x0x Turkey Trot
x0x Turkey Trot
Smokin' beauties and a Byzantine climax for Nader Parakh in Istanbul
There is a city that straddles Europe and Asia. Draped around the Sea of
Marmara and cleaved in two by the dazzling Bosphorous. Byzantium to the
Greeks, Constantinople to the Romans. And headquarters of the Ottoman
Empire. This is Istanbul, definitely a city to see before you die.
You need time in Istanbul, time to let it all seep in, to marvel at your
location, looking across the Bosphorous from a waterside cafe on the
European bank to the tree-lined streets and glass-fronted apartments of
Asia. To take in the magnificence of the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque
that dominate the old city with its warren of narrow cobblestone streets,
bazaars and spice markets. To realise that underneath your hotel is a huge
cavern: A cistern from Roman times with massive columns holding up vaulted
brick ceilings, fish swimming in the dark below. Or just to walk--where
else can crossing a bridge mean crossing continents?
Do all this. Be a good tourist. Buy the trinkets. Take the snaps. While
around you 13 million people teem, oblivious to the fact that they live in
a geographical and historical wet dream. There is a frenetic pace here,
the local population leaves the gaping and gasping to the tourists.
Tearing around their city, charging on and off ferries, stuffing their
faces with doners (meat sliced from a rotisserie, stuffed in a crispy
salad roll) and simits (bread rings topped with sesame), all the while
smoking furiously and incessantly.
Yet there is a strange calmness here. The crowds are intense, but amiable.
The traffic is atrocious, but orderly. The markets are chaotic, but
spotlessly clean. Everyone has the time to smile, to help out. Turn the
corner off a busy street, and there is much chai-sipping and backgammon
playing to the quiet hubble-bubble of hookahs. Or move a bit away from the
busy areas of the waterfront to where rows of men silently fish, the sound
of traffic suddenly replaced by the lapping of water and the calling of
Just as there are two continents, there are also two personas to this
city. The efficiency and discipline of Europe beds the warmth and easiness
of Asia. Stately buildings nudge colourful markets. There are women in
strappy tops, smoking like chimneys and others in headscarves (also
smoking like chimneys). It's a city where you can sit at a bar full of
locals drinking Turkey's famous aniseed raki to the screech of Britney
Spears, and still hear the plaintive voice of the moulvi, calling the
faithful to prayer.
A super day trip is on the Bosphorous Strait, snaking up to the Black Sea
on the lumbering, majestic ferries, steaming between jetties on the
European and Asian sides. Past ramparts of fortresses from the Crusades,
past old wooden Ottoman houses and charming open air restaurants lining
the quay. You can get off and explore anywhere; we chose to go all the way
to the end, to Anadolu Kavai. A short climb takes you away from the sleepy
fishing village to a medieval fortress and a cockpit view of the
Bosphorous opening out to the Black Sea.
A thousand miles away from Istanbul, Cappadoccia in Central Turkey is
almost another country. Snow-capped volcanoes stand like silent sentinels
over deep valleys. This is a magical kingdom, where, for millennia,
erosion has played king, sculpting the soft pumice into impossible towers
and tearing apart the steppes to forge deep gorges. Man, as usual, was
quick to stake his claim, ancient tribes carving out stunning cave cities,
complete with kitchens, dining halls and churches in the pumice-like
It's perfect fodder for tourists, and droves of them stampede around the
main sites in organised herds. But the region is vast; stray a little off
the tourist trail and you are alone. Free to roam deserted valleys,
explore caves that never end and discover forgotten frescoes in deep cave
churches, filled with the sound of dead silence.
Our next stop was Egirdir, a small town that juts out into a sweeping
lake, ringed by mountains. This is the Turkey that never made it to the
tourist brochures. In the tiny village of Akpinar, we were warmly invited
to share an impromptu peasant lunch: Soup, potatoes, pasta, and freshly
baked bread, spread out on blankets under a walnut tree, everyone dipping
their spoons into the communal bowls. A short prayer ended the meal, said
with the earnestness of people who live close to the earth. They wanted
nothing from us, just a promise to write, to keep in touch.
Through the thick forests of the Taurus ranges, and suddenly, there she
is. The Mediterranean. Blue beyond belief, with strips of pure turquoise
where white mountains plunge into her. Our days spent on the water: Hiring
boats from a new town each morning to swim in distant coves, explore
far-flung islands and snorkel into iridescent sea grottos. This is
Turkey's Turquoise Coast. There is so much you can do, but the bliss is
in doing nothing.
Back in Istanbul, on our last evening, a perfect rainbow arched across the
sky, one end in Europe and the other in Asia. A celestial phantom, binding
East to West for a few, fugitive moments. This truly is the crossroads of