Saturday, 1 January 2011

Turkey for Christmas

... no, it's not what you think. For this year's end of year trip I went to Istanbul for a week from Christmas Eve until New Year's Eve - what's better for a Christmas hater than a city that doesn't celebrate it?
(By the way, Happy New Year!)

I returned to London just in time for New Year's celebrations and now, am still a bit hungover from traveling... I'm not sure what to make of this city. I was hosted by the most amazing and welcoming people in the world - which absolutely saved the trip!- and although nobody in the city spoke English (not even at the tourist information!) or any other European language, everybody was incredibly friendly.

Suprisingly, Istanbul, a city that sits on two continents, European City of Culture 2010, seemed more European to me than any city in the UK. While the notable sights were over-crowded with tourists more than I have seen in any other place, the rest of the city is somehow lacking soul. Istanbul is about the same size and age as London and the history of the city even more exciting, but it doesn't feel like it. Sultanahmet, the 'tourist' area, while pretty, feels sort of fake, and the rest of the city mainly consists of thousands of high-rise apartment blocks that were built within the last 30-50 years, with suburbs that never seemed to end. The 'clubbing' quarters were awkwardly tame, even at the weekend, and people seemed very monotonous - few 'foreigners', very monotonous fashion. The same goes for the food, which was essentially all the same Turkish fare, with the generic pizza and pasta thrown in.

The highlight of my Istanbul must have been the Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı in Turkish, literally 'Egyptian Bazaar') - a short walk from the main train station and ferry terminals in Eminönü, it's much smaller but more interesting than the heavily commercialised, touristy Grand Bazaar (no way of comparing this to the souks of Arab-influenced countries).

Teas, and spices. Ironically, they keep selling Apple Tea in all the tourist places in Turkey, although it's not a traditional drink at all.

I was very tempted to buy some of these beads of dried veggies, but ah, the easyJet hand luggage restrictions! I thought they were only for decoration, but apparently, they are popular in winter, as stuffed vegetables and more.

Sweets! Why is it that sweets and drinks in the Middle East must always be so cloyingly sweet?

Guys fishing at Galata Bridge - they are actually catching quite a lot. The bridge is always filled with people fishing, which makes you think a) don't they have anything else to do? b) How come there are such rich fish stocks there, when it's after all, a massive urban area?

Istanbul wasn't exotic enough to be fascinating, but not familiar enough to feel comfortable. In a nutshell, while it was all rather nice, it didn't excite me much. Have you been, and what did you think of it?

On another note, and to reconnect with the misleading title, I found this adorable Japanese cooking show on Youtube some weeks ago - Cooking with Dog. It has a great mix of traditional as well as westernised and 'everyday' Japanese favourites you wouldn't get in a fancy Japanese restaurant. Plus, it's ultra cute!

1 comment:

jan said...

Hi Steffi, I have not been to Istanbul yet. I like your honesty about how you experienced it. At least when I go there I won't feel odd if I don't get it either!