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Hello Egy
Not just for Bond: Istanbul, where history and home cooking have the licence to thrill



 By Sebastian Lander

As a fearless 007 is scaling the rooftops of Istanbul in Skyfall, I am up to my elbows in flour.

It is something of a less risky mission – to create a Turkish meal under the guidance of Arzu Gurdamar, the owner of modish restaurant Dai Pera. Well, Arzu does rhyme with Q, at least.

Here in the city’s arty Beyoglu district, just across the poetically-named Golden Horn waterway, bubbly Arzu is championing her creative version of Istanbuli home cooking. She offers impromptu instruction for those who need only ask.

‘This is like my house,’ Arzu says. ‘What I cook here, you can eat at my mother’s place.’ For starters, kebabs aren’t on our menu. ‘Not Istanbul,’ she is definite.

I want to argue that there are an awful lot of restaurants in this city that sell them and tourists to eat them, too, but I am occupied by the task of rolling minced beef into vine leaves spread out like starfish on the table.

Whatever we create now, we will eat later. That includes the two types of fritters made of dill and courgette or carrot and spring onion. It makes you at least feel like you are being healthy.

Not so the deep-fried king prawns wrapped in kadayif, a fine, shredded filo pastry, which we dip in a soy, apple cider and honey sauce. Washed down with a very drinkable white Turkish wine, it more than beats a kebab which, if we're honest, most of us associate with the country's cuisine.

It is good to spend time with Arzu in Beyoglu, where we have retreated after some splendid, but rather hectic, sightseeing around Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district. But more of this later.

In Beyoglu you will find a less touristic angle on this incredible city. Young Turks, preened into perfection, stalk the wide (clean) streets, and locals browse the aisles of brightly-lit clothes shops. Piles of Turkish delight and baklava glisten in windows.

We slip into the award-winning 360 bar and restaurant (www.360istanbul.com). You wouldn't know it was even here, located at the top of a 19th century apartment building, but the views are magnificent, particularly with cocktail in hand.

The roads narrow as you head down the hill towards the Golden Horn. Cobble stones challenge your footing. The medieval Galata Tower, built by Genoese traders, soars above as you pass, surrounded by a halo of light. Istanbul does grand gestures with ease.

The Galata Bridge, linking Beyoğlu with the area that was once Constantinople, gives the visitor a sweeping view from which to understand the geography of a city that famously straddles Europe and Asia.

On this side of the Bosphorous, the European side, the Golden Horn bisects two swathes of Istanbul that have a similar feel. We visit the Asian side later and it has a distinctly different atmosphere.

The Galata Bridge is alive with activity, even at this late hour. Rows of fishermen cast off into the cavernous night while diners chatter in the restaurants that line the floor below the walkway. Space is a premium here and none is wasted.

Istanbul's colourful nightlife is tempting but our energy has been spent on the historic sights which guide Hakan was so keen to show us earlier in the day.

Our hotel, Erten Konak, is located in a nest of historic buildings near Sultanahmet. The staff are friendly, the food delicious and the rooms comfortable. The decor takes in everything from antique pictures to vintage wedding dresses.

It is a five-minute walk from where the Aya Sofya, or Hagia Sophia, rolls up to the sky in curves of masonry, a reminder of the city's chequered Byzantine past.

Across the square, the dramatic Blue Mosque, with its six minarets, calls the faithful to prayer. Tourists make their devotions, too, jaws dropping at the intricate blue Iznik tiles within.

The area around our hotel similarly buzzes with souvenir shops, pottery emporiums and carpet stores. Smiling men do their best to convince you to part with your Turkish Lira.

Restaurants serve an abundance of the delicious Mediterranean dishes you might expect - creamy houmous and stuffed aubergine - while stray cats and dogs wait patiently for their share.

Hakan is helpful at warding off over-friendly attention. He also knows the way - Istanbul is among the most populous cities in Europe and the streets are a rush of people.

