Never imagined that Turkey would be so awesome. Had heard accounts of the place from friends who had been there earlier, but nothing prepared me for what I was about to experience.
A narrow strip of land connects the Asian side of the city and the European side, with the Bosphorous Bay cutting through the middle of the city. The Bosphorous connects the Sea of Marmara (which in turn leads to the Mediterrenean) on one side and the Black Sea on the other. The blue of the Mediterrenean has to be seen to be believed. A pleasant 24 degrees C, we were told by our hosts that most of the populace had left for Antalya, a resort town by the seaside, to escape the summer heat! Our reaction was 'Heat? What heat!'
In Istanbul, the sky is clear and the air, crisp and invigorating. It reminded me of the Bangalore of the early 80's. Alas! There are very few high rises - most of the structures were not more than four stories tall and topped with red tiled roofs. The effect was awesome. There are signs of growth as well: the tallest building in Turkey (and the second tallest in Europe) was nearing completion, next door to our hotel. To add to the attraction of the place, our hosts were extremely gracious and hospitable. We are told this is true of Turkish people in general. The presence of our hosts saved us the trouble of having to survive on fries and bread. I was recommended various vegetarian delicacies: Black Sea omelette (a cheesy preparation of farm eggs and corn flour), veg mintas (fried dumplings with spinach, cheese and potato filling, though the dish in its original form has meat filling), egg plant salad (a less spicy version of our very own baingan bartha), pilav (buttered rice) with channa curry and bean curry (I forget the local names) etc.,
We were also taken by the surprising similarity between the Turkish language and hindi: pilav for buttered rice (our own pulav!), helva for halva, kofta, kebab, patata (for batata), dunya for duniya, sada for plain, hava etc., The place is full of roadside eateries, pavement cafes etc., We had our fill in some of these too: thick chewy Turkish ice cream, rolls, corn on the cob (mind boggling and a must have) etc.,
Unfortunately, since we had gone on work, there was little time to look around. Selim, one of our hosts went out of his way to host us: we drove around the walls of the old city, Hagia Sofiya (a medieval cathedral converted into a mosque), Sultanahmet Mosque (famously known as the Blue Mosque), Dolmabache Palace (the residence of Ataturk, father of modern Turkey). We also explored the place by travelling on local city buses, trams, metro etc., Ortakoy (a must visit for great night life) and Taksim Square / Istiklal Caddesi (for late European architecture, shopping) were some of the places that we visited.
With a long history and deep rooted culture, we found Istanbul to be an eclectic mix of the modern and the ancient: it is common to find a scarf covered woman wearing jeans.
All in all, a fantastic place: am surely going back for a vacation.