of such historical significance and so immediate in it’s hip-ness.
There is another quaint and wonderful aspect to this environment…cats…everywhere. The country is so accepting of this national pet that every business and household has dishes at the door for the cats. They are friendly, well fed and clean. Every night you have a visitor at your outdoor table or escorting you part way on your walk, sitting at the doors of stores and restaurants. During the day, they are sound asleep in the seats of motorcycles, on the hood of cars, on the outdoor furniture and on electrical boxes hung on walls. They are everywhere and the country provides wooden houses around town for them to sleep. They are almost the national animal.
The city lies majestically on the Bosphorus cuddled next to the Golden Horn and overlooking the distant Sea of Marmara with hundreds of varied ships, ferries, fishers float by.
And the food….could not be fresher, tastier and demanding of the chance of overeating since the portions are so generous. My favorite is the Yaprak Sarma, and Dolma, wrapped grape leaves full of rice and spices…Kebaps of corse and Doner chicken and other meats, tho I just do the chicken. Then any of the yougurt and vegatable salads are so refreshing and Kurufasulye, great beans. In the U.S. I don’t care for our bean dishes, but Turkish ones are wonderful…but so much is.
We went to breakfast one day on the port at an outside restaurant, where the fish are brought in. Incredible experience. We ordered fried eggs that came in a round dish and platters of sides came..including eggplant, beans and tomato salads. There was also a dish of really fine cream cheese in a dish of the most delicious honey I’ve tasted in years. I think because our bees are in danger here, we are not getting the real thing anymore. To top it all off, there was Louis Armstrong piped in singing “What A Wonderful World.” Brings tears to my eyes just remembering that day. So beautiful and heart warming.
Dessert? more on that later.
One amazing realization here is aging…me. I’m feeling totally invisible on the streets of one of the oldest countries in the world. But it is populated with the highest percentage of 30 year olds. There is something easing about not being noticed I suppose. Don’t have to worry if your mouth is turned down or wrinkles crease your neck or your thighs swipe one another and belly flabbing. But the realization that you are no longer ‘young’ is eye opening even when you find yourself in one of the most spectacular ancient cities on the globe. It’s so old that being the capitol of young is unsettling. …while the city is alive with throngs of young people milling about in droves for miles and miles, scurrying about non stop..and not making eye contact. Invisible.
The youth are protesters, many evenings there are peaceful marches with police in combat gear and huge acrylic shields, while the marchers march and chant something in Turkish. I don’t know what it’s all about, but it’s almost a ritual that lets off steam, shows the strength of the military and police…so everyone has their moment, gathers in droves, protests and goes to the cafe. I don’t mean to diminish it’s importance, but I do appreciate that the privilege to protest and protect are equally important here.
Oh Well, Now about the desserts. Of course you know about Baklava, and yoghurt (the best by far) nuts, honey and such. All of it mixed into hundreds of delicacies and served everywhere all day long in grand corner bakeries and shops. Sit outside and watch people go by, the sun set, or just check your messages while you eat a thousand calories of goodies, try the pistachio anything, and a cup of tea. Pure perfection. Oh! There was one other desert I heard about and tasted was the dish made from white chicken parts. It is mushed up into a paste and molded and looks just like it sounds, white chicken meat mush…I just couldn’t get with it. END OF STORY!
What The Traveler Saw