In 2005, the greatest ever comebacks in footballing history had taken place in Istanbul. For football fans that was the first time they put Istanbul on their travelling maps. For the rest of the world Istanbul was like a mini India. The cultural diversification there is so off the charts because of the history, as so many empires have flagged this place – but have never been in a proper relationship with it – wonder how it hasn’t been friend-zoned by the UN yet.
It looks like the city of merchants because of the options you get in the market – but then I think that is because of the Silk Road. The one thing that stands out wherever you are in the city is the mosaics. Anyone who sees this will think about Istanbul – because that’s the way the image is engrained (like how you can’t see GOT without Tyrion Lannister).
Usually when Hollywood shows Istanbul, there is a deafening prayer from the mosque that starts the day and then suddenly a car chase across the town while destroying every single flee market in its sight. When I got up in my hotel there was a ring on the door from room service and no they weren’t assassins (I’m not that important).
So I decided to first hit a local restaurant. Since I’m distinctly Indian, it wasn’t too hard for them to understand I’m new there. These guys were so excited to know and learn about India – it wasn’t even funny. When I told them about cows on the streets being a reality, they were on the floor. I even got a few Falafels (thank you mother of cows) for free to begin my 3 course meal. I knew in general that food was delicious, but this place ‘Old Ottoman Café and Restaurant was a delight. The meze and kebabs were out of this world. Imagine Joey, Jughead, Garfield, Obelix and Shaggy were all in my soul that day – I really ate their hearts content. Anyone who goes will testify the same – you will be astound as to how much you can eat and drink (obviously).
The locals make the city great. They are infectious and have a great spirit. This community of people welcome you as tourists. They take pride in their architecture and history. They are people who work hard and play hard beyond measure and most importantly invite you to their traditional evening down times. In one of my walks around the city I had befriended a middle aged women who needed help with her bags and do you know what is better than blessings? Blessings with great and unexpected company. Over the course of my stay in Istanbul, I had a personal guided tour from her family members – I was fascinated by them – they were by me. To me, it seemed like the most interesting cultural exchange ever. I visited them at tea gardens (even when I don’t drink tea) and Turkish taverns – that really dded color to my trip.
There are some must see places in Istanbul that will leave you stunned – Aya Sofya (a church turned mosque turned museum), Topkapi Palace (if you want to see how the sultans lived), Grand Bazar (it’s called grand for a reason, and you have to see to believe the bustling nature of this market), Blue Mosque (Istanbul’s iconic Building) and the Suleymaniye Mosque (a national landmark on one of the hills). Maybe pictures will inspire you to go there, but when you do go there – soak in the plushness of a rustic city that invites you with open arms.