If memory serves, a version of the Turkish flag made a cameo in the beginning of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula in the scenes that depict the bloody conquest of Eastern Europe by the Ottoman Empire. As they marched across Europe, wiping out Christianity, they’d battle, take heads, then push the flag into the muddy ground. Since I’ve seen the movie more than a dozen times, I associate the Turkish flag with Dracula (who, in real life, was not an Ottoman but fighting for Christianity). Anyway, I love this flag. It feels fearsome to me, yet spiritual, celestial.
Me and my husband are staying on the Asian side for five nights at the A’jia Hotel. Then, we’re at Witt Istanbul for six nights. We appear to be the only Americans staying on this side, possibly the only people staying in this hotel. We chose it based on what I read in travel magazines. All I can say is that what Elizabeth Becker wrote about travel journalism in her book “Overbooked” was brilliant. An excerpt:
Other lifestyle journalists thrive on critical reviews, explaining how and why they judge movies as great or miserable…Imagine if movie reviewers only discussed their favorite films, if restaurant critics only wrote about their preferred haunts, and music critics never wrote a scathing review … [Travel journalism] adds up to a largely pliant media that has become an extension of the industry it is supposedly covering
So here’s what possibly should have been said about the A’jia: This hotel is a place for long weekends for people already familiar with Istanbul.
Being over here reminds me of when I signed up for an English graduate course on James Joyce and I hadn’t even read James Joyce as an undergrad. We’ve plunged into Istanbul 402, when we haven’t even taken 101. If you are here for the first time, skip staying on the Asian side. Take a Bosphorus cruise and see the highlights.
Don’t get me wrong, the skewered, sweet treats the maid leaves in a coconut shell daily are nice. But we are isolated. And this side isn’t used to seeing tourists or hearing them muck up their language. We are at least an hour from the Old City when there is no traffic. And, let’s face it, with 15 million people, there is always traffic. It took us nearly 90 minutes to get from the airport to the “Welcome to Asia” sign as we crossed the The Bosphorus.
Today, we went for a walk along the Bosphorus. I wanted to see the town of Kanlica. I had heard that the yogurt was something to taste. It was. I also learned that yogurt tastes infinitely better when you sprinkle powdered sugar in it.
The micro-town of Kanlica, a mini-yogurt kingdom!
As you can see, that’s not only a neon pink sign proclaiming yogurt but also a serious yogurt stand. You can eat yogurt right in those chairs under the mulberry trees.
As we walked, we saw many people fishing, and fortresses here and there.
The sidewalk is at times broken, non-existent, made of old cobblestones, new cobblestone, repaired with concrete etc. All of the houses along the Bosphorus are gated off, with barbed wire in some places, and vid cams monitoring knocks on the door. They obscure most views. Buses and concrete trucks ramble down the highway. Construction is in full swing.
Then we came to Kandilli, where I hit pay dirt. A little background: Earlier this morning, I drank a cafe latte in our hotel; it was 10 TL (turkish lira or roughly $5). Then in Kandilli, I received this giant plate of food for 9 TL.
I got this without speaking a single word of Turkish. I’m not saying everyone was happy about my struggle. Certainly, after many aborted communication attempts with the waiter, I was forced to settle on chai. But then! I recognized the word şiş on the menu. I knew that ş was pronounced sh. Just like ç is ch. What type of meat I was getting was left to chance. Phew, chicken. Unfortunately that piece of pide (pita) obscures the most delicious yogurty dip called cacık (tzaziki).
I’ve had three meals in Turkey so I can say with absolute authority that portions are huge. They come with multi-plates. I ordered yogurt with muesli this morning and I got 7 bowls (yogurt, muesli, chopped fresh fruit, powdered sugar, jam, butter and a basket of bread). I ordered that kebab and got FOUR plates of food.
After lunch, we made our way back to our aging Ottoman Mansion on the Bosphorus. My husband walking into the mist.
In this shot, although gloomy, the skyscrapers almost seem etched in—a future imagined. And with this, I heard the call to prayer.
The photo credit below is for the Turkish flag at the very beginning of this post.