After a week of exploring the city by myself, I was happy to welcome home one of the two friends whose flat I’ve been staying in. Yay, company! With a couple of her friends, we took off to the Asian side of the city for the day, which was quite a novelty to me.
Istanbul is divided by the Bosphorus strait (connecting the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara), which forms part of the continental border and therefore puts some of the city in Europe and the rest in Asia. You can hop continents quickly and easily, and the view as you cross the water is spectacular. I wasn’t able to take any photos as I was clinging on for dear life on the metrobus while wedged under someone’s armpit at the time, but maybe I’ll get some next time, when I intend to take a leisurely ferry ride across instead.
There’s not really anything ‘touristy’ to see on the Asian side, but that’s kind of what I liked most about it. The place is a maze of narrow cobbled streets, interesting shops, cool bars, and unique cafes, and full of local people taking life at a more laid-back pace than over on the generally chaotic European side. We wandered for a while, pottered around a few shops, went to a few bars, and returned to Europe for dinner and some mild poisoning and asphyxiation by tear gas (apparently there was a wee bit of rioting just before we got back).
I have so much I could write about, but I’m choosing – quelle surprise! – the food. As suspected, having more experienced Istanbul residents with me opened up my options quite considerably! We had an absolutely delicious Turkish breakfast in a quaint little cafe in Kadıköy (Asia) and a tasty and filling dinner in the riot police-filled Taksim Square (Europe). I have now experienced much more than kebabs. Hurrah!
Breakfast involved ordering several dishes and sharing them, so I got to try loads of different delicacies. There was a basket full of soft, fresh bread, a delicious scrambled egg mixture involving peppers and tomatoes, a pan of fried eggs over a minced beef concoction, lots of tiny dishes of olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, cheeses, and so on, and a few olive-based pastes that tasted absolutely divine with the bread. Beats a bowl of cornflakes if you ask me!
Later, as we started making our way back to the European side for dinner, we stopped at a street vendor’s cart to stave off the cold and hunger pangs, and each got a paper cup filled with hot, buttery, salty sweetcorn, which we ate with plastic spoons as we walked. So simple, but seriously satisfying… and costing next to nothing, too.
Back in Taksim, we escaped the aftermath of the riots – with much choking and sneezing – by piling into a warm, richly scented restaurant. I ordered a bowl of thick, comforting lentil soup, and some pide – a long piece of flat bread which can be eaten with any variety of toppings, kind of like a pizza.
Each choice had been recommended to me by a different person, and both were delicious. I washed them down with a large, frothy cup of ayran, which the Turks seem to drink with everything. It’s a bitter-tasting yoghurt drink (but with the consistency of milk) mixed – somewhat bizarrely – with salt. I won’t start proclaiming my love for it any time soon, but it was nice to have a meal that was traditional right down to the drink, and I finished my cup. Odd to my taste buds, but not unpleasant.
My first week in Istanbul has slowly wound down, and despite my uncertainty about what the next few weeks have in store, I know without a shadow of doubt that I absolutely made the right decision when I decided to quit my job and leave Prague. Life is too short to spend it counting down the days. There are friendships to be formed, places to explore, other jobs to apply for, foods to be tasted, drinks to be tried, sights to be dazzled by, streets to be wandered, and adventures to be had. What a waste to put it all off because you made a wrong choice and feel obliged to see it through!