We had shortened our initial plans for Turkey, which had included an overnight bus to Cappadocia to hopefully catch the hot air balloons over the rocky backdrop. However, in light of the tense political climate and recent bombings, we shortened our stay to only 2.5 days in the city of Istanbul.
Sabrina and I had been a bit tense about visiting at all, given the situation, but hotels and flights had been booked and we were determined to make the most of it and not to let terrorism get its way. Besides, Istanbul had been a bucket list item for both of us for a long time.
We arrived at night, in a very busy Ataturk airport and made our way to our hotel. We immediately had the instinctive feeling of being in a very different culture. With over fourteen million inhabitants, Istanbul is one very big city. We dropped our bags and headed out for what we came for – food! 😉 We found a small outdoor patio nearby and sat for some hummus and pita, stuffed grape leaves, garlic yogurt dip, baklava, apple tea and hookah.
The next day we spent on our feet and covered as much as we could of the main attractions: The Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar. All were spectacular. The palace was enormous and had such rich history and the Hagia Sofia was so grand it made me catch my breath when I entered. Being in the blue mosque felt a tad invasive but at the same time it was an amazing glimpse into the religious traditions of the local people.
The whole of the city was not nearly the tourist Mecca I had anticipated and that point was illuminated when we visited the grand bazaar, which was so empty you could practically hear crickets. We spoke with some merchants there who explained that the absence of visitors was, in part, due to it being the holy month of Ramadan. A better explanation, however, was the fear of terrorism. How sad and unfair, the impact that they could have, not only on tourists who can no longer travel at ease, but on an entire economy and the livelihood of its population.
The silence in such a well known attraction was indeed eerie and we took the bait and left shortly after. But we did have a nice time sampling teas and Turkish delight and trying on scarves and shoes before we left.
We went out for some more food and, in the evening, to a rooftop hotel for a glass of wine where you could hear the nighttime call to prayer blasting off the minarets all over the city.
We took the next day a bit slower, beginning with multiple courses of breakfast at the hotel buffet, then on to the underground Roman-built cisterns that have survived centuries of wear and tear. We then went for some much needed massages and hammams (Turkish baths, which we agreed were essentially human carwashes) and then ventured to the east side of the Bosphorus river to get some durum at Durumzade, recommended by Anthony Bourdain himself. We had the lamb and beef mix, which lived up to its hype. Unfortunately, we could barely get it down as we stopped for freshly caught fish sandwiches at the riverside.
Feeling like we had pushed our luck enough, we made our way back to our neighbourhood and settled at a quiet little patio for some drinks beside our hotel before calling it a day.
The next morning, we had a generous breakfast and prepared for the journey back to Toronto. We spoke with our favourite staff member who gently chided us for being weary of a parked van the evening before. I asked him if he was concerned, with all the threats going on, which he dismissed. A few days later, after the terrorist attack on the Ataturk airport, which killed 45 innocent civilians, he wrote me to say that he had been thinking back to that question ever since. But, as we were told, “politics are a rich man’s game.” How grateful I was to be back in Canada. ❤