Natasha Coutinho (MUMBAI MIRROR; June 26, 2017)

Historically known as Constantinople and Byzantium, Istanbul is the most populous city of Turkey. A transcontinental city in Eurasia, it straddles the Bosphorus strait (which separates Europe and Asia) between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, with its commercial and historical centre located on the European side and about a third of its population on the Asian side. Dia Mirza on her first visit there with husband Sahil Sangha:

Asia meets Europe
Sahil and I love to travel and choose destinations that are rich in history and culture. The cuisine is important too. We’ve been intrigued by Istanbul where Asia meets Europe so we wanted to experience the cultural best of both continents. Our hotel was a restored heritage home on the banks of the Bosphorous River running through the city. It was a stunning view to wake up to every morning. Sailboats, fishing boats, swimmers and families crowded the crystal clear water, the banks and promenades as also the playgrounds built around it. The quality of life there is instantly striking. Clean air, water and the sheer pleasure of being outdoors is priceless. I was also fascinated by the number of cats we saw. The locals are friendly and courteous. Cabbies have translation apps on their phones that makes communication easy.

A cathedral and a mosque next to each other
We explored the Old City on foot, walking through narrow lanes and stopping for a 7am Turkish breakfast of fish bread and eggs followed by Turkish Coffee, of course! Then, it was on to the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, located next to each other. Imagine a mosque and a cathedral built in close proximity far back in time. Hagia Sofia is now a museum and the guided tours offer insights into the efforts of the architects of these magnificent monuments.

Cobbled streets linking one part of the old city to another are lined with cafes and restaurants which make walking a charming and tireless exercise. We spent an afternoon at the Topkapi Palace and Gardens and were impressed by how clean and tourist-friendly it is. Clean drinking water fountains and benches are scattered around the garden with local vendors selling fresh chestnuts and ice cream.

We lunched at the Galata Tower, a medieval stone structure which is one of Istanbul’s most important landmarks. The top deck offers a 360-degree view of the city.

Shoppers’ stop
After that it was the Grand Bazaar which is a shoppers paradise, the Spice Bazaar with its masalas and the leisure district of Taksim Square.

The shops offer irresistible scarves and leather goods. We also picked up some Turkish mosaic tiles that we have incorporated in the design of a dinner wagon at home.

Many of the local designers make excellent footwear and clothes and you simply cannot stop with one item. We also splurged on spices so that we can continue to make and serve adana kebabs at home!

Kebabs to die for
The seafood and lamb dishes served in Istanbul are to die for! Too many restaurants to name but the preparations are typically light and they use amazing herbs and spices that add an inimitable flavour to their kebabs, stews and curries.

Tips to carry home
Since I am not a recognised celebrity in that part of the world, I could walk around freely on the streets and at public places and appreciate their standard of maintenance and sense of hygene. I wish we could take a cue from the standard of maintaining cleanliness and hygiene that is upheld across the city. Its impossible to walk on our streets. I understand that population is a genuine problem but planning with foresight will help tourists visiting India. I’m happy we experienced a lot of Istanbul’s old-world charm. Don’t forget to carry a camera. The city is so beautiful that you will finally stop taking selfies to just capture its beauty.