Istanbul: Fabric Factories, Beautiful Lamps, Turkish Delight(s)

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Phew, I've just returned from a work trip to Istanbul. 

There was a whole lot of this:

Quite a lot of this:

And even more of this:

After two full days of choosing, investigating, learning, factory-exploring, laboratory-inspecting, fabric love... we managed to fit in a few hours of spontaneous sightseeing.

Istanbul is a magical city. More old than new, the ancient structures tower over the golden arches of McDonald's and Burger King (where they teach the locals spatterings of broken English - "cheeky buggers" was a favourite). The Spires stretch up and can be seen for miles away. The architecture is beautiful, and often impractical. I rather like that.

And then. Then. There was the Grand Bazaar. It doesn't matter that it feels like a giant tourist market. It doesn't matter that it is often over-priced, and you need to haggle with every seller. It's all just rather lovely. The colours of the glass, the smells of the enormous spice bags, and the sounds of everyone trying to get everyone else's attention. 

Young boys zip in and out of the crowds with silver trays topped with Turkish apple tea, ready to be delivered to the vendors. Confident shop-owners call out to you with a impetuous yes, please! The lights twinkle on every corner inside the massive market.

It is an Aladdin's Cave of treasures.

Everything is negotiable. You just have to ask. 

The colours are spectacular, there is no holding back as they coat every surface imaginable: rugs, scarves, ceramics, lights, glass, jewellery, trinkets, clothes.

How strange to return to a land dominated by a preference for denim, black and grey. 

And oh - before I forget. THE FOOD. It's amazing. We ate in beautiful restaurants with enormously high ceilings. The staff were over-attentive, filling up your glass as soon as you'd taken a sip. The food is shared, with bowls of salads and garnishes crammed onto every available space at your table and often needs to be served in courses so that there is space. Everything is seasoned with an added pinch of salt, spice and butter. Bread and yoghurt are served with every meal.

On the first night, we ate metre kebab. It was served on a shelf placed over the salads and garnishes (our host explained, when there's no space on the table, we must go upstairs to place the food), and it really was a metre-long kebab served on a metre-long bread. 

On the second night, we ate doner kebab, but it was like nothing I've ever had before. Millimetre-thin slices of meat were layered on a Turkish bread, covered with a light tomato paste, and then drenched in boiling butter. It was incredible spicy, but in a good way. 

The streets are lined with small stalls selling corn-on-the-cob and twisted bagels, assorted breads and Turkish hamburgers (which are an unusual red colour). The city may be derelict in places, filled with factories and stacked up high with small living spaces - but the overwhelming sensory experience is the smell of spices and cooking bread that rises up out of the city.

Oh, and the work bit was quite productive too.

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