I already visited Istanbul about 20 years ago but it all really started when I was reading Jason Goodwin’s ‘The Janissary Tree’, a novel about Yashim, a crime-solving eunuch. His description of 1830’s Istanbul was so remarkable and so colorful I just had to see for myself again. And I must admit: getting older DOES effect the memory and I was sure the city had changed a lot over the years.
So there I was, determined to rediscover that fascinating national treasure and step into Yashim’s footsteps as he climbed all the way up from the Bosphorus to the Galata tower.
Day one – Contact points
Walking around in Sultanahmet I was pleasantly surprised by the ‘contact points’. In a lot of cities you find a pole with a touch screen that gives you information about the city or in the worst case you find a city map on a billboard with a red dot saying ‘you are here’. Istanbul has (well, in July anyway, I don’t know about the rest of the year) ‘human contact points’. I forgot to ask them but I suppose they were students who were very helpful in case you needed directions, information or a translation.
As I entered the Aghia Sophia I felt like a little child seeing his very first merry-go-round. I was so overwhelmed by the splendor I didn’t know where to look first. Hard to believe it has been standing there since the 6th century and survived man and nature during all that time. Impressed by all that beauty I decided I just had to see more that day. So where would Yashim go? I suppose he would have visited the sultan’s mother at Topkapi palace. So that’s where I was heading.
At Topkapi I did what every tourist did: try to find my way through the crowd, go with the flow and be happy and grateful to get a picture with not too many tourists on. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help myself imagining what Yashim the eunuch must have felt entering the harem.
Enjoying my walk through the park going out I decided my next stop would be the archeological museum where I was about to discover the Alexander the Great sarcophagus, a real master piece. I wonder how many days, months or even years that took (maybe as much as composing a new Belgian government after elections).
After admiring with my mouth wide open that work of art I decided to go upstairs. There I suddenly found myself jumping over knees and legs of young art students drawing and sketching roman and Greek sculptures. Yeah, I took a peek at some drawings of Istanbul’s young talent!
In all the excitement of visiting Istanbul’s finest I simply forgot to eat. The sounds coming from my stomach at that moment told me I had seen enough that day and that it was time to go back to the hotel, get a quick shower, rest my feet for a moment and enjoy a brightly colored aperitif, a nice dinner and a beautiful night.
Visiting Istanbul in July has some disadvantages and some advantages. You can’t see the tulips bloom and it’s so hot you would like to take a shower every 5 minutes but at night Istanbul is one big festival!
Sitting on the hotel terrace enjoying my raki (not so brightly colored after all) I heard the sounds of classical music coming from the Topkapi palace. A concert but no entrance fee, an amazing sunset on the Bosphorus, a spectacular view on the Aghia Sophia and the most delicious sea bass I have ever eaten. Can a girl ask for more? I don’t think so …
Day 2 – the other side of the river
Rise and shine! I had a big day ahead: I was going to cross THE Bosphorus where Yashim paid in gold for a kaïk to bring him across the river. I was determined to do the whole distance on foot despite of the practical advice the hotel manager gave me about taking the tram. The good man obviously came in very early in the morning and went home very late at night, at times where the trams are practically empty. As gross as this may sound, I actually prefer the smell of my own sweat then the one of 50 other tourists.
After accepting about 20 business cards of the fish restaurants situated on the lower part of the bridge I somehow managed to get across. First of all, I wanted to see the Galata tower. It was quite a risky business to get there. First, you have to get across the street. I learned an important lesson: Turkish traffic is NOT quite the same as Belgian traffic. Let’s just call it a challenge! Secondly, you have to walk up a street with a slope I had never seen in my life. Getting up there cost me as much sweat as the sweat from the 50 other tourists that came by tram. But was it worth the effort? It sure was!
On my way to Taksim Square I saw the most beautiful art nouveau houses. Such a contrast with the older part of the city…
After some refreshment at the hotel I decided to have dinner outside the hotel. I reckoned I deserved it since I came back on foot after reaching Taksim Square.
After watching the performance of a Janissary marching band I found this nice cozy restaurant where they served the most delicious börek. I decided to order the suggestion that was given by the waiter. At this very moment, I still don’t know the name but it sure was delicious and it was served with a lot of enthusiasm!
Day 3 – Büyükada
What a peaceful day! Ferry trip on the Bosphorus passing Haydarpasa and the maiden tower, promenade in a carriage to discover the natural beauty of the island and its magnificent houses, lunch by the sea, meeting the nicest people. Can my vacation get more beautiful?
Day 4 – Going home
You can’t go home without having seen one of Istanbul’s bazaars, right? Since I already bought some souvenirs for the ones who decided not to take this trip with me (sorry, kids, you were wrong not to do so), I decided to go to the Egyptian bazaar where I bought cherries which almost had the size of golf balls. No better place to eat them then at Gülhane Park. Surrounded by dozens of families enjoying a sunny Saturday morning I enjoyed my cherries until it was time to take a taxi back to the airport.
Since I don’t like goodbyes it must be: see you later, Istanbul! I’m definitely coming back, Yashim!
Christel De Preter , September.2011