Day 1 – First Glimpses of Istanbul’s Asian Side and the Fascinating Prince Islands
Constantinople, Tsargrad or as it is known nowadays – Istanbul. We arrive with a bit of a delay, but our host informs us that he is also running late and we have to wait for him in front of Naylor (damn you, Autocorrect) café. After a considerable search of something non-existent at a station which is far from what we would call “Central Station of Istanbul”, thanks to my colleague, Paulina, we manage to break the “code” and go back to where we arrived where our host – Rossen – finds us a little later. Around 06:42 in the morning, the first generous rays of the September sun fill the sky, but we do not have time to marvel at them because we are about to spend 3 days in one of the most gigantic megalopolises in the world – the only city situated on two continents – and this is, to put it mildly, a little insufficient. Armed with smiles, despite the little sleep we had on the bus, we head to the metro station.
It is Saturday, a little after seven in the morning, and the public transportation is teeming with people. No wonder why the Republic of Turkey is in G-20 – with this pace it will be assiduously knocking on the door of the G-10 soon. We change the bus with a metro bus (a bus that connects metro lines) which is even more packed than the previous one. The day is already fully blossoming, traffic is booming, and we are chatting with Rossen to catch up with what has happened to us since we last saw each other. We arrive in the district of Beşiktaş, go to Rossen’s office immediately, and start drawing the plan for the next two days.
After a light breakfast, we start the march by meeting Doruk – a friend of the host – with whom we shall be wandering around the Bosphorus (Bosporus), the Marmara Sea (Sea of Marmara), the Prince Islands, and the streets on the Asian side of Istanbul. Before we set off, however, we decide (following “orders” of our sun-thirsty female companion) to sip some tea in a restaurant whose walls are washed by the waters of the Bosphorus. The sun is already sizzling and we immerse ourselves into a pleasant conversation.
After a “couple of hundred” photos, we scurry to the wharf and get on the next boat that will take us to the Asian side. The boat is crisscrossed by several waiters who offer black tea (I am not a fan of black tea, but most of the passengers seem to enjoy it), orange juice, and pastries. A photo here, a photo there, and here we are on the Asian coast. Admittedly, it is not very different from the European, but we are quite proud and bestow ourselves with another photo.
After a short getting around, we hop onto another boat. Two teas, three photos, and we find ourselves on the Prince Islands. Thirsty and a little hungry, we start searching for a place to eat, lured by the beauties around.
Chariots, palms, charmingly beautiful flowers, and trees – has the prince planted them himself or his wood nymphs have been watering them with drops of heaven? Dawdling around the seacoast and marvelling at the numerous flags, graciously dancing with the help of the Asian wind, we notice stairs and decide to ascend them in order to take a better look of the sea from above. After a considerable amount of effort (bearing in mind the hearty lunch and the beer), we find ourselves on a street, meandering between amazingly beautiful houses.
It is not only the astonishing architecture but also the drop-dead gorgeous garden landscape that catches our attention. We start trudging on a road going uphill while admiring the elegant villas from which we occasionally hear clucks and cock-a-doodle-doos. The scenery could be described as a mixture of Miami’s ambience and Slavianovo’s (a lovely village near my hometown) charming calmness.
We stop for a while, because the late September sun’s intensity in Istanbul reminds of the middle May’s in Pleven – not too scorching, but enough to make you sweat, especially when ascending hills. All we can see around us – a sea – whose colour I am not going to describe because you will immediately book a flight to Istanbul. We nimbly wipe the sweat and continue to the other side of the island. On our way, we come across many more chariots. We are so caught up in the environment that even the slight odour from the horses’ “creations” cannot bother us.
After a while, I find myself on a street fitness playground where I do some stretching while chatting with Rossen. As some chill starts to chase away the heat, we embark upon a mission to find a place that offers both a tea and a sea view. Easy-peasy-Japanesey! As soon as we enter an almost empty place by the beach, Rossen starts a conversation (in Turkish) with the owners. Literally some moments after that, he has already made friends with them and he has negotiated a future event at their restaurant. They are happy and treat us with home-made red wine – perfect after the bitter black tea!
The sun begins to dissipate on the horizon, while we, figuring out that we cannot make it to the other side of the island to take the boat back, stop a chariot and after a hasty haggle, we jump inside. The chariot is jouncing wildly and for a second, we almost crash into another one. I am not sure what the “driver” is muttering, but judging by his face expression – he is, most probably, cursing dilligently. We thank Jesus, Allah, and all other Gods that we arrive safely, and we instantly head to the boat which is, thankfully, a bit late. We could have saved some liras, but we would not have heard Turkish swearing, neither would we have almost crashed into another angry chariot “driver”.
On the other side, already hungry, we direct ourselves to a place proposed by Doruk. It is a chain of restaurants, offering Spanish-Mexican dishes and Turkish brownies (Paulina tastes one, but admits that besides its size, it is no different from its American or English “cousins”). I opt out for a mix of fajitas which proves to be an excellent feast.
We pay and head to the shuttle buses piazza and jump into one of the many parked there. The traffic jam starts even before (one of) the bridge(s) connecting Asia to Europe – wow, aren’t these people supposed to be sleeping now? The view from the bridge is breathtaking – the lights can be seen from the Bosphorus all the way to the Sea of Marmara. After arriving in Beşiktaş, Paulina and I stop a taxi which takes us to the place designated by Rossen for sleeping in a neighbouring district. We are greeted by interesting landlords who also live there, but hardly speak any English. Rossen comes to the rescue again. Time for bed.
