As I unloaded the dishwasher on a wet Tuesday night in October 2013, my husband nonchalantly said across the kitchen: “Would you like to move to Istanbul for a couple of years while the kids are still in primary school? ESBi have a new joint venture with a Turkish company and they want me to run the power station”.
I really thought he was joking. I spent the next few days and nights googling and mentally packing my bags. I was so up for this and felt very blessed that we were being given this amazing opportunity and that I could take a career break from my job as Public Art Manager with Donegal County Council.
“I’ll do a PhD in Cultural Tourism while I’m there, I thought to myself, knowing that I would need my own goal while the three boys were at school every day. With excitement and nervous anticipation, we organised ourselves and moved six months later.
“There were tears as the three boys said goodbye at school, there were tears as we said goodbye to colleagues, friends and family, tears as we closed the door on our home in Derry and tears when we arrived in Istanbul.
“The first weeks and months were amazing and hard. When you have a family, whether you are in Inishowen or Istanbul, you still have to make a dinner, find clean socks and read bedtime stories and, in some way, there is comfort in this familiarity. I tried to keep things familiar for the children but that’s hard when even the bread and butter taste different. We dug deep, kept close, embraced these differences and slowly, slowly found our feet and friends and settled in.
Istanbul is an amazing city; straddling the mighty Bosphorous, it’s the city where past meets present, east meets west and where traditional and modern fight a dynamic battle every day. I eat it up, drink it in and love the energy it gives me and the way it inspires me.
The city gets 8 million visitors a year and, as someone interested in cultural tourism, I can so understand its popularity and I continue to ask myself what are the lessons from here that I can bring back home.
One sunny evening, as the boys played in the playground, I met a Turkish woman and we started to chat. We quickly discovered that we shared an interest in food and food culture. Her parents had owned a restaurant in Southern Turkey, her brother was a young up and coming chef and, as our friendship developed, she introduced me to authentic Turkish cooking, markets, restaurants and backstreet food gems.
This chance meeting opened up for me a whole side of Istanbul that I may not necessarily have discovered on my own. “Tourists would love this”, I was forever telling her, “you should open a food walking tours business.” “We’ll do it together,” she said, and, within six months, I can proudly say that www.istanbulfoodwalks.com is up and running.
“We offer two different food walking tours ‘Two Continents Food Walk’ and ‘Backstreets of Historic Istanbul Food Walk’. Both tours are carefully designed to get you off the tourist trail and explore and taste the real Istanbul. As my friend is a real foodie and a local, she gives you a tourism experience that is authentic and that is what the visitor wants.
“The reviews so far have been brilliant. So, if you feel like an exotic mini break, then Istanbul should definitely be on your radar.Turkish Airlines have regular flights and it’s only four hours away and I promise you www.istan
bulfoodwalks.com won’t disappoint you. Then I’ll see how I can bring these experiences back home to the town I love so well.