Friday, April 2, 2010

Places I've been - Istanbul (fevkaladenin fevkinde)

Never mind the smog.  There is so much traffic that it will cease to upset you. (gamsizlik.) Do as Istanbulis do - enjoy the sea breeze on a sunny afternoon against all odds. And with this weather in late February everyone has the tourist spirits in this city, and it is the street vendor who is happiest.

Highlights & Insights 

- OO-ooo-hh SIMIT & tea for breakfast on the ferry/vapur. Some people will burn in hell for banning smoking on these white sea monsters. Too many people have already lost too many perfect moments for a cigarette. Too much weight to carry for human conscience.

- A walk up the steep winding streets (keciyolu misali) from Karakoy to Istiklal. I'm telling you, try and sneak into one of the buildings and get to the roof if possible. The view will be worth the trouble. Hint: Try the SAE music school, say you are interested in studying audio engineering. The roof is divine. (benden duymus olmayin.)

- A short stop to gaze at the Galata Tower and to take photographs that actually capture the whole tower from the base. Think about going up several hundred flights of stairs to enjoy the view, but remember you may not be comfortable with crowds at that altitude. (Not sure if there is an elevator, never been up there.) Wonderful boutique restaurants serving Mediterranean and Ottoman food in the area. 

- The unavoidable music tour in the one and only Tunel. A parade of wannabe-musicians and stoned artists rushing to the art gallery with their last piece in the exhibition. Getting past the humming crowd of frustrated teenagers on the verge of tears trying to persuade their mothers to buy the promised guitar, stepping inside Zuhal music store to have a quick peep at those rare gems, and perhaps a longer one at the occasional aspiring jazz guitarist trying one out. Up until reaching Istiklal, being surrounded by the sights and sounds of music - and among the Fenders, Bosendorfers and what not, almost spotting a celebrity or two. Buying a cup of fresh orange and pomegranate juice for 3 liras and enjoying as you go along.

- One should be smart. One should turn left when one reaches Istiklal Caddesi to take a road maybe not less travelled but surely more interesting. There is an almost undetectable tall dark iron door facing the tram stop. It's the gateway to a century-old passage. Step inside, and boom! - that's (post-)modern day Alice in Wonderland to you, and I'm not talking about Tim Burton. Then the perfect dilemma - a cold bohemian beer on the sidewalk, or an ultra-chic cocktail at The House Cafe? (Damn! Both, if only I had enough money for every bar in Asmalimescit for the whole weekend!)

- One should not forget hunger. One should rather forget about the hygienic alien cafe food and head straight to the fish market street (Balikcilar Carsisi). OOO--ooo--hh the smell of frying fish, clams, calamaris and the one and only kokorec at Sampiyon. (If I were a sea creature, that street would be my meccah - no offense.) If still worried about sanitary conditions and your cardiovascular system, eat grilled fish and midye dolma (cooked clams stuffed with rice - oh gruesome translation!) at Golden Horn restaurant on the sidewalk. 

- In Istanbul, you need a glass of raki with grilled or fried fish as you need an umbrella in the rain. Or, failing to drink raki with fish is like failing to catch the last vapur. (I think maybe the point is clear by now.) Note: Drink raki only if you did not consume any other alcoholic beverage earlier, and drink responsibly (efendi gibi iciniz), or you might regret it for the rest of your part-time alcoholic career. If you grow tired of raki, though I cannot imagine how that is possible, you might consider a beer or two afterwards (cila).

- If more in the mood for street food by the end of the night, the last stop is Kizilkayalar (as the area is called) for a bite of the notorious 'wet' hamburger. More about that object of love and hate here and here.

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