Monday, December 1, 2008

Istanbul. Rediscovered.



I
fell in love with Istanbul the first time I set foot on it's streets. It's a friendly city, full of history, culture and great food. Getting around is easy and it's safe (as any other metropolitan city is safe). I can't explain it except to say that it feels like home to me - a place that I can see myself living in.

The graphic image that opens this posting is the official logo for the city. You see it emblazoned everywhere - from park benches to vendor food carts.

I flew out of Kayseri this morning enroute to Istanbul. As before, I was sad to be leaving Cappadocia - there is something about this part of the world that has enchanted me.

On short leg trips, I like to sit on a window seat so I can look at the world below as we fly by.


As the plane taxied down the runway, I snapped one last shot of snow capped Mt. Mount Erciyes. This extinct volcano dominates the landscape of Cappadocia. Millenia ago, its eruptions contributed to the formation of the unique fairy chimney landscape of the region.












Looking down from high above, you could see the vast arid landscape.









A short distance away from Kayseri, we flew over Lake Tuz. Tuz is the Turkish word for "salt". Lake Tuz is the second largest lake in Turkey and it is a salt lake - fed by two major streams, groundwater, and surface water but has no outlet.


Somewhere on the flight path, we headed north. The shores of the Black Sea came into view. It was greener more hilly landscape that I was looking at.

The plane then turned south towards Istanbul.






















Before I knew it, we were flying over the outskirts Istanbul. The waters of the Sea of Marmara glistened in the background.

















It was late morning when we landed. I gathered my luggage, grabbed a taxi and headed to the Hotel Poem where I had booked a three night stay. I checked in, got directions to the nearest pharmacy and handed over some clothes for laundering. I wanted to make the most of my first day back in Istanbul so spent just a few minutes in the room getting settled in. Too excited to be back in Istanbul to waste time in the room :-)

The hotel is located in a very quiet neighborhood that's filled with small hotels and shops. It's about a 10 minute walk from the Aya Sophia if you meander as I did. From the hotel, I headed towards Sultanahmet Park. I had been here just six months ago so memories of places were still fresh - sights, smells and sounds were all so familiar and in a way, very comforting. I didn't realize how much I really loved this part of the city until the Aya Sophia came into view. I don't think I will ever tire of seeing this famed landmark. It was a picture perfect day - weather was so warm I didn't even need my coat.

I knew exactly where the pharmacy was so I headed there. Luckily, I was able to pick up the anti-itch gel I needed to soothe the itching from the bed bug bites.

Next stop was a clothing shop about a block away. Last time around, I had seen a pair of Turkish leather boots that I drooled over. Of course, I didn't get them then and was okay with that decision til I realized I was coming back. Now, I had to get the boots. As luck would have it, not only did they have the style I wanted but they also had it in my size. Score!

With few tourists around, I was able actually took my time to stroll the streets and enjoy the atmosphere of this captivating city. Of course, I did took a few pictures along the way :-)
















































By now, I was getting a bit hungry but I didn't feel like sitting down in a restaurant - it was much too early for dinner. For me, street snack in Sultanahmet is all about the roasted corn. For 1.5 lira, you get one ear with an optional sprinkling of salt. In the US, we get corn that has been bred to be tender, sweet corn but that barely has any corn flavor. Turkish corn is tough, chewy but full of real corn flavor and it reminds me of the corn I grew up with in Malaysia. I love it but I have to admit, about 3/4 of the way through the ear, my jaw is tired from chewing :-)















After snacking on corn, I decided to do a bit more window shopping. I headed towards Gülhane Park (which I would visit on my last day in Istanbul)on a street filled with carpet and souvenir shops. The carpet salesmen were all out in force. I could barely walk from one shop to another without one or more of them trying to lure me into their shop. I finally cave in at one of the places. I really had no intention of buying a carpet but decided to look anyways. No harm in looking and as the salesmen will all tell you "looking is free". I soon found myself in the company of another charming Turkish man named Harun.

Over cups of Turkish tea, Harun tried his damndest to get me to buy a carpet. Telling him that I had already bought three while I was in Cappadocia did not deter him. When we ran out of tea, he offered dinner - cooked by a young Turkmen who works in his shop. Greedy me. How could I turn that offer down? Dinner turned out the be very simple Turkish fare - rice pilaf with a side of tomatoes and cucumbers. I still managed to get filled up. After we ate, Harun resumed his efforts to get me to buy a carpet but I would not budge. Then came the offer of breakfast the following day. By now, I was getting impatient with him. I decided it was time to leave and so I hatched the exit plan. I told him I would think about the carpet overnight and stop by his shop for breakfast the next day. I left the shop with no intentions of returning the next day and I know I won't.

As I stepped outside the shop, I realized the sun was beginning to set. I decided to head back to the hotel. There, I showered and relaxed the night away.

After 10 days of being in laid back Cappadocia, Istanbul was the perfect re-introduction to city life. I love this city!