The rhythm is relentless. We Brits, it seems, just can’t get enough of those tasty Spanish morsels that come under the ever-expanding umbrella of tapas. Another day, or let’s say, another week, and a new tapas bar opens. And they’re not always Spanish, as other nationalities have leapt on the bandwagon, but the best are, in my opinion, straight from the Iberian peninsula – but then I’m biased.
It’s the kick off of 2015 and they’re all doing it (the mainstream press that is). So, as a professional traveller I thought I’d add my pinch of salt – or spice. Culled from decades of travel, here’s my short-list of affordable destinations that give you the best of all worlds … in 2015.
As Middle Eastern events continue to appall us and ISIS creeps even closer to a country many of us know (Turkey), I’ve been looking more closely at the map. Kobane, the latest town to be targeted by those sinister, deadly forces, sits right on the border of Syria and Turkey, only about 40km from the burgeoning town of Sanliurfa (originally Urfa) and some extraordinary archaeological wonders.
It seems no end is in sight and, if anything, the Taksim Square protesters are digging in for the long haul. After my post of a couple of months ago praising Istanbul’s highly creative forces, this time I’m dropping in a few comments and pics from trips made over the years in order to reflect on Turkey’s current status.
Istanbul – It’s on a roll, in case you hadn’t realised, and if you don’t go there soon you’ll be stuck in the less current notions of Topkapi, kilims, kebabs and kepis. I’ve just been to INN, an innovative 4-day pop-up designed to showcase the ultra-contemporary culture of the BRICT nations, kicking off brilliantly with Istanbul. Future versions will include Beijing (what a mouthful that will be) and Moscow. Ditto mouthful. Yesterday’s opening took place in the bowels of Victoria House in Bloomsbury.
I’ve always enjoyed a quick fix of Turkish kebap – preferably a tender shish singed to perfection over open coals in clouds of pungent smoke. They do it pretty well round the corner from me in north London, but even better in Anatolia itself (that name is so much more exotic than Turkey, or Turkiye, which somehow gobbles). Anyway, what I was unaware of until last week was the vast range of kebabs at their source. Nor did I realise that history in south-east Anatolia floats around between 9000 BC (we actually saw a cult centre from this time) and the Ottomans – racing through Hittites, neo-Hittites, Assyrians, Romans and many others. As mind-boggling as the food, but far more conjectural.
Last week I nearly found myself in the middle of a military coup. It was touch and go but thankfully democracy won the day. Yet oddly it was a confrontation between the army (normally perceived as reactionary) and a democratic opponent labelled as a potential Islamic extremist. Somehow this paradox is typical of Turkey.
What is extraordinary about Istanbul is how much it lives up to the cliché of a dual existence, of being the bridge between East and West, of Asia and Europe. That schizoid character appears again and again, as much in the political arena as in women’s appearance which veers between dowdy headscarf and body-enshrouding full-length dress to the tightest jeans and full-on make-up. Young women puff on shisha too.