Having just spent the past two weeks in the magnificent metropolis of Istanbul, I'd like to share some observations from my time there. The city formerly known as Constantinople and Byzantium is fascinating to no end. So grill up a kebab, pour yourself a Rakı, and get ready to shout Türkiye!
- Turkish people are incredibly patient with my preschool-level attempts to converse in their language. The street is my classroom!
- No, I don't speak much Turkish, street vendor, and I'm obviously not from here. But I know that a banana is not worth two dollars.
- I am blessed to have friends from all over the world. My gracious host in Istanbul, the beautiful and charming Gökçe, lives in an amazing apartment near the heart of the city. The view from her balcony looks out over red-thatched roofs all the way to the sea. Wow.
|View from Gökçe's Apartment Balcony|
- Thanks to Gökçe, I was introduced to many interesting Turkish dishes. Make no mistake; Turkish food is amazing. From the greasy street stuff to the healthy Mediterranean dishes, it's all mouth-watering and delicious.
- But the best part about the food here? I can eat as much as I want and never gain weight. Why? I sweat it all out after walking for thirty minutes in this scorching summer heat. Time for another cold shower!
- SCENE: Shoe shiner walks by. Unwittingly, he drops shoe brush in front of my path. I pick it up and call out to him. Graciously, he motions to his friend sitting directly across, and intimates that to say thanks they'll shine my shoes. No thanks, I respond. Probably a scam, they'll demand money afterwords, my skeptical, travel-honed brain, thinks. Fast-forward three hours later. I cross paths with a different shoe shiner. He "accidentally" drops brush in front of me. Deja vu? Nope, definitely not. This time, I smile, shake my head, and continue on. Man, I've gotten too good at spotting these tricks...
- I'm seeing so much reverence for Atatürk, the father of modern Turkey, that even I'm starting to revere him. His portrait is proudly displayed on banners, shop windows, inside places of business, and even adorns every single banknote. Sorry Abe, but you now have competition for my the object of my hero worship. And, by the way, you're not the only one spotted wearing a dashing top-hat.
- There are stray cats everywhere in this city. To be frank, this is a serious problem that the government needs to addre...Oh look at that CUTE kitty! Poor thing, you must be starving!!! Here, eat the rest of my kebab.
The Scourge of Istanbul's Rodents
- What's the best thing about an abundance of stray cats? No rats! Yes, a city with over 15 million people, and not a rat to be seen! I LOVE this place!
- But....people still enjoy feeding the pigeons (why do people do this?). Apparently the cats haven't succeeded in finishing off the winged rats. Oh well, I guess you can't have everything.
- Smoking Nargileh and playing Backgammon? Ohhhhhhhhhhh yes. I definitely feel like I'm in Turkey now.
- Sorry Dr. Milliron, you've provided me with great dental care, but I've come to a decision. I'm not going to the dentist anymore. From now on I'm only going to see the Denttürk.
- Turkish men always seem to have at least a 2 day stubble. There's enough facial hair on display to make Chuck Norris proud. So why does every bus-stop have an advertisement for razors? Are female marketers subtly sending a message to their unkempt opposites?
- Istanbul may not be based on a simple grid plan like most American cities, but that's alright! Through my wanderings, I have developed a superb sense of direction. I don't need a map to get around, I'll just let my intuition guide me to where I want to go! Alright, let's see... I've been walking for quite a while now, I should be there soon...wait a second...wasn't I in this exact spot twenty minutes ago?
- Alright, my guidebook says that the interesting mosque is about a twenty-five minute walk from here. No problem! That's about twenty blocks...just as if I were taking 4th avenue up to 63rd street. OK! Now, let's have a look at the map. I'm standing here, in this big red circle, and I need to get over to my finger, here, in the bottom right corner. Great! So...I start by taking Selman-I Pak Caddesi to Karagazi Sokak, then I cross over Selami Ali Effendi Caddesi, which turns into Kucuk Cesme Sokak, which becomes Sandalci Yokusu Sokak followed by Evliya Hoca Sokak, then I run into Cavusdere Caddessi, which I turn and follow as it winds past the Sport Complex and the Park, after which I hit Cinili Mescit Sokak and take the first right at....screw it, I'm taking a cab. Taxi!
- In Istanbul, I am an urban trekker. On an average day, I hike through scenic neighborhoods, scale steep hills, and even ferry across continents.
|Istanbul bridges both Europe and Asia|
- I have never, ever, seen anything quite like the Istiklal Caddesi on a Saturday night. Hundreds of bars, clubs, and restaurants packed into block after block after block of pedestrian-choked real estate. Tens of thousands (edit: hundreds of thousands? Millions?) of revelers parading and socializing until the wee hours of the morning. It's like Carnival every weekend!
|The infamous Istiklal Caddesi|
- Many parts of Istanbul feel so European that it's easy to forget that I'm in a Muslim country. But I'm jolted back to reality by the booming prayer calls which reverberate throughout the city five times a day from the minarets of every mosque. Surreal.
- There are a staggering amount of mosques in Istanbul. You could dedicate your life to studying them all and still only know a fraction of what there is to know.
- I've become addicted to visiting Ottoman-era mosques. The interiors of many are so resplendent that I often felt my eyes welling up upon walking inside. All are adorned with colorful geometric patterns, exquisite calligraphy, and masterful architectural work. The word 'stunning' doesn't even begin to express.
|The Blue Mosque|
- The secular state which the great Atatürk established in 1923 is being challenged by the conservative Islamic government currently in power. While Istanbul is perhaps the most progressive city in the Muslim world, some parts feel distinctly different. The traditional neighborhood of Fatih is inhabited by many women wearing hijabs and burqas, as well as pious long-bearded men.
|Josh's Saz Heaven|
- I'm watching scantily-clad women dance provocatively in Turkish music videos, while realizing that access to Youtube is blocked in Turkey. Wait...what? Now there's a contradiction...
- I absolutely love Turkish music. Just how popular is music in Turkey? Maybe this gives some indication: my weak cell-phone FM receiver picked up no less than Eighty-One FM Radio stations broadcasting in Istanbul! That's more stations than exist in certain states in America.
- The current prince of Turkish pop is the strangely magnetic Serdar Ortaç. Modern Turkish pop music is a flawless fusion of Euro club-beats with traditional Turkish melodies. It's so catchy that I find myself singing along even though I am clueless as to what they're saying. ..."Topu topu bi deste ara sıra bi besle iki nota bir besteyim!" Sure, why not!
- Oh, snap! The person in front of me accidentally dropped a 10 lira note on the ground! I should pick it up and give it back to them. But look at those sunglasses they are wearing, those are Dolce and Gabana! They don't need this money. Ah, the moral dilemma...hold on, I know how to resolve this! Let me think....what would Atatürk do?
Bilge = Wise