Our visit to Istanbul is still one of the most vivid in my memory through flavors, smells and sounds, even if it was more than 5 years ago. If anybody made me choose between a trip to Paris and one to Istanbul, I’d choose Istanbul without a blink. It’s huge and it has like 1001 personalities. The city constantly brought to my mind the song of Meredith Brooks “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover”. While I’m sure that we can’t discover the 1001 faces of Istanbul or the million ones of Turkey from home, we can still explore some of them from our couch using our imagination and some tools.
A little bit about Turkey
Turkey is set on two continents: Europe (3%) and Asia (97%). As it is located in between Europe and Asia and three sees (Black Sea, Mediteranean Sea and Marmara Sea) it was an important commercial and transportation hub, as well as a important battlefield along history. Some consider it more related to Europe, due to cultural, historic and political characteristics.
The Turks are majority in the country, followed by the Kurds and the official language is Turkish. The main religion in Turkey is Islam, hence the predominant Muslim architecture.
Books set in Turkey
The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
The book follows the story of two young women trying to find out more about their past and identity. One of them is Asya Kazanci, 19 years old, living in the same house with her mother and her three aunts. She didn’t know her father and has no idea who he was. The second one is Armanoush, an Armenian young woman living with her mother and her adoptive father in the United States of America. She is also interested in finding out more about her Armenian identity. Armanoush secretly flies to Istanbul and meets the Kazanci sisters. Her trip there reveals long time hidden secrets of both families.
I loved the food descriptions, the self-test of yout Armenian identity, all the strong and different female characters involved, the insights into the history of the countries and, of course the stories.
Kösem Sultan by Asli Eke
This one is kind of difficult to read, but still a fascinating story. Ahmed I falls in love with a Greek Slave, Anastasia. She becomes Kösem, his wife, one of the most powerful sultans that the Ottoman Empire ever had and mother of two future sultans. The story introduces us to Topkapi Palace and the intrigues in the palace, but especially the ones in the Harem at the beginning of the 17th century.
Istanbul: Memories and the City by Orhan Pamuk
Pamuk tells both his autobiographical story and the story of Istanbul, the magnificent city in which he was born and still lives. We can look into the lives of the people on the Bosphorus as Turkey tries to adapt to modern times.
One Thousand and One Nights
I also recommend at least a small part of the famous collection of the tales told by the beautiful Scheherazade to her husband Shahryar in order to prevent her death. Some of the most famous stories were added to the collection only later: Alladin and his wonderful lamp, Alibaba and the forty thieves and the voyages of Sinbad the Sailor.
Movies filmed in Turkey
I struggled to find films and books that aren’t focused on Istanbul, but in the end I decided to present the ones that I like, independent of the fact that they are mostly connected to Istanbul. The movies filmed in Istanbul are diverse and they focus on several subjects, comparing them to the movies filmed in Italy, which are mostly romantic.
A retired CIA agent Bryan Mills and his wife are kidnapped by the father of a man he killed in Taken 1. Of course, the movie focuses on his attempts to escape and keep his family safe. Most of the movie is filmed in Istanbul, including locations as Galata Bridge, Grand Bazaar and rooftops.
The plot focuses on Francesco, who inherits a property in Istanbul. At first he is interested in selling the property, but after discovering that it includes a hammam, decides to repair it and reopen it to the people. Istanbul charms the viewers while they accompany the main characters on the streets.
A fun band thieves plan to steal the jewel-encrusted dagger of Sultan Mahmud I from the Topkapi Palace Museum. The images of Istanbul of the ’60s are exotic and mysterious.
Crossing the Bridge: The Sound of Istanbul (2005)
The movie explores the music scene of the city on two continents and the musical traditions of the country from Rock ‘n’ roll, punk, folk, pop, rap, traditional Turkish, Kurdish and Roma songs. The documentary is also a portait of Istanbul with its old and new, modern and traditional, eastern and western.
The 23rd James Bond film begins with Daniel Craig chasing a bad guy through the center of Istanbul. Scenes were filmed in the Eminonu Square and the colorful Grand Bazaar. He is wounded and considered by everyone dead, but later returns and the adventure goes on.
Turkey Inspired Dinner
Turkish food is delicious and spicy. I can’t name any dish inspired from the cuisine of Turkey that I don’t like. Lentil soup is my favorite cream soup, baba ganoush is another great vegetarian dish. Lamb and beef dishes are cooked with a lot of condiments. They smell and taste different and special. This time I suggest kofta with vegetables, accompanied by an apple tea. The mix of flavors will make you dream about the beautiful places in Istanbul and beyond instantly.
Other ideas to explore Turkey from home
- Belly dance can be sensual, fun and also doubles as a fitness class. Learn some beginner steps with these playslists: Playlist1 and Playlist2. If you don’t enjoy think or don’t think you have the skills, you can try to imitate the whirling dervishes.
- You can learn a lot about music in Turkey over time from the documentary Crossing the bridge: The sound of Istanbul. If you want to listen to more modern music, you can also try this youtube playlist.
- You can accompany the after-dinner music with a traditional nargileh or hookah. There’s an infinite number a flavors to choose from. I recommend apple, lemon or forest fruits.
- Turkish coffee is famous around the works. It’s traditionally made on sand, but you can also try to make it at home.
- After watching hammam, you’ll probably want to relax and wonder if it’s possible to have your own Turkish bath at home. Watch this short movie and read the article to get your inspiration and try to recreate the experience in your own bathroom.
- Even if the language is more difficult (at least in my opinion) than Spanish and Italian, you can still have fun trying to learn some useful words in Turkish. They’ll sure come in handy on your future tip to Istanbul, Cappadocia, Alanya or Pamukkale.
- Kids will also appreaciate the Turkey episodes of the Are we there yet? by National Georaphic kids, while adults can enjoy Istanbul boardgame, If you are tired of Catan, it’ll be a nice change.
I hope you liked our trip to Turkey from home as much as I did and that you’ll try as many flavors of Istanbul as possible from your own couch, but especially on your future travels, when you’ll be able to do it.
Did you try any of this ideas? What else would you add to the list?
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