Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Early morning arrival in Istanbul. And a visit to the Dolmabahce Palace along the Bosphorus.


I've been to Turkey so many times over the past 20 years that I've lost count.

Each trip has been interesting and memorable.

But I remember one particular visit to Istanbul several years ago with lots of fond memories.

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We arrived early one June morning at 4 AM from Hong Kong, after an incredibly pleasant flight.

After taking off from Hong Kong at 1130 PM, dinner was served and then it was lights out somewhere over China.

When we woke up six hours later, it was time for breakfast and then we were descending into Istanbul

There wasn't even enough time to finish the movie.


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OUR GUIDE IN ISTANBUL

At the arrivals terminal, we met our guide Ahmed, an enthusiastic young man who had studied tourism and history at a university in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Safranbolu. 



Safranbolu is five hours away from Istanbul by car along the Black Sea coast. I still haven't been, although it's on my secondary bucket list for sometime in the future.

"I will be at your service for the next ten days," he said, in a very nice, old-fashioned way. "We will do whatever you wish." 

It was still an ungodly early hour when we finally drove into Istanbul and across Galata Bridge, and few cafes were open for breakfast.


EARLY MORNING DRIVE

"Let's drive to Bebek," I requested. 

Bebek, one of the most fashionable residential areas in Istanbul because of its picturesque seaside setting, has always been one of my favorite non-tourist places. 

It's filled with million-dollar flats, chic cafes and nightclubs, beautiful buildings and lovely little shops and restaurants. 

It also has a wide promenade along a yacht harbour for walking around.



THIS IS WHERE I'D BUY A HOME IN ISTANBUL.
IF EVER.

If I ever lived in Istanbul, I always imagined getting a penthouse flat in Bebek and having a yacht parked nearby to tool around the islands. 

"Imagined" is the operative word here.

Although this is certainly one of the things I would do if I won the lottery jackpot.



Bebek was already bustling with fishermen lined up neatly along the promenade with their kits and their big plastic pails. 

Most of them had probably not even been there an hour.



However, their pails were already full with the bounty of the sea

As I passed by one of them, he handed me his rod and motioned me to reel in my catch. I rolled the fishing rod wire slowly up and there were four fishes dancing along the nylon wire.

FISHING FOR BREAKFAST



"Wow, I've only been in Istanbul an hour and already I've caught four fishes!" I said, rather proudly to my companion, who was frankly not very impressed. 

If we had had a grill, we would have cooked the fish right then and there with a little olive oil and salt, and eaten it with freshly-baked bread being hawked by an old man with a colorful bread cart.

As I said this aloud, Ahmed said, rather shocked: "Oh, we don't eat those fish for breakfast. We usually only have yoghurt, bread and cheese for breakfast."



A TOURIST DIVE AT SUNRISE

By then, the sun had risen and we were in the mood for breakfast. 

We headed for a tourist dive a stone's throw away from the Spice Bazaar where we had a standard Turkish breakfast tray each. 



It had three different kinds of cheese, a bit of ham, assorted breads, a plate of sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, and a little bowl of olives.

Accompanying it was very strong tea.


We'd already had a hearty breakfast on the plane so we weren't really hungry, but it seemed healthy and it tasted pretty good so we ended up finishing everything on our plates. 

Frankly, I think we were just happy to be in Istanbul so we were very easy to please.

A PALACE FOR SULTANS

From there we proceeded to the Dolmabahce Palace along the Bosphorus. 

This has been home to generations of sultans and then finally to Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey. 

I've visited this palace many times before, but it's so lovely inside that I always like seeing it again.

GIFTS FOR THE SULTANS


Writing about this now, I remembered an incident at the Dolmabahce Palace that just made me laugh

We'd been going around the different rooms admiring the beautiful furnishings, all the while accompanied by Ahmed who continuously pointed out objects of note.



"That's a gift to the sultan from Germany," he said, pointing to some large porcelain vases. 

And then a little later, he continued, pointing to a clock: "That's a gift from Russia." 

This went on for sometime until we had seen perhaps a dozen gifts from different countries.

THE GIFT FROM CHINA



When we passed a fire extinguisher along a nondescript corridor, my companion, in his usual deadpan humor way, pointed to it and said to me: "And that's a gift from China." 

I burst out laughing so loud that Ahmed looked at us quizzically

Of course this sort of perfectly timed joke is very difficult to explain afterwards.

But it certainly made my morning, on that beautiful day in Istanbul, on just another trip to Turkey in my never-ending, and never-endingly eventful Travelife.


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