Istanbul is a great city. It is huge, bustling, very old and due to its historical and strategic importance it has many interesting attractions to visit. The city sits on two continents with one leg in Europe and the other in Asia. In what other city can you leave your home on one continent in the morning to go to work on another and in the evening return to your home on the first continent? In that sense Istanbul is truly exotic.
We had three days to discover the city. We spent the first day to find the bike shop, planlessly walk around and sleep in the hotel room. The second day we went to visit the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sophia museum which are a must to any visitor to Istanbul.
Many of you have already been here and I won’t go in to the details about what to see in the city of Istanbul. I would rather like to tell about my impression of the city.
When in Istanbul we get the feeling of being at home in Bangkok already….
Just like Bangkok Istanbul can seem to be very messy with intense traffic on the streets and crowded footpaths. The sheer number of people and cars causes me to get a feeling of being one single ant in a giant ant colony that is not my own! I don’t know what to do and where to go… In Bangkok that is not the case, but here it definately is and I guess first time visitors to Bangkok get a feeling similar to the one I have now.
Just like in Bangkok a lot of attention seems to be paid to food and a lot of delicious things to eat are sold everywhere in everything from simple food stalls to expensive looking restaurants. We want to try everything but once our stomachs are full we can only look at the delights. Besides that, we do not know how the system of eating works, what food goes with what and so on and we feel we need a guide to the local cuisine.
Just like in Bangkok, the spiritual world is always close. In Bangkok there are all the temples and other places of worship and here in Istanbul are the many mosuques from whose minarets the exotic sounding call for prayer is sounded regularly. This ever present mix of spiritual life and the everyday life on the busy streets seem to be carachteristic for both cities.
Just like in Bangkok, the city’s nerve is a busy watercourse which the local people are proud of. Of course the Bosphorus is much bigger and busier than the Chao Praya river, but life seem to be centered around these two rivers in pretty much the same way. River cruises to admire the city are as popular in Istanbul as in Bangkok. Important historical buildings as well as fancy homes and restaurants are located side by side along the Bosphorus just like they are along its thai sister.
After three days in the city we made an appointment at our hotel with our friend Gökhan. He came and met us on his shining white Pinarello road bike and guided us when we slowly cycled towards the ferry that would take us away from the European side and on to the Asian continent. Normally we fly between Europe and Asia and the change in weather and culture is abrupt. This time it only required a 25 minute ferry ride across the Bosphorus to leave the European continent and on the Asian side it looked pretty much the same as the European side albeit a bit more quiet. It is hard to believe we are now on the same continent as Bangkok.
Neither Gökhan’s bike nor our own stayed shining clean for long – after a few minutes on the cycling path we ended up in a muddy construction site. Gökhan’s shining white bike got brown and ours too. We stopped at a beach side cafe to team up with our second turkish friend Burak who we would stay with for a few nights.
Gökhan and Burak stayed with us during their cycling trip in Sweden last November and it was great to have a re-union with them in their city.
Our plan was to stay with Burak’s family for two nights. He introduced us to his family and we immediately got very good contact with his mother Özlem. Had it not been for the language barrier I am sure we would have got very good contact with Özlem’s mother who lived in their apartment too. Now someone had to act as translator which slows down the communication. Wej is however picking up lots of Turkish words while they don’t seem to stick to my brain. Before we leave Turkey I bet Wej will be able to communicate quite a bit.
We ended up staying with the family for three nights and we immediately felt like being at home. We cooked food together, went for walks and had coffee and tea at cafes. Being close to each other in age Wej and Özlem seem to get extra close and were talking to each other non stop for three days
One thing I particularly liked was when Özlem taught me to prepare Turkish coffee and some turkish dishes. I then realized I have not worked in a kitchen for more about 2.5 months and I didn’t know until then that I had missed it.
One of the evenings Burak and Özlem took us in the car to the Bosphorus shore where we sat down on pillows on the river bank and had tea. It was a bit cold and windy, but it was a great feeling to sit there and see the lights from the busy centre of Istanbul’s European side while large ships sailed past us like giant shadows.
The family has their business in another town and the father Volkan was away when we arrived but came back the last afternoon. He was a jolly man always joking and he and Özlem took out Wej and myself to have tea and Turkish desserts at a fancy cafe on the main shopping street in Kadiköy on the Asian side. We ordered four different puddings and put them in the middle of the table and Wej and I still argue about which one was best. One thing is for sure though and that is that all four of them were wonderful. I wish we could find that sort of dessert puddings in Sweden too.
To sum up our stay in the great city of Istanbul we can say that it is a city we will surely return to. We have seen far from all we want to see, but we have got our bikes serviced, rested and stayed with our friends and made new ones. We will come back but maybe not for the tourist attractions, but to see the friends we now have here.
We want to extend our big thanks to Gökhan for booking our rooms, arranging the service of our bikes and guiding us over to Asia. We would also express a big thank you to the Yalciner family for taking so good care of us during three very funny days. We hope to see you all soon again 🙂