Istanbul days, Istanbul Nights

It’s hard to begin to tell you how far away I feel from Zincirli right now – and I haven’t even left the country. The last few days in Istanbul have whizzed by, although as I lived through them the hours seemed packed to brimming. I’d have been on here, posting and gushing, much sooner, but I’ve had technical issues that I hope are now resolved.

We left Fevzipaşa in the wee hours of the morning last Friday. Most of us were on the same flight, but there were multiple layers of farewells – at the belediye, the Gaziantep airport, the Istanbul airport – until at last it was only Evren and I. We were met by her family and travelled to their home on the Asian side of Istanbul. They were delighted to have their daughter home of course, but there was a warm Turkish welcome for me as well; I felt immediately comfortable in spite of the language barrier. I enjoyed my best Turkish breakfast ever – home cooked and generously varied. Turkey is renowned for breakfast and several fabulous morning meals later, I absolutely know why!

As I said, the past days have whizzed by – it’s hard to keep it all straight. There was a neighbourhood bazaar, evening çay with Evren’s family by the sea in Kadıköy and kofte by the Maiden Tower, shopping on the packed, labyrinthine streets of Eminönü in the old city and hi-tech shopping on Isiklal Avenue across the Golden Horn. We bought the most delicious fish sandwiches enjoyed roadside from Evren’s favourite street stand in busy Karaköy in view of the Galata Tower. We shared a quieter meal on the “French Street” – which is little more than a lane way of staircases bracketed by cosy restaurants – completing the evening by catching a rooftop concert by one of Evren’s favourite local singers – a lovely young man who included a number of English songs in my honour. There were early evening drinks on a roof patio overlooking the Bosphorus and a Sunday morning breakfast buffet with Zincirli friends past and present over looking the gardens of an historic park.

Whew. And then there was yesterday.

I adore spending time on the Adalar – the Princes’ Islands. The islands are a ferry ride away from the city, but another world entirely – so sweetly picturesque it makes your teeth hurt. There are no motorized vehicles on the islands – only bicycles and horse-drawn carriages. The pastel coloured buildings are stacked up the hillside like wedding cake and the gardens brim with jasmine, trumpet vine, bougainvillea and oleander. We met Nergis, our camp manager, on the boat out to the second island, Burguzada, where she’s had a home for some years. We wandered along the lanes to the sea for a leisurely afternoon swim. Later we went down to the harbour where the there are almost as many little restaurants lining the quay as there were boats anchored. Nergis chose her favourites from the menu for us. I was once again reminded that Turkish cuisine embraces far more than I have yet experienced. My favourite new thing was a mixed plate of sea greens – whoever would have guessed?

The evening wore on, the moon rose over the sea and a party took the table next to us and proceeded to unpack an Anatolian harp. The genial harpist played Turkish art/folk music while the others looked up lyrics on their smart phones. Nergis and Evren, however, knew all the songs by heart and were soon chiming in. This delighted our neighbours so that later, when our ferry arrived and we began our farewells, they pleaded with us to stay longer and offered us passage on their boat.

Okay. I know what you are thinking. Don’t think that.

The night was magic from beginning to end: wonderful food, delightful music, meaningful conversation with a group of thoughtful Turkish professionals and a starlit swim from a sailboat anchored off an island in the Marmara Sea. A taxi took us from the marina to home in the early morning and I lay abed dreamily feeling the boat rocking beneath me, asking, ” Did that really happen?”

Only now I’m wondering: is the upcoming two week tour doomed to play anticlimax?

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