Istanbul was the first place my husband and I went for a holiday. Neither of us knew much about the city except that it was one of the most visited cities in the world. It was a sudden plan and we chose it because our calculations showed that the expense wouldn’t be much different from a week in Goa (where somebody was keen on going). We didn’t have much idea of Istanbul’s significance in world history till we were there and I personally felt so dumb. I am not exaggerating when I say that Istanbul opened our eyes to a whole new world. This world teased us through Istanbul and left us thirsty for more but even after all these years, I thirst most for Istanbul. What a loss it would be for mankind if Istanbul falls!
It was late at night in the month of December when we landed in Istanbul. It was drizzling and very chilly. The hotel restaurant was closed so we had to go out for food. It must had been around 2 am on a weekday, most places had closed, the alleys were empty, and yet Istanbul was alive. Both of us felt a different kind of exciting satisfaction but we didn’t realise then what it was. It was only upon returning home, listening to other people’s Istanbul experiences, and reading about it that we found out that maybe all who visits this place feel this common thing. That was the Istanbul effect.
The energy of Istanbul was so vibrant and almost surreal. We fell in love with everything that we saw and every place we visited and to be ‘in love’ is the most wonderful thing. From the trees, to the Marmara Sea, the beautiful centuries-old churches and mosques, the markets, and modern commercial streets, we loved them all. Even the calls for prayers (Ezan- Turkish) coming out from the mosques were beautiful songs to my ears. The Istanbulian hospitality is also one of the most talked about. Their genuineness are transparent and it is so apparent that they love what they do, whatever that may be.
I had prepared an itinerary for us and we definitely saw everything that was worth seeing or maybe even more. The most memorable sites we visited were Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, and the palaces. The queen of the show for me was Hagia Sophia, the Fourth century church built by Constantine the Great. It was the biggest cathedral in the world for almost a thousand years. When Sultan Mehmed conquered the capital city of the Byzantium Empire in 1453, he immediately ordered Hagia Sophia to be converted into a mosque to mark the beginning of the Ottoman Empire. It is now a museum and works are going on to recover and restore what is left of the church.
The visit to Princes’ island is a different story.
Istanbul was the capital of the Roman, byzantine, Latin and the Ottoman Empire spanning almost 16 centuries. It is still the historical, cultural, and financial hub of Turkey but because of its location, it isn’t the country’s capital. Previously known as Constantinople and Byzantium, the city is the bridge between Asia and Europe. One side of the city is Asia and the other side is part of Europe. This cultural confluence has given Istanbul its unique culture and much-loved charisma. It is this mixed culture that makes even first-time visitors like ourselves feel at home and at ease. There is a familiarity, something for everybody in Istanbul.
Writing about Istanbul and not mentioning the cuisine should be a crime. We are such foodies and the food there blew our minds, we enjoyed every single meal in Istanbul. The beauty of the food begins with the people of the restaurants wooing you to join them by explaining the items on their menus as if reciting beautiful poems. Most of the restaurants are family run with the women in the kitchen and the men serving the guests. The restaurants served the same dishes but we found that they were all different because they all have their own secret ingredients (I think) and their methods of cooking differ. My husband’s favorite meals, he says were a dish called Sultan’s favorite and the kofte (meatballs) sandwich we had on Galata Bridge.
When problems first surfaced in Istanbul last year, my first thoughts went to the good citizens. Bad times can change people and the people are the real charm of any place. I then thought about Istanbul addicts who would now have to think hard before visiting this wonderful land or who may never get to return. And lastly, I thought of all those who haven’t yet had the Istanbul experience. Despite of all that is happening, I am not yet ready to give up on the hope that I will return to Istanbul someday.