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Saturday, July 11, 2020

Armchair travel: A love letter to Istanbul, Turkey

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Ah, Istanbul.

Right now, I would give anything to be caught up in the euphoria of your chaotic, cobbled streets; to wander through Sultanahmet Square and marvel at the Byzantine architecture. If only your ancient Walls of Constantinople could speak.

I’d love to meander past your large carts laden with juicy pomegranates; windows stacked with pyramids of Turkish delight; and baklava drowning in sticky sugar and loaded with pistachios. To see your vendors selling steaming-hot sweetcorn and roasted chestnuts; to be harassed by well-meaning “tour guides” offering skip-the-queue tours into Hagia Sophia – which, at the ripe-old age of 1400 years, is still as fabulous as ever.

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I want to duck under an archway and into a back-road bazaar selling beautiful handmade jewellery. I want to explore your modern shopping district, Taksim and, once there, to dodge the trams screaming up the streets. I’d love to order a dondurma (Turkish icecream), if only for the theatrics of its vendors, who sing enthusiastically as they churn the hell out of the icy mixture with large paddles.

I miss your joyous wedding celebrations – the singing and dancing so loud it filters through the streets and continues late into the night. I miss being lulled awake by the haunting, early-morning call to prayer that echoes from the Blue Mosque.

And who could forget the Bosphorus? A heaving strait of water separating one city into two continents; to be sitting in Europe but to almost be able to touch Asia is priceless. I want to watch the sun set from your river banks again, a frosty glass of raki in hand at the stunning Feriye Lokanta restaurant and gaze at the Ortakoy neo-baroque mosque lit up at night, hovering on the water.

If I close my eyes I can remember your sights, your smells, so vividly.

I remember those smooth-talking cafe owners trying to lure me into their establishments with the promise of a delicious mezze plate; lavash made in a tandoor and puffed up as big as my head. And who could forget that potent, almost-psychedelic coffee you could stand a teaspoon up in?

In Turkish culture, they say the thick, muddy coffee grounds will tell my fortune … do they predict we’ll meet again? I hope so.

– Courtney Whitaker

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