Checking in to our apartment I noticed that the young gent at the desk was listening to Nusrat's Qawwalis. There followed an immediately approval of Istanbul!
At the cross roads, this city has got to be one of the most interesting and beautiful places on earth. Visually as stunning as Vancouver, but with the added flavor of the East and a long rich history that makes it a whole lot more interesting. Vibrant and with many contrasts, it's 13 million people somehow manage to live together in relative harmony. For its relaxed way of life I am sure that Turkey is the envy of its many neighbors in the Middle East.
We were two families traveling together, a group of nine people, staying in adjacent apartments just beneath the Galata Tower and overlooking the Galata Bridge in the first part of our trip. Our teenagers had the company of friends so it was just perfect. They traveled around the city, independently without difficulty.
If you go to the top of the Tower you get a real feel of the ambiance of the city that is created by the cobbled streets and ancient low rise buildings around Istanbul. The blue water of the Bosphorus and the bustle of ferries adds to special lively atmosphere. The Bosphorus is visible from most vantage points and helps connect the Asian part of the city to the European. My favorite place to eat out was at the restaurants beneath the Galata bridge. Though these can be expensive at times, their sea food was fresh and delicious. Beware of waiters encouraging you to order way more than you will be able to consume. Also interestingly the shish tavuk (chicken roll) that you can buy off the roadside stalls or the fish you can buy off the boats at Eminonu for $3 is both safe and a delicious quick lunch. Almost too good to be true. Another great eating experience were at the many Mezze restaurants in the narrow alleys off the Isteklal Caddesi (street).
The simplest things though brought me the most joy. Their fruit for example is tremendous. Lots of variety and many exotic fruits in abundance. They have the flavor of the sun that is often missing here in Canada. Prices are very reasonable. My favorite were the Anjeer (green figs) that were pink on the inside, filled with a sweet nectar and they were size of oranges. Such a smooth texture in the mouth. Nadir fell in love with the Sheftali (peaches) and at one go polished off about a dozen on the long drive towards Izmir.
Vaqar and I usually trudged up the hill in the mornings to the bakery and fruit vendors to get fresh bread, simit (Turkish bagel) that come in many flavors, as well as many fresh fruits. Everything was very reasonably priced for those used to Canadian prices. Our friend Arsev in Montreal had told us all about these wonderfully unique Turkish things that we would enjoy. The Simit vendors are often seen standing on traffic lights or at tourists sights selling their simits for the breakfast.
My pictures of places of interest can be seen at the following links Hagia Sofia, Sulaimani Jami, Yerebatan Saray Cistern, Topkapi Palace, Sultan Ahmed,. The beautiful old architecture, the stylish Isteklal Caddesi, the many ancient decorated mosques, the hammams and the many cobbled streets help make up the character and soul of Istanbul. Though most cab drivers are quite honest, beware.. repeat beware of cab drivers near the grand bazaar who will often try to trick tourists and pickpockets near the busy area of Eminonu. Having said that, I know that every large city has areas that are not completely safe. One just avoids them at odd hours.
Electric Trams that charge $1 for any journey as well as ferries are a super efficient way of getting around Istanbul. They are both clean and always on time. Don't even think of renting a car unless you are heading out of town, or you will get bogged in traffic and have difficulty finding parking.
The second leg of our trip was to explore the archaeological site of Ephesus or Efes was really the main reason to visit Turkey. It was a long drive from Istanbul that involved a ferry across the sea of Marmara with our van. On the way we discovered that Turkish roads and drivers are not really as bad as they are made out to be. The journey itself was an experience, with many stops to buy fresh and juicy Sheftali on the roadside ($1 for a dozen would you believe). We had lunch in a simple restaurant that all of us loved. Kofta kebabs, Tavuk (chicken) and Adana Kebabs followed by hot chai or Turkish ice cream. It was starting to get quite hot the more we headed south to the Mediterranean area.
Ephesus is the best-preserved classical Roman city on the Mediterranean, and a place that gives the feeling for what civilization was really like in Roman times. It was a strategic coastal gateway to the Eastern World and it grew to be the second largest city in the Roman Empire.
We stayed at Kirzali, a small village about 10 km from Ephesus, and away from the commercial style rush and touristy places.
Onward from Kirzali our caravan headed towards Fethiye and the turquoise coast of Turkey. We had reserved a waterfront place in the South at Kalkan.
This is where the water is crystal clear and the kebabs are deliciously juicy. The experience was a little different from the usual holidays because we lived in a residential area with other local. It has got to be one of those rare countries where the moment you announce that you are Pakistani by origin, you get a smile and suddenly you a brother. There were places where people refused to take our money for roti etc.
In school they are taught about how Muslims of South Asia helped the Khilafat when they were in need. The generosity of our women, who donated their jewellery is still remembered. In school they are also taught the poetry of Iqbal and some will actually quote from it.
One of the things you realize early on is the Turks love music. Stores selling musical instruments are all over their cities and one can't help but wonder how many people are involved in the industry of producing instruments. There surely must be a lot of people who play the various string instruments that are on sale in thousands of stores in their bazaars
Sufi Music and pure classical music is big and musicians are held in high esteem. I wonders what happened to the similar culture in Pakistan. We can surely learn from our Turkish brothers and revive the interests in the arts and sufiana poetry.
A BIG thanks to Arsev & Sela for being our guides before we left home to discover their beautiful country. I could go on and on with praise about Turkey. How I wish that Pakistan would have been a bit like that. It is a perfect place for a holiday or even your retirement.