Strolling the 1.4 kilometer long Istiklal Caddesi is like walking into a free winter fashion show. Men, women and kids in coats, jumpers and leather jackets, boots, scarves, mittens and bonnets walking this popular street lined with awe-inspiring early Ottoman buildings, which I initially thought were French-inspired.
Sounds of violin, guitar, cello, piano and flute of musicians young and old fill the cold winter breeze. Freshly made simit (brown, round-shaped bread covered with sesame seeds) fills vendors’ red push carts while chestnuts roast on nearby carts. The nostalgic red trams pass by, plying Istiklal Caddesi from Galatasaray and Tunel Square and up around Taksim Square. Such an interesting sight as we sat on the second floor of Bursa cafeteria sipping warm cup of apple cay, waiting for our lunch to be served.
This was my second time in Istanbul and I’ve come to appreciate this city more this time. Beyond the very popular Sultanahmet district (which hosts the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Basilica Cistern, the Topkapi Palace, the Hippodrome of Constantinople and the Spice Souq), staying at the equally popular Beyoglu district has given me more a real feel of the Turkish life in the city. While the people or the nation tries to keep pace with development, they still manage to keep their identity intact.
There were a number of Starbucks, Burger King and McDonalds chains and popular fashion boutiques alongside local restaurants, cafeterias, cafés and shops serving authentic Turkish cuisine and delights and selling locally-made clothes and footwear, but you know that when you walk in either one of them, you know you are in Turkey and not somewhere else.
Back on the street, we immersed ourselves in the remarkable centuries-old structures hovering over, now turned into boutiques, cafés, restaurants, art galleries, bookshops and more. Some buildings are under renovation and colorful graffiti on the GI sheets beautifully conceals the muddled state from the public eye view.
Frayne and I were so pleased to be here as we didn’t expect and researched much about this side of Istanbul. The only reason why we got here is because we wanted to attend mass (our first together) before heading out to Cappadocia to spend Christmas. In my search for a Catholic church in Istanbul, I found St. Antoine Kilisesi Church near Taksim Square in the Beyoglu District. We then had to book a hotel close by to make sure we hear mass or at least visit the church before Christmas.
With a few more hours to kill before jumping on the train to the airport for our evening flight to Cappadocia, we hanged around Taksim Square, taking pictures of the Monument of the Republic and running like excited kids, unmindful of our big packs on our backs, just to take a picture of us with one of the red trams carrying a band performing live as it goes up and down Istiklal Caddesi. That was crazy fun!!
And as we sat to rest by the base of the monument, soaking up the warm kiss of the sun, we met a fellow Filipino, an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) like us. He has been in Istanbul for almost a decade working as a cook. After half an hour of sharing thoughts and experiences, he left to meet his Filipino friends to attend the Christmas Eve mass.
We enjoyed our day just being here that when we were heading for the airport, we felt a tinge of longing for the place already but comforted by the thought that we still have 2 and half days to spend in Istanbul on our itinerary before heading back to the countries we’re working in. (photos by Frayne)