The sound of Bosporus calm waves accompanied by the melodious azan* and annoying seagulls’ shouting that so excited of some leftover food, the chattering of youth groups with their (somewhat-interesting) language, smells of roasted lamp which we usually call kebab along the way to… almost everywhere. Ah,, I somehow can’t always miss the chance to make a lay-over in Istanbul everytime I go abroad. Seems like it has become my ritual before or after I go abroad. Ah, my weird romantic relationship with Istanbul
So far, I have made 10 visits to Istanbul Turkey. That is from my current passport alone. I couldn’t find my old passport to count how many Turkey stamps on it. But why? “Why?!” Ask mostly of my friends. “Don’t you get bored of being a tourist in Istanbul oven and over?!” So here are some points of view I would share with you to (probably) answer “Why”. But before you scroll any further, please remember what Albert Einstein said that “Everything is Relative”.
Quality and Personality. When it comes to food, count me in! I’ve been traveling to some countries (yes not that many countries but at least I need more fingers on my hands to count them) and turkish cuisine is my number 1 favorite. For sure kebab has been familiar to me in the past decades. But there is too much food to explore in Istanbul. From super weird fermented carrot juice (şalgam) to this extraordinary Boza, from simple dessert like trilice to the remarkable signature Turkish breakfast.
But beyond those variants, what amazes me is the way they serve food. Maximum effort with personalities! The portion is always generous, and the price could make sense to my limited wallet (unless you eat in Bebek area). For sure, I eat outside during my visit. Like why would I cook?! I am in Istanbul! It is always nice to have pleasant experiences in a restaurant. And mostly Turkish restaurants in Istanbul give me that!
No tips are totally FINE! They never mandate for tips! Yet they serve with sincere hospitality, smile and care. (is it maybe I look like a foreigner?). Nevertheless, that naturally knocks my willingness to tip. As an asian, I feel so annoyed when a waitress told me “that does not include the tips” while passing me the invoice. I know every culture has their different custom when it comes to tipping. But in my opinion, tips should be a reward determined by the customer. Not mandatory. “In my opinion” I re-quoted.
The massive Turkish Breakfast and Socializing. Turkish is well known for its long duration big breakfast. You would probably confuse which food to start if you get it the first time. I observed that Turkish have big breakfast as an occasion for socialising, gathering with relatives or friends more than for regular everyday breakfast. Take your time, no one rushes you, enjoy the conversation, balance the heavy food with fresh vegetables they usually provide and you will be surprised how many plates in your table are empty in the end.
2. TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM
Two words. Integrated and Cheap! Oh no. Two words are not enough. Also easy, not too confusing, and convenient.
From/To Airport. Istanbul has three airports, Ataturk airport (now closed for commercial flight), Istanbul International Airport and Sabiha Gokcen International Airport. I remember once landed at Ataturk airport and took the metro conveniently to the city center of Taksim Square. They are still progressing for the metro line to the Sabiha Gokcen Airport. But Havabus buses are abundant from and to Sabiha Gokcen Airport (schedule link here), less than 30 liras. From and to the new International Airport of Istanbul (IST), passengers have a variety of choices. This fast bus called Havaist (schedule link here) with many destinations that will cost you maximum 30 Liras. Or you might choose regular bus from Istanbul Airport and Sabiha Gokcen Airport which of course will stop in many stations (but cost you only less than 10 lira), or private taxis. Oh I had experience once with taxi in 2020. It cost me around 230 liras to Kadikoy from IST, and cost me 170 liras from kadikoy to Istanbul Airport. Both are meters. No complaint though, taxi gave me privilege on my carriage and dropped me right in front of my door. Plus, no queuing and privacy is always expensive. Ha ha but I only try taxi once. I couldn’t be queen like everyday.
Well, as a visitor, it is essential to get easy access transportation from and to airport. This make one of reasons of my weird romantic relationship with Istanbul. I know, sounds too simple? But arriving at an airport with not much choices than paying too much for transport to city, is annoying. So thumbs up to Istanbul for this! Other than the airport, I can easily stroll around everywhere inside the city with one same card. Istanbulkart.
This card has been mine for maybe four years and still works! Top up the balance is pretty simple with the machine you can find in every station. Just put in mind that the machine will reload your card with the amount of money you put inside. No change. So don’t put 100 Lira if you only want 20. You will be able to travel using metro train, Marmaray train (the one crossing Bosporus strait underground. Yea I know it’s cool right?), tram, metro bus (fast bus with special track anti-traffic-jam), regular bus, and ferry. There is this small bus (Dolmus) that connects super close destinations which you have to pay with cash only. Check the complete transportation system map of Istanbul here.
Istanbul municipality is aware that they are in the third place of largest city population in the world. So guess what! They keep developing on transportation. Three weeks ago (earlier in August 2020) when I visited Istanbul, I was amazed that they are almost finished with the metro line to Sabiha Gokcen Airport. It was not on the news when I was there last September 2019.
3. MAJESTIC VIEW AND ATMOSPHERE
I usually travel in ignorance of basic historical info about new places. Coming to Istanbul for the first time in 2016, I knew nothing about its geographical condition details, and had only limited knowledge about Istanbul’s history from people. I couldn’t even be sure if they told me accurate information. Why wouldn’t I put some effort googling? Yes right! To get the naked impression of a new place. Each place impresses me in their own way. Yet, Istanbul ties me to an addiction. The city where the Black sea meets the Marmaray sea, and its narrow strait Bosphorus divides the continent, makes Istanbul a city that is located both in Asia and Europe continent. Super rich and generous nature I must say, surrounded by the mountain of Kocaeli, ideal climate with five distinct seasons.
Had been the capital city of three giant empires (Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman), it is indeed in my opinion located in the middle of the world. You can’t call it middle eastern nor Europe nor Asia. I was looking at my phone, scrolling instagram while enjoying chamomile tea in a cafe nearby Dolmabahche palace until stop scrolling on a posting quoting emperor Napoleon Bonaparte “If the Earth were a single state, Constantinople would be its capital”. Ah,,, back sipping my chamomile tea while thinking “No wonder!” and feel so grateful that I was there. You will be surprised reading histories behind Istanbul (used to be Constantinople). Won’t rewrite here for sure, like it will be too much and the history is just one click away.
Despite its political situation and the who-knows-when-it-ends Corona pandemic, the richness of culture, geographical contour and majestic view that is always eye spoiling, I would love to visit it again and again. But hopefully the municipality put a bit more attention to the littering behavior. Such a great legacy should have not been annoyed by the ignorance of modern people with less care for the environment. I think that’s it for now, I miss Istanbul now. Maybe I should check if I am lucky enough to get a flight ticket discount. And anyhow, there are still things I could not express through words how my weird romantic relationship with Istanbul happens. Maybe you can help me once you make a visit. Who knows.