Reflections on Istanbul

“If the Earth were a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

I love cities where old and new coincide (or maybe even collide?).  One of the first things that grabbed me about Rome was the modern stores housed in ancient buildings: Gucci, Prada, Ferragamo and other designers I’ve never heard of display no more than 3 items (the more expensive the shop, the fewer the display items, right?) in windows fronting plazas where chariot races were held centuries ago.

First Impressions  

I suppose I expected Istanbul to be a similar mix of old and new, so when we landed in Istanbul after dark, I was unprepared for the chic cosmopolitan skyline that greeted us. We took a shuttle from the city’s newest international airport, and even before we approached the heart of the downtown with its beautiful lit suspension bridges, palaces and mosques, we saw high rises along the freeway outlined with blue neon and shopping centers glowing with floodlights.

Modern Istanbul collage

A collage I compiled of Istanbul’s modern side

We rented an apartment on the far edge of Beyoglu, a trendy area for shopping and nightlife, and the jazz clubs with cocktails approaching $20 remind us that we are in a city rivaling Paris, New York or Sydney.

At Second Glance

Beautiful old Istanbul sidestreet

Beautiful old Istanbul sidestreet

And yet this contemporary city has plenty of old world charm. Walking along our neighborhood sidewalks, we step around men from 25 to 70 sitting on tiny plastic stools drinking tea.  And although it’s tempting to compare older women in their traditional headscarves and long winter coats to brusque Russian babushkas, older Turks age gracefully and have a gleam in their eye and a ready smile.

A Turkish woman told me, “Istanbul isn’t Turkey,” and I believe her if for no other reason than I understand that New York isn’t America. She meant it in a deeper sense, though; as a teacher, she specifically mentioned parts of Turkey where girls still may not be educated.

Another man we met warned us to “give Istanbul a chance,” and upon our arrival I understood his meaning.  I never adapted completely to the size of the city, at times finding it overwhelming and enjoying our weekend excursions to smaller towns.

One of the most endearing aspects of Turkish culture: men and boys often walk arm in arm.

One of the most endearing aspects of Turkish culture: men and boys often walk arm in arm.

But for a BIG city, KC and I enjoyed the energy of Istanbul; despite its size on par with Los Angeles, I often caught myself scurrying faster than the leisurely flow of pedestrian traffic.  Turksih speech patterns are low and calm, unlike a certain country we just left!  And it’s hard to feel even slightly disconcerted by a pack of teen boys noisily taking up the sidewalk when they’re singing or holding hands.  (That’s not to say we didn’t see a few kids screwed up and huffing glue… as I said, it’s a BIG city.)

Outside the Spice Bazaar, Istanbul

Outside the Spice Bazaar, Istanbul

“Either I conquer Istanbul or Istanbul conquers me.” – Fatih Sultan Mehmet

Lest you think Istanbul is a tranquil, smooth-flowing city, have no doubt that it lives up to its riotous reputation, too. Need I say anything more than “Grand Bazaar”?

Other simple examples exist just outside of our apartment:

    • KC has given up exercising in the park near our apartment because each time he tries to practice kung fu moves or use the situp machine, he’s instantly surrounded by boys from 8 to 28 wanting to race him or show off their kicks, asking his name and where he’s from the whole time. He’s quite the ambassador.
It only gets crazy if the handle is longer than the depth of the restaurant

It only gets crazy if the handle is longer than the depth of the restaurant

    • Most restaurants house a wood-fired oven for baking bread and roasting anything/everything; the wooden paddle for pushing food all the way to the back of the oven is about 12 feet long, and if the restaurant isn’t 12 feet deep, you’re likely to get a wooden handle to the ribs if you walk by the front door at the wrong time.
    • The other day I was walking by a tea house on our street (men only!) and a millisecond before I crossed the threshold of the open doorway, a handful of bottle caps hurtled under my nose and clattered into the street. Hmmmm?
    • Traffic is mildly crazy with some serious traffic jams.  And apparently Turks don’t think like American men in terms of asking for directions: as they drive along not sure where they’re going, they just roll down a window and tap their horn to get the attention of the next driver, who then rolls down his/her window, and an entire conversation ensues – usually at a stoplight, thankfully – about how to get where Driver #1 wants to go.  I rather liked it and found it to be just one more example of a culture where stopping to visit and have a cup of tea together is a priority.

I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on this multi-faceted city. Sorry it’s a bit of a rambling post, but at least I didn’t subject you to another history lesson (and boy could I have if I’d wanted to!). Here, have a few more photos to take your mind off of it.

“If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.”- Alphonse de Lamartine

View of the Bosphorous Straits from near our apartment

View of the Bosphorous Straits from near our apartment

Istanbul 031

KC’s first taste of Sahlep, a winter drink that feels like a perfectly-steamed latte but tastes like vanilla, cinnamon, honey… oh my.

While in our neighborhood people piled trash on a corner or took it to a dumpster several blocks away, the tourist area had fancy-schmancy underground disposal systems.

While in our neighborhood people piled trash on a corner or took it to a dumpster several blocks away, the tourist area had fancy-schmancy underground disposal systems.

Istanbul 025

The famous Blue Mosque

Istanbul 004
One of our neighbors used this ladder to reserve his parking spot every day. At night he returned to “his” spot and took the ladder inside with him.
Topkapi Palace 021

The tile work… ohhhhhh, the tile work. KC at the Topkapi Palace with stunning tiles covering every inch of the palace walls.

Notice the ship heading into the Straits in the foreground, the mosque along the waterfront, and the city in the background.  I think this photo represents Istanbul nicely.  (Too bad it's so overcast.)

Notice the huge freighter heading into the Straits in the foreground, the mosque along the waterfront, and the city in the background. I think this photo represents Istanbul nicely. (Too bad it’s so overcast.)

The fruit & veggie truck that came by every few days.  I finally figured out that when I said "five" and meant 5 apples, he assumed I wanted 5 kilograms of apples!  Even so, a very inexpensive and convenient way to shop.  (Our neighbor lady just lowered a basket from her 4th story window!)

The fruit & veggie truck that came by every few days. I finally figured out that when I said “five” and meant 5 apples, he assumed I wanted 5 kilograms of apples! Even so, a very inexpensive and convenient way to shop. (Our neighbor lady just lowered a basket from her 4th story window!)

Now isn't that a cute book-bench?  KC waiting for the tram, one of Istanbul's 5 modes of public transportation.

Now isn’t that a cute book-bench? KC waiting for the tram, one of Istanbul’s 5 modes of public transportation.

Advertisements

4 comments

  1. A wonderful description of Istanbul life and great photos. I loved the ladder– if it had been left unattended in a US city, that would have been the last of it!

    1. Thanks, Sally. I was a little frustrated that after several days of trying I couldn’t get a good “flow” to the narrative. I never did convey a sense of the city the way it’s in my head, but I do rather like the eclectic photos. I think it’s because it was a big enough city that we had moments of just living, not being tourists.

      Sent from my iPod

  2. Brava! I actually do think you captured the flow of the city and am truly impressed with the work that went into this one post! I love the quotes interspersed with the fabulous photos. Now I’m really sad to have missed the opportunity to visit. BTW, anytime you want to add a history lesson, I’m always up for those. Thanks for a great view into Istanbul!

  3. Reading this you almost feel as though you are living there too. You could give Rick Steves a lot of competition.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: