"Flaubert, who visited Istanbul 102 years before my birth, was struck by the variety of life in its teeming streets; in one of his letters he predicted that in a century's time it would be the capital of the world. The reverse came true: after the Ottoman empire collapsed, the world almost forgot that Istanbul existed."
~ Orhan Pamuk.
~ Orhan Pamuk.
Istanbul is a nice place to visit on your way out of the country. It's nothing like Kurdistan, of course, but it's a transition place to get you ready to face the West again. For those who haven't been there, it may seem exotic, but for those coming from Kurdistan, when you arrive in Istanbul you know you are just one step away from the West.
In Istanbul you can see old familiar sights and gorge yourself with your favorite foods one last time. You can hang out in open air cafes and parks, spend some time drinking tea and smoking hookah, and watch people on İstiklal Caddesi.
Speaking of İstiklal, if you go, make sure to stop at the Mesopotamia Cultural Center (Mezopotamya Kültür Merkezi). It's a place to browse books and music, drink tea, and talk. You'll know the MKM by the police van parked outside the building on the other side of the street.
İstiklal Caddesi and here comes the tram from Taksim to the Galata Tunnel. Less than a mile from here is a huge contrast--Tarlabaşı.
I love sweet shops, not only because they sell sweets but because these places are always so colorful, too. Lokum (Turkish Delight) is in the window to tempt you, along with the "sucuk" made of nuts and fruit syrup. My favorite, however, is helva made of sesame seeds--Antep fıstıklı helva, to be exact.
Entering the Egyptian Spice Market (Mısır Çarşısı), which is a great place to sightsee because there's all kinds of cool stuff here.
Here's some tea, not the conventional tea that you find in Kurdistan, but herbal tea. Actually, these teas had a lot of chunks of everything but Camellia sinensis in them. Notice the one on the right front: Love Tea. I just didn't want to know.
The best thing about Gülhane Park was its exquisite coolness. It was quite warm on this particular day--anything over 24C (about 75F) being a heatwave for me--and the park, with its many trees, was the perfect place to cool off.
Entering the Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı). This place is a bit more high-brow than the Mısır Çarşısı, but it also has lots of cool stuff to look at. I had to spend some time and negotiate the price of some pashminas.
Süleymaniye Camii, also known as the Mosque of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, gets a facelift, as we see from the campus of Istanbul University.
Here are the boats that grill the fish for your balık ekmek (fish sandwich). This was early in the morning when we passed by and no one is grilling yet. But we'll definitely come back.
There's the grill, there's the fish, and there's the guys who cook and serve. It's really very simple, which is probably the magic of really good food. The fish is grilled and then put in a piece of bread along with some lettuce and onion. You sprinkle on the salt, splash on the lemon juice, and you're in business.