What has caught my eye in Istanbul?
Cats, tea and cartpets. Istanbul is definitely a city totally different to any cities I'd seen before.
I thought it would be fun to share with you what I noticed initially when I arrived and what caught my attention as totally new to what I'd already knew.
1. A cats' city.
Cats are absolutely everywhere. And they are quite friendly ones. Happy to pose for a picture, keep you company on a sofa in a cafe or to simply lie everywhere they can take in some sun. No chance you're gonna avoid them so just accept them.
2. Maybe tea?
There's always a good time for a cup of tea. And I'm not talking only about an essential part of sales negotiations (whenever you're going to buy something, expect to be served a tea). Every traveller who is happy to share his stories will be welcomed with a cup of tea. Do you start you work? Do you finish? Do you have a break? Tea is always a good idea. Do you have a headache? Or stomachache? Or simply feel under the weather? There is a good tea for that too. Turkish always drink tea. The way of serving tea has also caught my attention. I'd been used to drink coffee from cups or mugs. Here the tea is served in see-through glasses. I learnt that drinking tea is supposed to please not only our taste-buds but also our eyes. If you're wondering what a good souvenir from Turkey would be, I would say tea is perfect.
Carpets are literally everywhere. And everyone wants to sell them to everyone. They are expensive so if someone manages to sell one, it is good money. It doesn't matter if you look like a backpacker or a wealthy tourist. You don't have a space for a carpet in your backpack ? No problem, they can ship to your country. Maybe your mum will enjoy it? I've tried to give so many genuine reasons why I don't want to buy a carpet. Not stopping by carpet stalls and only appreciating them from the distance turned out to be the best strategy.
4. Turkish cafe
It takes more time to prepare a traditional Turkish coffee than to prepare a tea. Also, not every place has "the equipment" to prepare a proper coffee. For this reason, inviting people over for a tea is much more common than inviting them for a Turkish coffee. You can drink a tea with everyone, it doesn't involve much investment neither from the who is inviting nor from who is being invited. A few minutes and tea is ready. Perfect for a short chat or a longer conversation. However with coffee it is different. There is a whole ceremony around it. (Interesting fact, in 2013 a tradition of preparing and drinking Turkish coffee was put on a List of Intangible Cultural Heritage UNESCO.) So how do you prepare a coffee? You put coffee grains into an ibrik which is a traditional Turkish coffee pot. It has a long handle, thanks to which a mixture of coffee, water and sugar froths without a need to bring it to boil. It is heated up three times so that there is enough froth. Once the coffee is ready, it is served in small cups. A black and sweet coffee is a traditional Turkish coffee.
5. Corn, pretzel and pomegranate juice.
Street food fans won't complain in Instanbul. There is something for everyone, meat eaters, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian. Everyone will be happy. My favourite one was a boiled corn.
Lots of stalls where they sell either grilled or a boiled corn. Do you like bread? Pretzel (Simit) will be perfect. Are you a fish lover? A bread with mackerel aka Balik Ekmek will be perferct. And for meat lovers - Istanbul is famour for kebab. The food is tasty, fast and cheap. And if you feel like having something healthier - a fresh pomegranate juice is a good option.
Before I arrived to Istanbul I'd bought a guidebook and made a list of places that I really wanted to see. Grand Bazaar was one of them. A huge, beautiful building that can overwhelm with its size, crowds, products, goods, everything. However, prices are not that good so Grand Bazaar is good to see but there are other markets, better for buying. I was recommended one but the truth is that Istanbul is full markets. There is market everywhere. One finishes, another one starts. You don't even notice where. In every district you will find a market, a smaller one or a bigger one but for sure there will be at least one!
7. Fake goods.
You can find everything on markets. Even a Prada bag for 20 EUR. And no one is even trying to hide with it.
8. Public transport
Modern, works perfectly and affordable! With such a public transport even living on the Asian side is not a problem at all.
Islam is a dominant religion in Turkey. Muslims are required to pray 5 times per day. Adhan, which is a call to pray, is called out by a muezzin from the mosque. The time of summoning Muslims for a mandatory worship depends on the Sun position. In September the first one was before 6 am so good luck to those who want to stay in but are light sleepers.
10. Where are you from?
That's the question I kept hearing everywhere. They stop you with a serious face, I think - OMG I must have done something wrong, I turn around and then hear this question - Where are you from? It's super friendly, they want to to get to know people who are visiting their country, learn more about you, share their culture. Will admit, sometimes it can get tiring. But isn't it a beautiful reason to get tired?
Have you been to Istanbul? I'd love to hear what your experience has been, what has caught your attention in the first days of your stay!