Sunday, March 8, 2009

My first visit to Istanbul

Not having heard from most of you I can safely presume that most of you did not venture into the mail I wrote last about my last days in Europe!! Only three people responded. I know I defy all logic of emails and short mails with my long epistles, but then that's me. My snail mail letters were as long. Now only the keyboard has replaced the pen. Otherwise, for me nothing has changed. Well, for those who are interested and even for those who are not, indulge me in my passion for travelling and desire to share my experiences with my friends.

So from where we left off, hobbling into Istanbul we arrived there on the evening of October 6th. The hotel had sent a taxi and we bundled our 72 kgs of luggage, two umbrellas and a walking stick into it before entering ourselves. Inside were two other travellers one of whom turned out to be the high school teacher of Steve Waugh. It was fun discussing cricket scene with him esp in the light of England recently winning the Ashes and Greg Chappel having lambasted Dada Saurav.

Our hotel turned out to be sweet room, which was small but not one of those ones which finishes even before you enter the room. We stayed in the HEART of the old city and a two minute walk from our hotel brought us to Sultanahmet, the Blue Mosque, the Aya Sofia and all the fun kebab joints. Great atmosphere folks. Istanbul, esp during Ramadan, is highly recommended. The skyline is awesome and you see minarets all around. The mosques are beautiful. The feel is not 'muslim' as a lot of us would like to think. Yes, there is tradition, there is an old heritage and indeed a conservative society exists but the atmosphere in the European side is very very cosmopolitan. Houses are small, there is traffic, there are loads of people, women almost always in a robe and with their heads covered but the city is ALIVE, full of young people and those who are not physically young, are young at heart.

We traversed the European side many times in great detail, at all times of day and night and each experience left me amazed - and that is an understatement. By day we did the touristy bits and believe you me, there is a lot to see. By night we did the studenty stuff which was rocking courtesy two fun and cool gentlemen, Aakash and Aditya (friends of my nephew, Siddharth who himself is really cool). With them we went to areas, restaurants, pubs which only the locals would have knowledge of. Tops on the list was Nargile (hookah or sheesha as it is otherwise called) with the local aloo parantha, stuffed jacket potatoes, stuffed mussels and great kebabs. I fell in love with the different flavours of tea and also the glasses in which it is served. The beer bars at Galatasarai and Taksim area were heady, to say the least, and in one case we were politely hinted at to leave at some 3am. The bar owners started switching off the lights!!

Lunch one day was at a Turkish restaurant overlooking the bay and the Golden Horn with a mosque looming large. We were floored by the smells at the Spice Bazaar. Man, what spices, what dry fruits, what colours, what tastes. For me that was one experience of 'jannat'. The Grand Bazaar though grand was difficult to spend too much time at. Too many good things, too much colour, too much light - tired me after a point. But the Bosphorus was ......I don't know.. I am running short of adjectives and superlatives. One whole night till about 3am again or was it later was spent near the water front in the area of Ortokoy. The new brige connecting Asia and Europe called for a drive so we boarded the local minibus called dolmus to go from Europe to Asia and then back to Europe. The suspension bridge could beat any bridge in the world hollow.

The Bosphorus cruise was the final scene of the amazing stay and we cruised through Europe and the chalet type wooden houses of the Asian side. Istanbul was one of the best cities I have seen and Aakash and Aditya made it even more memorable. We laughed nonstop for hours on end, often at probably nothing, rolling over cracking silly jokes, ribbing and pulling each others' legs. It was so so nice to laugh, feel really young and silly and completely carefree. Sorry for the abrupt end but the electricity has just gone and the inverter will switch off in five minutes.....that's reality.


  1. Jayanti!!!!! You blogger you!!! This is a fabulous post! I can literally see Istanbul and smell the spices! This is one city I am dying to visit - many of the names of places are familiar as I have read Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul! Uh.. would you like to go there again?? Chalen?