Speaking of facts, Hakan thinks we in the west of Europe know too little about Turkish life and culture and proudly presents his book to us: 101 Questions about Turkey and the Answers.

This includes queries such as 'who are the whirling dervishes?' 'why are there not many old Turks around?' and perhaps less relevant, which Turkish people may carry a gun?

Hakan is wildly passionate about the city and we start with that enduring emblem of the Byzantine Empire, the Hagia Sophia, commissioned by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century.

Once a church, then a mosque and now a museum, its scale is stupefying. For a millennium, its domed and golden interior was the largest enclosed space in the world. It is tantalising to stand where Justinian's Empress Theodora (legend has it that she was a former courtesan who rose up the ranks of the imperial court) stood watching her husband below.

I found the mosaics almost meditative in their beauty, from the swathe of golden tiles adorning the entrance to the scant, surviving patches on secluded arches.

Handsome architecture is not confined above ground either. Hakan takes us to the 6th century Basilica Cistern, which once supplied fresh water to the Emperor’s palace.

Hundreds of marble columns and arches create colonnades that run off into the distance. Moody lighting catches the water, now inhabited by fish, which casts rippling shadows on the ceiling.

Visitors tramp the platform on a journey through the atmospheric chamber. No wonder it was used as a backdrop to another James Bond movie – From Russia With Love.

You must look out for the antique Medusa and Gorgon heads at the bottom of two columns, a symbol of Christianity’s triumph over paganism.

Back in the fresh air, on the other side of Sultanahmet Square is the former hippodrome, where Justinian slaughtered thousands of Constantinople’s residents after riots in 532 AD. Theodora is said to have given him a stern talking to.

Little remains now but you can imagine chariots racing around the monuments that have remained in the centre. We make our way to the Blue Mosque and respectfully leave our shoes at the door.

Inside, worshippers are prostrate but our eyes are on the tiles which, Hakan tells us, are each worth thousands of euros.

The soul sated, our minds turn again to our stomachs. It is Sunday and the nearby Spice Market is heaving with Istanbulites and visitors alike buying exotic goods such as jasmine flowers and rose oil.

Strings of dried chilies hang like stalactites above piles of wrinkly figs and dates. Spices are mounded up in pyramids and cheery shopkeepers hand children stringy cheese.

For less edible goods, we head to the Grand Bazaar, a warren of shops selling everything from high-end jewellery to leather goods. Hakan explains the etiquette of haggling: ‘Tell them your budget first and what you're looking for. Write it down.’

We quickly move on, keen to explore our last stop – the Topkapi Palace.

Built for the dynasty of Ottoman sultans who conquered Constantinople in 1453, the palace is testament to the might of an empire that almost reached the gates of Vienna.

Lots of artifacts are on show including extravagant jewellery, beautiful clocks, weapons and the clothes of the sultans and their sons.

We pass through pavilions built to commemorate conquered territories and rooms where heirs were circumcised with great ceremony. Hakan points out the water fountains that were used to prevent gossiping courtiers from being overheard.

Yet it is the harem that we most want to see, that mysterious enclave of concubines and eunuchs that has excited the Western imagination for centuries.

Although there is little furniture to bring it to life, you can fully picture the intrigue, ambition and plotting that took place in its succession of courtyards and halls.

We can’t leave Istanbul without at least planting one foot on the Asian side of the city. The inexpensive, modern ferry leaves from near the Spice Market.

We arrive in Uskudar. Following the coastal path past the Maiden’s Tower, where a princess is said to have escaped after it was prophesied that she would die from a snake bite (she did), we stop at one of the many cafes offering a rug on which thirsty walkers and locals can take a break.

The sweet black tea is a tonic. As the Bosphorous washes the shore and we gaze towards the Topkapi rising out of its lush gardens and the sea of Marmara beyond, I think of James Bond on those rooftops. He's missing out. Before I forget the scene before me, I write it down.

dailymail












By: manager Date Added: 2012-11-24 Comment: 0 Views :2261

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