What do you do in Istanbul when you’ve seen most of the major sights? Or, to specify, when you’ve had enough of the museums and palaces no matter how very enchanting they might be? Well, you can do the same we do in any of the huge cities: take a long walk. Generally, walking seems to have been dying out as an everyday activity anyway but I couldn’t imagine a more splendid way to come to grips with a metropolis, albeit a micro-small portion of it.
So, we’d returned to amazing buzz of Istanbul, the giant doorway between good old Europe and exotic Asia, and it proved to be just as lively and colourful as we’d remembered. The glorious history oozes from practically every stone and it is fantastically entwined in the oldest, the most central area of the city.
Once you’ve seen Topkapi, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Dolmabahce Palace and Galata Tower, each of them spectacular in their own right, you usually turn to more profane undertakings, such as crossing the Galata Bridge on foot and watching the fishermen, nosing around the labyrinth that is Grand Bazaar, shopping at the Egyptian (Spice) Bazaar, or taking a boat ride on the mighty waters of Bosporus.
You even might have, at one point, taken some time off to relax and be spoilt in a proper hammam. You’ve had your cups of kahva and glasses of çai (I mean, the actual tea not the disgustingly sweet, instant concoction I hear is being served all over Turkey for unknown reasons instead of a delightful black tea).
We love going around on foot. I somehow find as if walking opens my eyes wider to colours, smells and goings on. Besides, with all the delicious food consumed it’s a given. Every time I’m in Istanbul I’m taken aback by all the delectable meals offered in a vast array of establishments: from simple lokantasi where one usually rubs shoulders with working class locals to sophisticated roof-top restaurants with smashing views where people of Istanbul really love to get together over dinner.
We walked an area up and about Çukurcuma in Beyoglu, a district on the European side of Istanbul, simply because it was around the corner from the hotel we were staying at. Numerous streets and roads around here are as steep as mountains. Sometimes it seems as if one would actually need a pair of Velcro-soled shoes to not roll off downhill. Needless to say, there are countless options where to go for a walk, flat or steep, seaside or inland, European or Asian side, modern or more traditional neighbourhoods (like Sultanahmet, for example).
As this part of Beyoglu is a residential area, it’s not too crowded with tourists. Here even traffic, which in Istanbul is dense and swift with lots of horn honking, runs a bit slower. There are grocery stores serving the residents where you can find all kinds of delights. Take a hammam bath mitten made of goat hair, for example, that you use during shower for exfoliation and activating the blood circulation. You usually find those in hundreds everywhere in Turkey but the goat hair one is special because of its rough but pleasant texture. Apparently, it is a provincial product still made by a limited number of families using wooden looms.
Still in the shop, there’s a chance to examine the proper Turkish black tea, selection of spices, or dried rose flower heads to use in herbal teas or infusions. Turkey is one of the world’s leading producers of precious rose oil and delicate rose water for cosmetic and consumption use.
There are other interesting things to spot depending on what takes your fancy. I, by way of illustration, have a great liking for pomegranates. I like them eating so much I don’t find it too much of an effort to take the time to get all the juicy seeds out of the fruit by hand, of course, separating the white sticky membranes. Here, in one of the grocery shops, I spotted a curious pomegranate seed removal device, or should I say a plastic bowl with an attachment resembling a strainer with large holes. I wonder if it actually speeds up and eases the process. (I didn’t take the picture but I found one online.)
Talking of fruit, one of the things I find most compelling in Istanbul are their so-called vitamin shops that seem to be popped up everywhere. Here a passer-by can get a cup of reasonably priced, freshly prepared juice from an array of fresh fruit on offer: all kinds of citrus fruit, pomegranates, pineapples. Also, they seem to be serving fresh juice in every bar in town. Evidently they have a thing for fresh fruit juices which reminds me of Italy (Apulia in particular) where I can always rely freshly squeezed orange juice be served in practically every bar.
Street vendors are, just as remarkably, an unchangeable staple of Istanbul. They operate the lovely red carts and each is a specialist of one kind of food: simit (typical round shaped bread either sesame or nigella seeds strewn – delicious!), cooked/roasted corn on the cob, roast chestnuts, balik ekmek (characteristic fish of that sea, sandwiched). They’re very popular and everywhere, on the squares, at road intersections, or lining the busy pedestrianised streets.
Two most magnificent things came our way while we walked the Çukurcuma caddesi. First was Orhan Pamuk‘s, the Nobel laureate and one of the greatest Turkish authors, Museum of Innocence. I actually read the novel in question but I forgot about this museum being there. Quite a surprise!
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Bookworm’s paradise, Istanbul. The red building is the Museum of Innocence, that features in Orhan Pamuk’s novel of the same name. We passed by it incidentally today when we roamed the #cukurcuma, the mahala of said novel. As it happens, the museum is of Pamuk’s making and is an example of fiction turning into reality (rather than the usual other way around). I read the book a few years ago but have to admit I finished it in the second go so it actually took me a while. It requires a special kind of reader, a very patient one, I think. #istanbul #turkey #bookworm #wanderlust #travel #food #drink #people #payattention
Secondly, among the numerous antique (and junk) stores and galleries of the area we stumbled across Ozlem Tuna‘s shop-cum-studio with most delicately ornate porcelain and jewellery. I believe we spent almost an hour therein – another foreign lady lost her head to the beauty of the objects and ended up buying Christmas presents for her entire family. I too appreciate the local artist and craftsman and craftswoman above anything else. They bring so much of joy and awareness to us through their imagination and creativity.
There’s another (very traditional) craft very much visible all over Istanbul but not only there, may I add. Tursu or Turkish pickled vegetables stare at you from behind every other shop and restaurant window. As is the case with every pickle, these too are not only popular but also good for you (your gut will be thankful). It certainly is delicious and goes well especially with grilled meat. Or, if you’d like to adopt a more Turkish approach, with anything really, especially during colder months, or, as it seems to be usually happening to foreigners, new to pickles, completely on its own by spoonfuls straight out of the jar.
I already know where the next Istanbul walk is going to take place: definitely on the Asian side of Bosporus. Which means goodbye Istanbul – till we meet again!
Living in this sprawling megalopolis must be demanding on Istanbullus. As a short-term visitor you only take in the good stuff. Solely the number of ever-growing population is overwhelming (estimated 15 million). Just stop for a minute and imagine the time spent commuting, its cost, let alone the air pollution. Still, a lot of people want to be a part of Istanbul’s economic and cultural appeal and they all make it so very much attractive.
Readers should by all means embrace Orhan Pamuk’s novels that are set in Istanbul. Mastery!
My all time favourite Turkish dish has been red lentil soup. I don’t discriminate any other dish but this one is particularly dear to me: I can have it any time of day, it’s warming and spicy and tasty and always there. A Turk is said to indulge in it even for breakfast (I so understand this!). Apparently, there are as many recipes as there are cooks, so I’m sharing two links: Turkish red lentil soup and Turkish red lentil soup with sumac and saffron.
Turkish cooking essential ingredients via seriouseats.com
Cukurcuma guide via theguardian.com (It seems that our chosen walk has long been a popular venue.)