How can one describe Istanbul? The city that sprawls across three peninsulas, two continents, two empires and two religions? What words could possibly give justice to the things this city has seen.
When we arrived at Istanbul airport in the early evening, the bus ride to town was our first glimpse of the enormous city. As the sun went down, we could see the valleys of houses around the water light up with brilliant beams of the pink and orange sunlight. Alongside the slow bus, cars sped past in a split second, overtaking here, there and everywhere. If there was one thing that I could count on at that moment, it was that this city moves at a lightening pace.
We found Sulthanahmet Square to be full of tourists and Istanbullu’s alike, with restaurants and souvenir stores stretching for as far as the eye could see. It wasn’t exactly how I had imagined it (if there were any more flashing neon lights I could have had a seizure) but so often the expectations you hold things to are too lofty for reason.
We visited the Galata Tower to take in a spectacular view of Istanbul from above and felt the salty sea winds from the Bosphorus along the foreshore of Eminiou, where the phalanx of fishermen stood patiently for a catch. The Aya Sofia took our breath away as we looked at Islamic inscriptions alongside Catholic mosaics and the scars that transformation has left this iconic building with.
Even though Istanbul’s monuments have withstood tests of time, much of the city has been shaken in recent times with the protests in Taksim Square. In hindsight, it is lucky we visited at a brief period of quiet as demonstrations and protests have once again escalated. We walked from Taksim Square down Istikal street (a main shopping thoroughfare) and saw reporters holding gas masks as well as a police water cannon waiting patiently. Even though things felt normal as we browsed the shops, I guess it could have changed at any moment.
We liked Istanbul and the exciting energy it has, we loved the food (oh man did we ever…), the people were friendly and hospitable. The clash of popular culture and conservative religious values was one element of the city that was hard to adjust to and I wonder if the generations of travellers before us encountered this as well.
We have found that the only way to describe Istanbul is: ‘endlessly fascinating’.
Feel free to comment on my ‘Istanbul, Turkey.’ post below! I would love to know what you thought of the city of Istanbul or your own experiences there!