Istanbul: A Recollection

Thank you, Bobby Chinn, for your show “World Cafe Middle East: Istanbul” has brought back memories of my short trip to Istanbul!

The places you’ve been, the food you’ve tasted, the people you’ve met & the culture you’ve experienced instantly took me back to the early Winter of 2005! I never imagined myself setting foot and breathing in the air of the once famous and fearless Byzantine Empire as well as the birth of the every powerful Ottoman Empire!

Istanbul is a mixture of the old and the new, the modern and the traditional, of European and Asian, the religious and the liberal, just look all around you. It’s a melting pot of culture! Why not? It connects the East to the West or specifically, Europe to Asia or vice versa!

Istanbul is rich with History and Culture, you’ll find historical sites within distance of each other. Sites left by the Romans, such as the Basilica Cistern that lie beneath the city itself, not far from the Hagia Sophia, which is within walking distance to the the Sultan Ahmad Camii or also famously known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles inlaid in its interior. If time permits, spare some Turkish Lira YTL and go on a tour of the Topkapi Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visit its many chambers from harems to stables and galleries. Immerse yourself with history, transport yourself back to the Ottoman Period. Imagine what would’ve become of you, if you’ve lived then!

If you love culture, go ahead and experience Turkish dance and tradition at the Orient House, Best Western Hotel. Catch the belly dancing, whirling dervishes and enjoy Turkish cuisine at the same time! It’s quite an easy place to locate if you’re staying within the area of the Old City of Istanbul. Just 5 minutes walk from the Grand Bazaar and the other historical places! I remember it took us about 15 minutes walk from the Royal Hotel, Laleli, Istanbul to reach our destination! In fact, Istanbul is pretty safe compared to Madrid, as we were always reminded/warned about pick pockets! So far, we’re pretty lucky!

Another must not miss place to visit is the Galata Tower, built on a hill across the Bosphorus River. An ancient Tower with a restaurant on its upper floor which provides visitor with a 360 view of Istanbul and its surroundings! Go ahead and try to locate the Hagia Sophia, the Queen’s Mosque, the Goldern Horn etc. Down below, explore the avenues of Istanbul. As for me, I found İstiklâl Caddesi by accident. We were being adventurous or maybe brave or actually a little thrifty by deciding to walk back to our hotel! It looks simple from the top of the tower, imagining the route to take home, it didn’t look far either! In actuality, it wasn’t far! Anyway, we took the stairs, no it was the lift down. Bought some souvenirs from the Galata Tower Shop including a pair of evil-eye earrings (which I’ve lost during my 1st trip to Japan). Walked down an avenue, turn a few corners and realized that we’ve lost our way! Somehow, God must be on our side, we took a turn or maybe two and found the main street with shops and restaurants the whole stretch. With the number of people going through it, we’re confident we’re on the right track. In fact, we stopped by a few places to get Turkish Silk Scarves for me and Turkish Glassware by their ever famous glass maker, Pasabahce and then stop for lunch since we’re famished from all the adventure! Sated, we made a move and found ourselves at Taksim Square and realized we had just left İstiklâl Caddesi, one of the famous avenues of Istanbul! I guess that’s what you call adventure!

Oh by the way, we managed to hail a cab back to the Grand Bazaar before heading home, oops hotel! I felt right at home, here…damn, there! What more can you ask for? The warm Turkish Apple Tea, the fresh bread, Turkish Delights to spoil you, and obviously the beautiful people and the culture and heritage!

Galata Tower from across the Bosphorus
A bird's eye view from the top of the Galata Tower
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…this is the time…

If you’re visiting Istanbul, be sure not to miss the whirling dervishes and belly dancing. I am so in love with the beauty of the city, a sight for sore eyes! Mystical, magical, memorable!! One thing I regret was I didn’t have enough time (a week is too short to stroll all over this city) & didn’t get to try the shisha @ hookah whatever!

Istanbul Video

Below is a video taken on Thursday 1st of Dec, in front of Istanbul University, Istanbul which is situated not far from the Grand Bazaar. The quality of the video is not that good as it was the 1st time for me to actually use my Sony Cybershot T-33 to record a short video.

Awake at last!

Last week was the best exercise & the most I’ve done all my life. To tell you the truth, I do not exercise! I did take up aerobics for a few months but then I got lazy and all I wanted to do was sleep so I QUIT! Today, my back hurts. I blame it on my video camera in my backpack!

A lil’ bit about my Istanbul trip.

We arrived at the Istanbul Ataturk International airport around 4pm local time. The first thing we did after the customs check was to check out the exchange rate and we converted some of our EURO or US Dollars (about 300) to YTL (New turkish lira notes). Then went to get our bags and head to our hotel. It was a long drive from the airport which was situated in the new european city and our hotel is located at the old city, so we had to go over the the bridge. Thank God, there wasn’t any massive traffic jam that day. We arrived at our hotel about 5pm.

Once we were given our keys, did our prayers but didn’t unpack our clothes as we were too excited to stay indoors. I decided to explore the area. It was already dark and people were busy walking up and down the hill from God knows where (at that time). We climbed the hill, do not know where we’re heading, just enjoying the view around us. It wasn’t that chilling as expected but a lil’ breezy. We were afraid that we didn’t bring enough winter clothing, fortunately we don’t need the wool jackets! So we didn’t freeze to death!

I couldn’t sleep that night, I woke up at odd hours, turned on the tv and fell asleep. At last I woke up at 4am local time (about 10 am MY time) had an early shower, opened the window and enjoyed the view (from the 5th floor). Masjids were lighted up, there are about 2000 masjids in Istanbul itself. So, one could hear the azan @ call to prayer. It was undescribable!

7am – time for breakfast. We had bread and more bread. I love bread. Bread with chedar cheese spread. Bread with sausage. Salad and olives. Yummy, I don’t much like the black wrinkly olives but the green olives were great. Coffee and more coffee and juice. Such a healthy meal.

By 7.45, we were waiting at the hotel lobby for our tour bus. We had booked a tour of Istanbul. A half day tour to the Blue Mosque, underground water system, Carpet house and the Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is huge, if one is not careful you won’t be able to get out of the place alive! Well, you’ll lose your way but thanks to the signboard you’ll eventually find one of the many exits.

What surprised me most when I got there, it is a popular shopping spot among Malaysian tourists. Wherever I go I hear them greeting us in Malay. Apa Khabar? Selamat Pagi, Selamat Petang Gosh, somehow I feel flattered by all that! Shish! I would reply politely or just give them one of my dazzling smiles! ;P Turks are one hell of a goodlooking lot! The men are handsomely dressed and the women are gorgeous. Sometimes I wonder if I’m in Milan or Istanbul!

to be continued …