Day 2 – the Lantern Garden (Fenerbahçe) and Kadıköy
We get up after 8. After a quick breakfast, we head to Rossen’s office. On the way, we pass by a multitude of military buildings – administrative and barracks. At every gate, there is a sign warning us that there are armed guards inside and indeed we spot at least a couple not far from the fence. The day is promising – the sun is again generous, yet pleasant. Photo here and there, and we arrive in front of Rossen’s office.
Again, we head to the place with the boats and hop in one that will take us to the Asian side. Our destination today is the Lantern Garden (Fenerbahçe) park.
While waiting for Doruk (who lives there), we quickly munch on a simit, a breakfast pastry popular in Istanbul and in Turkey as a whole. Before we go to Fenerbahçe, we decide to have a brunch. While the others are ordering breakfast, I go for the prawn güveçte (an oven baked vegetable dish usually with prawns). It is a good thing that bread is a compliment in Turkey as the güveçte is quite oily, which makes it even more delicious.
After the brunch, we start our walk along the seaside promenades and soon we are in front of the stadium of Fenerbahçe. “Shoot me here, please,” pleads Paulina and I wonder whether I should really take a picture or shoot her, he-he.
Sunday is a wedding day in Istanbul. We encounter several newlyweds that are being photographed in the lantern gardens. The park is called the Lantern Garden, because there are many feners (lanterns) in the garden (bahçe).
We park our buttockses on the quayside. The blue sea and the waves, lightly splattering the coast, invoke a pleasant tranquillity and we contemplate in silence. The heart gradually fills with serenity and merges with nature. Positively charged, we take a couple of flying shots and sit for a tea and baklava in a café nearby. The service is not the best, but Paulina is glad that we are close to the sea.
After the afternoon feasts, we head to “Baghdad” Street (“BağdatCaddesi” in Turkish). 14 km in length, it spreads alongside the Sea of Marmara between the districts of Maltepe and Kadıköy. The most important part of it is a one-way avenue (6 km in length between Bostancı and Kızıltoprak) where we also roam. Paulina and I are very impressed by the beauty of the buildings, the luxurious shops, and the carefully ordered vegetation where fragrant flowers are lined along with tall trees. On our way, we enter into a Carrefour Gurme (Gourmet) to stack some Turkish delight (lokum) and other pastries. We walk along the Göztepe Park which is more beautiful and ordered than the gardens of Versailles.
We end the street promenade in a small crêpe shop – a real treat for the long walk.
With a hint of cinnamon, quince jam, and chocolate, we go to the bus stop and take the bus that will take us back to where we started the journey. Our last stop for the night is a club with live rock music, tucked into a small and narrow, but very lively and crowded, street. “Bomonti” beer is great unlike the band, so soon after finishing our beers, we head out to Beşiktaş. Already in the shuttle bus, we decide to pay Taxim square a visit. There is not much to tell about it – drunk local and foreign tourists all around. At least, the bars are located in old attractively decorated buildings. We are barely moving when we reach Galata Kulesi (The Tower of Galata) – a medieval stone tower, opened in 1348, 63 metres in height, which can be seen from far away. Time for sleep.
Day 3 – the City Centre in the European Side
Monday greets us with a charmingly smiling sun, which we pay our respects to by lying for an hour on a mattress on the roof of the building we slept in. From the roof, there is a magnificent view of the bridge, connecting Europe and Asia. While sunbathing, we draw a more humble plan for our last day and go to Rossen’s office. There, we meet with two interns and other people that work with Rossen with whom we later go to have lunch. Great place – “Rossen, next time you should bring us here again.” Everything is scrumptious and the prices are very reasonable with tonnes of delicacies to choose from. The afternoon is devoted to further exploring and a little bit of shopping. On the way to take the tram to the city centre, we walk past Dolmabahçe Palace.
We hop on the tram and get off at the square with the big mosques. Following a quick tour and a purchase of some souvenirs, we enter into the yard of the Sultan Ahmet/d Mosque (or the Blue Mosque as it is known because of the blue tiles adorning the interior walls). Since we are not properly dressed (it was warm to wear long sleeves), we take some photos and continue to the other large mosque – Hagia Sophia or Aya Sofya. The square between the two mosques, which houses several stunning Egyptian obelisks, is swarming with people despite that it is the end of September.
You cannot go to Istanbul and miss Kapalıçarşı (or the Grand Bazaar). After a considerable amount of roving, we finally reach it. Flamboyance and luxury intertwine with misery and shouting, spices are happily lined along with almonds, apricots, and baklava. Peanuts and gold, and many, many people. The splendour and colourfulness of this place are excessive even for Paulina and we leave it shortly after a quick tour around. In a street near the Bazaar, we purchase a set of spices and, of course, Turkish Viagra – it is just simply a small jar with a mixture of 12 different spices and honey – it is tasty (and works).
We hop on the tram again and head back. Rossen has told us that “Every tram goes back to Beşiktaş”. It is good that there is an English translation in the tram, so we know we have to change. After getting off, we go to the coast to admire the Bosphorus and the palette of colours in which the sky is painted with the clouds and the sunset. In the meantime, I pamper myself with a “street” mackerel sandwich – grilled mackerel put into a bread and accompanied by onions and lettuce and sprinkled with sumac – so simple, yet so delicious! It is found almost everywhere in Istanbul.
I start rowelling Paulina on as we need to go to the station to take the bus to Sofia. Rossen supersonically explains how we should get there. Of course, we have misheard him and get off at a station which is a bit farther than we were supposed to be, but eventually, we end up at the designated place and even have some time for a last bitter sip of tea. Despite that the Central Station is still grim, our adventures were unforgettable and the memories – priceless.
Appetite comes with eating – or, rather, with travelling. Istanbul is definitely worth devouring. Have you been to this magnificent city?
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