With school closed, no urgent translations coming in and forecasts for foul local weather, Signor Lu and I decided to go to Istanbul for a few days.
We flew with Alitalia on a surprisingly problem-free flight. Even leaving from Milano Malpensa airport, where thousands of Italians were flying away from the bad weather, did not pose any particular difficulties. Our flight was delayed by only one hour.
THE CITY OF ISTANBUL
Istanbul is an amazing city. It has a population of 20 million according to our hotel manager; other sources say between 14 and 16 million.
Whatever the numbers, it is a sprawling metropolis with the geographical distinction of spanning two continents: Europe and Asia.
Apparently the Asian side is the residential side while the European side is where the majority of people work. So everyday there is a considerable amount of commuting madness.
We stayed in the Old City (European side) at the comfortable, conveniently located and well-run Ada Hotel.
We followed the Frommer’s 2-day itinerary, tailoring it to suit ourselves better.
On day 3 we went on a full-day guided tour with Turista which included a boat cruise along the busy Bosphorus strait, a waterway that connects the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea and which separates Europe and Asia.
On the tour we had lunch on Camlica Hill, the highest point in Istanbul, from where we obtained a magnificent panoramic view of the city.
I thoroughly recommend a tour with a local guide. The city, with its rich and varied history, lends itself to oral story-telling. There’s something noteworthy on every corner.
Furthermore, a local guide using the personal pronouns “I” and “we”, making remarks on matters from popular nightclubs to the trustworthiness of vendors at the bazaar, will give you a greater sense of the present-day city.
As for that present-day Istanbul, the streets are alive with Turkish men. Men walking. Men standing. Men sitting. Men. Where are the women?
These men greet you and ask you where you are from.
When I told them I was from Australia, they often said: “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. Oi! Oi! Oi!” Is there a correct response to such a greeting?
These men try to sell you something: ” Madam, would you like to buy a flying carpet?” They were fairly innocuous. “I’m just looking,” I said to a vendor at the Grand Bazaar. “I’m just selling,” he retorted with a smile.
We ate very well: seasonal, modern Turkish cuisine which reflected its Mediterranean and Middle Eastern geography.
The streets smelled of kebap and roasted chestnuts and the street food was particularly tempting. My personal favourite was the freshly squeezed orange and/or pomegranate juice. Delicious oranges. Delectable pomegranates.
The streets were also very uneven and full of unexpected holes and steps. Nevertheless it is a good city for walking and the seven hills on which it is built (just like Rome) mean you won’t be bothered by cyclists. (I’m thinking of Mantua).
In January the tourists were from Italy (a very idiosyncratic and immediately recognisable traveller), Japan (ditto), Spain, Russia, other Eastern European countries and Australia. There were always Australian hanging out in the wonderful Cigdem patisserie.
Of interest to me as a language teacher, was that these tourists communicated with each other and with the locals in English – some of it quite good, some of it atrocious (the tourists in the atrocious group weren’t my students, I swear).
Less than one week back and I’ve already taught a group of basic level English students the phrase: “Excuse me, there is a queue!” (And if that doesn’t work I suggested they try “line” instead of “queue”.)
We barely scratched the surface of Istanbul during this short trip but what I saw I liked a lot. Istanbul is a stimulating, lively and safe-feeling city and you will never feel ignored (especially if you visit a bazaar).