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Istanbul is a city that is neither Asian nor European, but stands alone as a unique city claiming its very own culture, cuisine and rich history. Istanbul is truly a city I would return to in order to revisit its markets and islands and taste its ice-cream and apple tea. Here are a few of my favorite things.

ISTANBUL IS THE PERFECT FUSION OF EUROPE AND ASIA

Istanbul is bicontinental in that one part of the city lies in Asia and the other in Europe. One third of the city’s population reside in the Asian part whilst the historical and commercial hubs lie on the opposite European side of the Bosphorus.

Walking through the famous Beyoğlu district amongst the patisseries, cafe art galleries and Art Nouveau buildings I was transported to Europe. Ancient red trams still make their way amidst the streets, offices and shops. It’s so true what the Turkish Airlines video has to say on the duality of the city “Two cities. Two speeds slow and fast” .

THE LAVISH ARCHITECTURE OF FALLEN EMPIRES

If there is ever city whose architecture will leave you spellbound, it’s that of Istanbul. Byzantine and Ottoman rule left the greatest mark on the city and what a picturesque one it is. There are traces of Greek and Roman influence too in the Hippodrome of Constantinople and the Column of Constantine.

The Majestic Hagia Sophia was built in the 6th century and fallowed this succession after beign the margest cathedral in the world. The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) rings true to its name with delightfully adorned interior walls with blue tiles. The Topkapi Palace was the home of Ottoman sultans for 400 years and has the most tranquil gardens.

THE ROYAL ISLAND OF BUYUKADA

Buyukada means “Big Island” in Turkish and ‘Prince’ in Greek and is the largest of the Princes’ Islands in the Sea of Marmara. This was an island where exiled kings and royalty spent their days. It has an age old charm about it. Locals take tourist around in elaborate horse carriages, wooden houses stand tall having been there for years and the town square’s flags fly brightly in the midday sun.

I take a moment tı sit beneath a yellow umbrella and lick my ice cream. Waiters beckon us from the seafood restaurants beside the shore. I find a stairway leading all the way up between white, wooden houses. On higher ground, I can get peaks of luscious gardens through the gates and Istanbul across the sea.

IT RESEMBLES THE SET OF ALADDIN

I’m convinced that if Jasmin and Aladdin were real, they would reside in Istanbul. Whenever I turned a corner there would be a sultan’s palace, a city market or sometimes a giant lamp of sorts. Outside the Hagia Sophia, vendors displayed their colourful wares of hats that would make Aladdin and the Sultan proud.

EXPLORING THE CITY VIA BOSPHORUS FERRIES

The Bosphorus straight separates the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea and provides unique angles from which to view the city. Once the waiting is over and you’ve found your seat on an outside bench, put your feet up and watch the cityscapes pass you by. Even from the water, the palaces and mosques tower above everything else and the sun gently sheds light on the gentle waves.

THE GRAND BAZAAR

This old market is one of the largest covered markets in the world. This is a market you need to set time and money aside for. I went there broke. Not my finest moment. As I made way through alleys of lanterns, jewellery, instruments and belly-dancing belts, I kicked myself for not bringing money. The rings alone could have occupied all my time as I fitted on one ornamented ring after the next.

TURKISH APPLE TEA
I would return to this land just for its heavenly tea. It is also known as Elma Cay and is treasured throughout the country by the locals. Ingredients are said to be found along the Black Sea coastline. And if you’re attempting to make it. I’ve heard it’s a case of simply adding apple flavouring and spices to good quality black tea, but I could be wrong.

Often this tea is the first thing served upon being seated at a restaurant. A wonderful pastime of many rug store owners is to invite you into the store, serve you apple tea and start conversations on Turkish rugs and beyond. I had no interest in buying a rug, but I often stayed for the tea.

TURKISH ICE CREAM

If you like ice cream then Dondurma (Turkish ice cream) may blow your mind. I must admit that I consumed ice cream nearly each day I was in Istanbul, for three weeks. It is truly like no other ice cream. It doesn’t have the usual texture, takes some time to melt and tastes a lot chewier. These unique properties are made possible by two ingredients: salep, flour made from the root of the Early Purple Orchid and a resin called mastic. Not all vendors in Istanbul have this particular ice cream originating in Kahramanmaras but all variations are delicious. Many a time, the vendor will add a mini performance to the sale. So you’ll get way more than just ice cream.
by LAUREN McSHANE

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