Just when you thought you knew the definition of light and colour, you hit the streets of Istanbul. You walk the streets and are presented with a kaleidoscope of colour at every turn. We are so lucky that we have been docked incredibly centrally, with a panoramic view of the city and its delights unravelling right in front of us. The Bosphorous river is flowing with activity, from high speed ferries packed with commuters and tourists to chance taking fishermen on their daily fishing duties. There are not many super yachts, it could just be the time of year, but it feels rather unique to be one of the few super yachts to be present in the city.
A short walk through the green Gulhane Park, outside the TopKapi Palace, is a treat for the eyes in itself. As you wonder through the gates, the lawns have been manicured into perfect swirls, surrounded by colourful mosaic pieces of art dotting around the garden. One of my favourite features – the Gulhane sign, see below. A beautiful big mosaic statue of it’s name, loud, proud and colourful. It attracts many people to its curves and angles of colour. It is quite entertaining to watch the number of selfie sticks that capture it. I had quite a laugh watching an elderly Chinese man trying to prop himself up on the letter “A”, while multitasking and trying to take a selfie at the same time. #Awkward. The selfie stick is a feature I have seen plenty of here.
All you have to do is look up and the Turkish architecture is towering over you from every angle. Bryce and I have gone into a number of the buildings (him more now than me) and been in awe of the high level of detail and ornate decoration so prevalent in the Ottoman empire. A brief little history of the areas we have been experiencing has led us to understand the incredible wealth that was held by these sultans and the measures they would go to to please their women (errrrrmmmm, Bryce take notes!).
The TopKapi Palace was a marvel, we spent a couple of hours (which was not enough) wandering around the grounds, walking in and out of different sections. The collection of armour, the collection of timepieces, the 9 kitchens and the entire room dedicated to the infamous “Mustafa”, a man famous for his calligraphy and poetry written for the Sultans. It was unreal, Bryce and I often commented on just how ornate the armour was. Imagine going into battle with a gold plated sword covered in gems and protected by a ruby encrusted shield. It is just a level of detail that Modernism cannot comprehend. As a lover of art theory, I do remember studying a little bit of the Turk and Byzantine empire and therefore the art pieces but especially the architecture rings some bells and sparks some trains of thought.
The attention to detail on the doors and the roofs however, is my favourite. Bryce and I happened to walk into a tomb next to the Haggia Sophia, which housed a couple of the sultans. And although the tombs themselves were rather boring, the tiled walls to ceilings were enchanting. We stayed there for ages trying to capture the beauty of every different pattern and every different colour.
These colours are continued as you walk through the gates of the Grand Bazaar. Every spare space is filled with coloured glass lanterns, bright-patterned handwoven Turkish carpets. We even had a moment when we could stop and watch a women weaving a carpet. Her eyes not even fixated on what she was doing, she meticulously followed some kind of mental pattern- beautifully combining rich bold impressionable colours. And then if the arts aren’t enough, you hit the tea shops, with every different kind of tea on offer, each flavour blending into a fabulous aroma as you walk around. You have to stop, you have to try it. Inside or outside the market, take the time to sit and listen to the people over a cup of tea. It is a must do. And if you land up buying a carpet instead of tea, well then the tea was obviously worth the time (we did!).
And now that you have had some tea, you have accidentally bought a carpet and you are needing a sweet treat, never fear, your next step, will have you encountering a plate of freshly made Turkish Delight or Turkish nougat displayed right in front of your nose. The colours and beauty of each perfectly made piece is to tempting to resist. We have even encountered a great little store in Karakoy (another district) that you can make your own Turkish Delight. Taste it and enjoy it, it is so fresh. My favourite are the ones with pistachio pieces and rolled in coconut. However, if you taste too many and don’t buy, you might want to buy one of those little turkish evil eyes to scare off the way the store owner will look at you!
After bartering and chatting and laughing with the talented Turks, escape and walk the streets, they offer as much entertainment, many more bright and colourful delights. The people are less pushy and the prices often more appealing. If your belly is still talking to you, don’t be scared to try the street food, buy a fresh pom juice or taste the bright yellow mielles braaied on the street cars. It’s cheap and cheerful and is a great filler in between meals and keeps the boyfriends smiling and happy to shop.
Crossing from old town over to Gallata is a must do on foot. There are so many sights and smells that might shock you, entertain you and delight you. The streets that run down from Old Town to Gallata Bridge are packed with little shops, either food or souvenirs. They cater more for the locals if you get far enough into the back streets. But then once you have mastered the maze, you find yourself coming out at a beautiful mosque, towering over the river front. Carry on walking (or go inside if you wish! It’s beautifully decorated) and follow your nose- the fish smells will guide you over the bridge. With dozens of men, hanging over the sides of the bridge, casting their lines and chatting away. Right behind them will be a cooler box with a couple of plastic cups filled with water and some small sardine looking fish floating around in there. Although not so appetising to think you might be eating those in restaurants, it certainly adds to the atmosphere and smell of your bridge walk. If you are lucky enough and hungry enough, you might catch this man selling some bread to put your fresh fish on to some bread rolls….
Let the streets lead you further up towards the Gallata Tower, you can see it from most places and then just let yourself get lost. The main street is obvious and while I say spend some time there, I do always encourage you to take the road less travelled, take a side street, eat a kebab at a local shop, listen to the locals busk on the street. And then, my best advice is look up. We have found the best rooftop bars, by just spotting some lights above us and following them up the stairs and lifts. It is there that the true beauty of Istanbul and it’s lights reveals itself to you.
That my friends, is where the magic happens.