The sun had just set and a warm glow spread across the sky. I stood in the hotel’s balcony enjoying the gentle breeze. As the sky grew darker, the stars started shining in the sky above and across the Bosphorus as thousands of homes lit up across the canal. It was a stunning sight as day turned into dusk and dusk into a starry night. It was almost surreal as I stood in Europe looking at Asia, just a kilometre away.
‘The east is east and west is west and the twain shall never meet’, said Rudyard Kipling. But perhaps he had never been to Turkey, a country at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. With the best of both worlds, Turkey proved to be a hidden gem. We started our discovery of Turkey from Izmir, a beautiful city on the Aegean Sea. The gulf of Izmir was a stunning deep blue and the promenade was lined by cafes and restaurants. Promising to return in the evening, we made our way towards Izmir’s historical centre to meet our guide by the clock tower. We took a few customary photographs and walked towards Izmir market. The streets were lined with shops selling everything from clothes to quirky knickknacks. But our guide led us on, allowing time only for window shopping. We stopped for coffee at a small traditional coffee house. There were small tables and stools set under a canopy. It was a delightful place decorated with Turkish stain- glass lamps, plants and hookahs. We were soon served Turkish coffee and water. ‘So are you hungry?’ Unal and Eda our local hosts asked me as I took a sip of the ice cold water. ‘Not at all’, I said surprised that they should think so. In Ancient Turkey it was a tradition to serve coffee with water to visitors. If they had water before the coffee, it meant they were hungry and the host must serve them food also. Aha! What a wonderful way to make people feel at home without having to ask. The coffee was dark and delicious and with a dose of caffeine in our system we were ready to hit the road.
Our next stop was Ephesus, the seat of Christianity about an hour’s drive from Izmir. We stopped at Selcuk at St Johns Church and admired the view from the top and the remains of what must have once been a glorious structure. We moved on to Ephesus and by now the sun was beating down upon us. The ancient Greco-Roman city of Ephesus was one of the finest samples of Roman architecture. The amphitheatre here has not just seen the war of the gladiators but performances by Michael Jackson and Madonna too! You can also rent this place but it will surely burn a huge hole in your pocket, our guide informed us. Ephesus was a treasure trove of Roman life style with its marble library, terraced Roman villas, Hadrian’s temple and so much more.
Leaving history behind us we moved on for an early dinner to a pretty village called Sirince. The white washed houses dotted the hills all around. There were souvenir and wine shops along the streets. We made our way towards the village centre when a small stall caught our attention. ‘Wow! Handmade ice-creams, we must have some’ Eda said invitingly. The next few minutes were the most enjoyable and memorable moments as the ice-cream seller offered us our ice-creams and before we could lay our hands on the cone, he pulled it back. He had actually attached a string to the cone and he entertained us for the next few minutes with different tricks, ringing bells in between. With an entertaining performance and an equally delicious ice-cream we made our way back to spend our last night in Izmir.
I fell in love with Istanbul at the first sight. The Bosphorus canal divides the city into European and Asian parts which makes it one of the most unique cities in the world. The next few days were spent discovering the old and the new sights of Istanbul. The Topkapi palace, Sofia church and the Blue mosque were all within walking distance. Having visited the must-do and the must-see sights we went towards the Grand bazaar. With over 5000 shops under one roof we weren’t sure where to look or stop. No amount of shoes are ever too many, so I walked into a shop not knowing that I was going to walk out with 8 pairs of shoes. I had just started bargaining with the shopkeeper when some American ladies walked in. Signalling me not to speak a word the shopkeeper pleaded with his eyes to say, ‘let them go and I shall give you your price.’ We exchanged prices quietly on the calculator to close the deal and he handed me my shoes and bid me goodbye with a jovial, ‘Thank you Miss India’. Turkey surely had the face of Europe but the heart of Asia!