Jamie Goes to Istanbul. FINALLY! (Part 1)

Sorry I’ve been slacking on posts big time. When my life did a 180 and I suddenly found myself working as a full-time pastry chef, that didn’t leave much time or energy for blogging, let alone much else.

In a fit of frustration at the demanding work schedule, lack of fresh air, and disbelief that Will and I have been together for more than one year but haven’t even flown away together yet, I up and booked a 4-day trip to Istanbul. In my mind, for the past 5 years that I’ve been dreaming of visiting, Istanbul signifies everything beautiful, exotic, elegant and eclectic. How can you not be seduced by an ancient city — formerly called Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire (hence, like, the WORLD) — that literally straddles Europe and Asia, with design, art, food and culture that has a whiff of European elegance and a Middle-Eastern exoticness?

I’ll break this down into the days spent there, with this post giving the scoop on Day 1. Hope you enjoy the pictures, and I’m aiming add more.

DAY ONE

Squeak into the plastic-leather seat of an old Turkish Airline plane slumbering at Heathrow Airport, look out at the gray London sky through half-woken eyes. Kick off leather boots — my feet only had 5 hours’ rest since coming home from work as a pastry chef. Pastry…. mmm, can’t wait for the delicately layered Turkish pastries, borek and baklava. Squeeze semi-conscious boyfriend’s hand; wheeee, it’s actually happening: We’re going to Istanbul!!! Zzzzzzzz.

plane

Arrival a breeze; take straightforward ride on the pretty crowded, but modern tram and help an old Turkish granny onto a seat during a pretty jerky ride . Check into a modest little hotel, among the many on a road leading straight to the Topkapi Palace. Unload then reload with a walk towards Galata Bridge, which connects the Old City with hip Beyoglu district just across a narrow shimmer of water, passing through a couple of mosques and chestnut vendors, whose ubiquitous presence fills the air with smoky scent.

At Galata Bridge you’ll find a square on the edge of the Bosphorus’ waters, packed with lively, ramshackle seafood stalls. People snarf down grilled fish wraps and sandwiches at all hours of the day seated on low stools and tables while, behind, the chefs animatedly grill the bounty of the Bosphorus on wildly throbbing boats tricked out with large charcoal grills. Postpone temptation and step onto the lower deck of the bridge, which stretches door-to-door fish restaurants across the waterway. They are  packed with people sitting indoors and out. We choose the most humble one (and least populated by tourists) at the end of this lineup, which looks like a diner due to its wooden booths and conspicuous lack of tablecloths, silverware or pretension and lots of Turkish people, young and old. We point at the cheapest thing — “FISH BREAD SALAD 5TL” — which we guess is what everyone else is having: oversized Italian baguettes with grilled mackerel, lettuce, onions and lots of lemon juice. Simple and delicious chased with Efes beer while the sun sets on the Bosphorus. People on the top deck of the bridge reach and pull at the Bosphorus with their fishing lines, which sway hilariously near us while we eat below.

Galata bridge

(The above image borrowed from Google image; I didn’t take a pic of the bridge that evening)

We’re exhausted and head back to the hotel, swinging into Hafiz Mustafa baklava shop (in business since 1864, and beautifully decorated inside with colourful Iznik tiles and gilded display cases… so it must be good!) before indulgently supping on these sweet treats under the covers. Tomorrow will be a big sightseeing  day so we rest up.

Helpful travel notes:

Metro cards can be bought for 6TL (HK $25) deposit and can be shared between two people

Hafiz Mustafa: Hobyar Mahallesi Hamidiye Caddesi No. 84, Sultanahmet, Istanbul (http://www.hafizmustafa.com)

Next up: The Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and kittens everywhere….

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