A South African's 5 first impressions of Istanbul

2016-05-15 12:00 - Louzel Lombard
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Cape Town - Both South Africa and Turkey are colourful countries. But where South Africa is bright and bold - think sunshine yellow, vivid green, blood red, blue, black and white - Turkey, on the other had, is the colour of precious stones and jewels. 

Emerald, ruby, gold and silver. The colours of Istanbul are woven into the carpets on sale at the Kapaliçarsi, or Grand Bazaar, infused with pomegranate into cubes of Turkish Delight and hand-painted onto dainty bowls filled with fragrant tea. The minarets that chant and gleam as the sun sets over the Bosphorus Strait are dipped in gold as if touched by gods. 

This is but one way in which Turkey's tourist capital, Istanbul, compares to South Africa. 

Here are a South African's five first impressions of Istanbul:

It’s a lot like Cape Town – but older 

Istanbul is young and trendy, mixed with old culture, religion and history. 

Like Cape Town, Istanbul hosts A LOT of young people from all over the globe. This is mainly because of the many universities in the city. In Cape Town, foreign exchange students are present, and similarly, young tourists frequent the many hostels and youth hotels.

And what of Istanbul's night scene? Imagine small cafes packed with leather-clad men sipping on craft beers and smoking hookah pipes - most with heads shaven clean on the one side. It's like Bree Street, but you don't understand anything they say. 

Also, the rumors are true - Turkish men really are forthcoming in their approach to, well, everything. From selling carpets to getting you to go back to their room with them (shock!), they're quite upfront about their intentions. Perhaps Capetonians could learn from them?  

(Photo: Louzel Lombard)

Turkish Delight is not what you thought 

Forget about those cornstarch-covered, fake rose-water flavoured gelatin cubes you thought were Turkish Delight. It’s not. Turkish Delight is more chewy, less sweet and crammed full of rich ingredients like hazelnuts, real rose petals, pistachios and most prominently, pomegranate. 

The stuff you buy from Beacon is closer to milk chocolate as it is to real Turkish Delight – so don’t even bother. But also, be warned: real Turkish Delight might disappoint you if you’ve got a too solid, pre-conceived idea of what it might be like. 

There is work to be done – by locals 

The city of Istanbul is the largest city in Europe by population within city limits. This means that, according to a 2015 study, more than 14 million people are crammed into the city, causing frightening traffic jams and a risk of high unemployment – what can all those people do!? 

The great thing about Istanbul is that the locals have jobs. Good, medical aid-providing jobs… 

Everywhere there are new developments being built by locals, factories run by locals and local entrepreneurs tapping into the tourism and transport market. South Africa can take a page from Istanbul’s book in terms of employing locals and lowering the high unemployment rate here. But that, I know, is easier said than done. 

What helps in Istanbul is that education is completely free and that most of the Istanbulians are university graduates – even if they don’t need to be. 

The food is below SA standards…* 

...If you’re used to Karoo lamb and/or West Coast snoek, that is. Look, the ingredients in Istanbul are as fresh as they come. But when it comes to diversity and preparation, South Africa has the upper hand when it comes to food. And wine. 

Yes, lamb koftas and peda breads are great (they really are). But our Cape Malay curries, or Durban Indian curries, biltong, braais, rusks, waterblommetjie-bredie and the many more inventive, iconic South African dishes are just too good to beat. 

Every tour guide there will try and convince you that the Ottoman diet was once one of the most diverse in the world, but the truth is - the food available on the streets and in local restaurants is plain, and it's not things that you won't find in SA. 

Where drinks are concerned, there is an abundance of interesting and delicious choices. Ayran, a local non-alcoholic drink made of yogurt, water and salt, reminds of the local maslow, or Amazi.  But when it comes to wine, let’s just say us South Africans are spoilt for choice and value.  

(Photo: Louzel Lombard)

The issue of freedom of speech

For a bunch of journalists travelling in a different city, media and current news events are obvious topics of discussion. Only in Istanbul, we were constantly hushed… You cannot discuss the VERY topical recent terrorist bomb blasts which killed locals and tourists in the very city you're in!

We couldn’t talk about it with our tour guides, or even the official media liaisons. 

Being in a foreign country, subjected to its laws and media restrictions, I felt proud to be a journalist from South Africa – a country known for its freedom of expression. Can you imagine if South Africans were forbidden by law to talk or tweet about our president, or higher education fee hikes - #feesmustfall… or anything controversial for that matter..? I can’t, and don’t want to. 

Disclaimer: Louzel Lombard for Traveller24 was hosted as media by Turkish Airlines in Istanbul, including flights and accommodation.

*Louzel is a food snob. 

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