Turkey: Istanbul, mon amour
Istanbul was my biggest crush after Berlin and the more Turkey I discovered, more I feel in love with it. Its heartwarming people, unimaginably delicious food, rich historical and cultural heritage with ancient sights and beautiful landscape. Yes, Turkey is a keeper. So far We've been there a couple of times but will definitely return for more.
Around 14 million people live in this metropolis that is spread over two continents, but you'd rarely notice the crowd. It's vibrant, warm and welcoming. Its always busy Galata bridge became city landmark and regardless time of the day or year, you'll always find it full if merchants and fishermen. Under the bridge you can try one of their local specialities: ekmek or a fish sandwich. It's a rather big snack, nevertheless very tasty.
Galata bridge looks even nicer in the evening, from one of the boats you can use as a part of public transport. The bridge is never empty yet always ready to welcome new people.
If you're in for a unique experience you might want to visit one of traditional turkish baths or hammams - but be prepared to be thoroughly scrubbed and washed (I admit I wasn't ready for it). There are many tourist hammams in Istanbul, but we looked for one of more traditional local ones. They're usually nicer and more intimate.
One thing I love about Istanbul is its abundant culture. From Istanbul Modern to underground Basilica cistern from 3rd century and ruins of the city wall, every stone in Istanbul is a part of history, waiting to be discovered. That being said, it was still quite tense around Gezi park on our last visit and the area was filled with police robocops and regularly patrolled by a water cannon truck.
When it comes to food, Turkey and Asia are for me still the kings of eating (and cooking). Every vegetable there tastes better and I can't get enough of Turkish meze (mostly vegetarian & fish appetizers) pida's (Turkish pizza), hummus (chickpea dip), merçimek (lentil soup), ekmek and Menemem (kind of omlet). And not to forget famous Turkish deserts in Hafiz Mustafa. And after all the eating, there is Turkish coffee and tea. All in all, so much food and so little time (or space in the stomach).
Though food is really delicious almost everywhere you go, vegetarians might be surprised to find out that chicken isn't considered to be meat. So if you don't eat fish, then stick to more tourist restaurants, pida places and meze. We even found a vegetarian version of their famous manti (traditional Turkish pasta with meat, yoghurt and tomato sauce) but don't count on this on in less touristy places. But if you eat fish (and meat), then Istanbul is a food paradise.
When in Istanbul do take advantage of boats and new metro that takes you to the Asian side. It is admittedly much less exciting than a European one, but still well worth visiting. Its markets are well stacked and much less crowded than more popular ones in the center of the city.
And last but not the least, Istanbul is a city that loves cats. They're everywhere and most of them well taken care of by restaurants, locals and tourists. Friendly furry and cute, they don't shy away from coming close and being adored. And of course, fed.
Time after time, Istanbul still gives the feeling that is closest to home.