1983. Daddy left Belgium with wife & kids to live as an expat for the last time. Destination: Istanbul. Fascinating stories continue to intrigue until this day. It’s where I learned to walk. Where I learned to talk (my first word allegedly being mayonnaise). It’s where my big sis taught me to draw with my toes and served me my first alcohol-drenched-stew.
(1995. My friends’ daddy was going to leave Belgium with wife & kids to live as an expat in Istanbul. I was asked to join them for a week while they went to arrange the housing and school and stuff. Obviously, I did.)
2015. My sister and I decided to go back to the (officially) oldest city of the world. To finally have a true image that matches the stories. To see the bridge our daddy crossed twice a day for a year. The bridge that connects the two continents who run through our veins. A city where Europe blends with Asia and speaking with your mouth full is allowed: a natural pick for our annual sister-trip! Our niece decided to join us and the 3 of us were off to the center of the world.
Booking the flights was easy – Turkish Airlines proved to be an excellent choice. A place to stay seemed harder, not only because 3 is a tricky number, but where do you stay in a city with14 million people and so many highlights? We went for a nice hotel with rooftop terrace in the Old town.
Arriving at Sabiha Gokcen International Airport (a deliberate decision since arriving in Asia gives you that extra travel-vibe) guaranteed adventure from point one. We decided to go for the local bus, to discover absolutely no one within a 100m radius from that bus knew any English – “Finally, a country where they don’t understand you” the BF texted. But we managed to get on the correct one and arrived at the ferry to take us back to Europe.
That night we ended up finding ourselves in a shisha bar – we thought we were walking into a little store, but it appeared to be an old-school smoking palace.
The next day our hotel location turned out ideal to discover many highlights such as the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Basilica Cistern and Topkapi Palace before lunch with a view at Hamdi Restaurant (highly recommended!). But for some nighttime fun, we crossed the bridge to hang around Galata and ended up in the loudest bars ever in Beyoglu. Great job, Joke Schauvliege: thanks to getting used to the maximum noise level you set at home, we are no longer capable of having fun in Turkish pubs. The bar area at Beyoglu could be the perfect scene for a bachelor(ette) weekend (more bachelorette than bachelor, considering the proportion of men) where it not for the “long” flight. But you get the image.
Of course we had to go back to Galata by day and go up the tower. The view of the city is spectacular. The fee to go up a little exaggerated. The nostalgic little tram from Tunel to Taksim however, value for money. Passing by Mama Shelter (one of my favorites in Paris) we decided to go up for smoothies and lunch before strolling the alleys of trendy Cihangir to Istanbul Modern (Art Museum). Our feet were tired (and so were we) and the time was right for a little Bosphorus Cruise (and seeing that Bosphorus Bridge).
Upon recommendation of my friend Matt back home, we had to have our last diner at a Balikci (Fish Restaurant). We went for Balikci Sabahattin in Sultanahmet. Yummie. Unfortunatlely we dined too long and arrived too late to enter the Beyazit Hamami he also recommended, so we saved the authentic scrub (and massage) treatment at this beautiful place for last; after haggling at the famous Grand bazaar for hours – ‘cause that’s what women do – and trying out the catch of the day on the Galata bridge. Ready to fly back from Istanbul Ataturk Airport: Fresh, fruity, indulged & totally relaxed.