Late summer, 2014.
My trip to Istanbul, the hometown I left to come to Montreal in 1995 and did not return after 1999. 15 years is a very long time for a growing city like Istanbul. So much had changed in 15 years. I had a feeling I wouldn’t be able to recognize my hometown but was not expecting to feel like a tourist which is exactly how I felt the first few days. My friends asked me if the change I observed after 15 years was positive or negative. I didn’t know how to answer! In terms of infrastructure, it certainly improved a lot with a top-notch subway system and Marmaray going under the water making it possible to cross from Europe to Asia and vice versa in less than 5 minutes. Conversely, the population in the city increased a lot making it difficult to walk without bumping into someone! Some of the neighborhoods I knew such as Galata and Karakoy went through a drastic change. These neighborhoods with the little artsy shops in Galata around the historical Galata Tower and the amazing restaurants and pastry shops in Karakoy were one of many highlights of my trip to Istanbul. Karakoy Restaurant with the typical Turkish blue tiles and its delicious mezzes, Gulluoglu pastry shop with its baklavas, in this same neighborhood where my father had a stationery store for several years, are some of my top recommendations if you happen to visit this city with character!
Beyoglu is another fave neighborhood of mine with its busy pedestrian street called Istiklal full of funky stores, restaurants and cafes. The cafes I enjoyed the most in Beyoglu are Ara cafe where you can also discover the black and white photos of the renowned photographer Ara Guler and House Cafe just for its delicious cakes and for its amazing location for people watching!
Not far from the hustle bustle of Istanbul, the big city, there lie the Prince Islands on Marmara Sea. I spent my summers on the smallest of the Prince Islands for 25 years which is usually the first stop by vessel from Istanbul to Prince Islands (Adalar in Turkish). During this trip, I spent a weekend on this island. Needless to say, this is a very emotional place for me reminding me of my childhood, my youth, family members and the old friends I spent so much time with. What really had not changed here in 15 years was the rhythm of life. People still gathering at the same place at the same time just to chit chat and enjoy each other’s company. I spent a memorable evening with close friends at one of the few restaurants on the island called Jash (means food in Armenian) at a prime location by the sea savoring mezzes, sipping raki and listening to live music. What more could I’ve asked of this trip!
In total contradiction to fast life in Istanbul, my weekend on this island reminded me of the slow Mediterranean way of life with tightly knit communities I had so forgotten in Montreal!