March 30, 2010

Greetings from Istanbul and Ephesus

'Tis been a manic month of travelling. Since I came back from Singapore after Chinese New Year, I've not spent very much time in London either. Was off to Berlin and Copenhagen for work over the last 2 weeks, and am now in Istanbul, at the start of my Eurasia vacation. All in all, by the time I'm done, I'd have taken 12 flights in 4 weeks. Crazy!

I'll probably do a post on Copenhagen design and inspiration in a bit, but since I'm in Istanbul right now, I shall pay due tribute to my host country. Istanbul has been quite an assault on the senses. A much larger and denser city than I had imagined, the buildings and houses are built on the sloping shores of the Bosphorus. The streets of Istanbul are filled with sounds, smells and people. Always busy (a city of 11m!) it seems and every night, Istikal, the main street in Taksim, is thronging with people. Seriously, it seems like the whole of Istanbul is out on that street. Flanked by shops and alley ways filled with cafes and restaurants, one can easily get lost wandering and exploring. It is no wonder that we inevitably found ourselves on Istikal every night as we were staying at the Grand Hyatt at Taksim. There aren't many Asians around, and we stood out amidst the sea of caucasian faces. Every five minutes, we would get the 'Konichiwa or Anyeong Haseyo' treatment. It got quite irritating after a while.

Istanbul is also home to many amazing sights and historical buildings like the Topkapi Palace, Haggia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Galata Tower etc and we spent most of our time doing sightseeing. I found the Grand Bazaar slightly underwhelming to be honest, as it was filled with kitschy souvenir shops selling beads, plates, turkish delight, carpets, lamps and the typical souvenirs that a tourist might want to lug home as gifts for friends. Although I did succumb to some pretty bowls, I was largely unmoved by the souvenir shops and really wanted to look for local design shops. The Time Out we had said that Galata was the new hip area, but other than a few small shops, we couldn't really find that much. The things in Turkey weren't cheap either, pretty much similar to London or other European prices.

In terms of cuisine, every other corner is filled with kebab shops, which we ate for quite a few meals. However, on the first night, I made a reservation for Changa, partly helmed by Peter Gordon (who owns Providores in London), as I had met him a couple of weeks. The restaurant review shall be a separate post in itself with accompanying photos, though it suffices to say I found the flavours a little simple, and not as sophisticated as I hoped it would be. In general, we found most of the meats pretty game-y and while appealing and different for a couple of meals, I wouldn't say I am a huge fan of Turkish food. Maybe we ate at the wrong places and didn't have that to-die-for kebab that could have been life changing.

We spent a night in Ephesus, or rather to be exact, Kusadasi, which is a town nearby to the ancient site of Ephesus. We flew into Izmir and from there it was a 45 min ride to Kusadasi, where we stayed at a beach resort Richmond Ephesus Resort. The room wasn't as nice as the Grand Hyatt's but the view from our balcony was amazing as we look out at the sunset over the Aegean sea. Other than the beach, the attractions of the area we visited were the House of Virgin Mary (yes, she was believed to have lived here with St John in her last years), St John's Basilica (where it's believed to have been built over his tomb), Artemis' Temple, and of course the ancient city of Ephesus. Artemis' Temple is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but in reality, today it's really a muddy field with a few rocks and only one column still stands. Ephesus reminded me of Pompeii (I suppose most ruins look the same after a while), and I enjoyed the visit and took quite a lot of photos.

This has turned out to be just a recounting of what we did and went, not exactly thoughtfully written. While visiting these places, there were often thoughts and feelings evoked which if at that moment I had my Twitter or phone, it would have been easier to articulate them. For now, I'll just leave you with a selection of pictures I took that I've posted onto Flickr.

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