Postcards from Istanbul

It's been difficult to choose one image among the many of Istanbul to represent the city. I'm not sure this is the right one because Istanbul is about a lot more than mosques. I hope it's a heart-warming opener, though.
It's been difficult to choose one image among the many of Istanbul to represent the city. I'm not sure this is the right one because Istanbul is about a lot more than mosques. I hope it's a heart-warming opener, though.

Bridge from Europe to Asia

Not the best photo from Istanbul, but it perfectly depicts what this city is about: Europe and Asia meet through tended bridges, both physical and metaphorical. This is the Easternmost, longest bridge over the Bosphorus, Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge
Not the best photo from Istanbul, but it perfectly depicts what this city is about: Europe and Asia meet through tended bridges, both physical and metaphorical. This is the Easternmost, longest bridge over the Bosphorus, Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge

Old world, modern heart

Istanbul, historically Byzantium and later Constantinople, is as old as it is modern. It's challenging for a city girl like me to describe the modernity in a way that's understood and not confused with London modern, or New York modern, although there is a bit of that, too, but that's not the modern I refer to.

The modern that captures one's heart in Istanbul is that of a millenary city thumping to the 21st century beat, with its cafes, restaurants, businesses and dynamism, its ferries taxiing over the Bosphorus carrying thousands from one quarter to another, from Europe to Asia, from home to work and back, such as they would over the Hudson in New York.

The modern that catches my fancy is that which mixes a very old world feel that cannot be found anywhere else in all the equally millenary European cities I've ever visited (which have shed the past, the real past, from their personalities except in their buildings and, in some cases, some of their habits) with an I'm up to date, baby, don't be fooled by my looks, my heart is in this century and I can prove it, just step into the inner Istanbul and be treated to modern city life.

Istanbul has a unique I am ancient, and proud to be, but I live in the present and I don't care what you think about it feel to it.

Uncountable sights, chaotic harmony

Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known as The Blue Mosque.  One of the breathtaking sights in the city. Photo taken from  a rooftop, see more on that below.
Sultan Ahmed Mosque, better known as The Blue Mosque. One of the breathtaking sights in the city. Photo taken from a rooftop, see more on that below.
Galata Tower, seen from the Golden Horn. No, I couldn't watch a sunset from its top during this visit, the weather didn't permit.  But I did once upon a time.... it was fantastic, yes.
Galata Tower, seen from the Golden Horn. No, I couldn't watch a sunset from its top during this visit, the weather didn't permit. But I did once upon a time.... it was fantastic, yes.

The seven hills of Istanbul host many views of ancient civilizations, some in colorful contrast one next to each other, or even within themselves, such as Hagia Sophia –originally a Christian church, later remodeled to an Islamic mosque, and finally converted to a national museum by the famous and adored Ataturk, the Grand Bazaar, hosting as many as 400,000 visitors per day in high season, the Blue Mosque in the photo above, the Topkapi Palace, the ever watching over the Bosphorus Galata Tower, rumored to be one of the best sunset watching spots in Istanbul...

Muslim and Romanic styles coalesce in chaotic harmony amid the fares of any and all stores overflowing most major streets in the city. I couldn't help but admire the contrasts and the way this Euro Asiatic city holds its head up high above the mixture and waves hello to the past and the present with flair and style.

The passages, or how to turn hundreds of streets into open-air restaurants

Nevizade street.  So pretty when looking up to take a photo, delightful at street level, one restaurant after the other, all with tables on the street, some with balconies too... an incredible sight for a Mediterranean hearted girl like me.
Nevizade street. So pretty when looking up to take a photo, delightful at street level, one restaurant after the other, all with tables on the street, some with balconies too... an incredible sight for a Mediterranean hearted girl like me.

What stole my heart during this visit, like nothing else in this city (and mind, it has plenty to take one's breath away) were the streets that turn into full blown restaurants al fresco. There are covered passages, too, one of the most famous being Çiçek Passage that also host a multitude of restaurants and shops, but I'm really referring to streets which I took to calling passages because the space to navigate them between the chairs and tables was so narrow that apparently my mind wouldn't wrap around the fact that these were "simply" streets-turned-open-air-restaurants.

There are so many that it's a moot point to try to count them. Most –but not all, not by a long shot, can be enjoyed around Istiklal Street. Those around Istiklal are a good combination of modern and traditional spaces, and here modern would have the London or New York slant. Some of the cafes, bars and restaurants are top-notch design and service. But again, in the unique to Istanbul old world meets modern city life style, some of the coolest places in the area are surrounded by traditional cafes where the Nargile (or Hookah) can be bought together with a tepid Turkish coffee or the ever present reddish strong tea.

If you visit Istanbul, I'm sure you won't miss the tourist sights, but please, please, don't miss the street bars and restaurants. You'd be hard pressed not to cross paths with any given street that has this wonderful setup all ready to sit you, but still, go out of your way to find those jewels which are specially wonderful around Istiklal. You won't be sorry, I promise you.

More open-air wonderfulness, Cezayir Street

This street aka passage hosts a mixture of bars, pubs and restaurants. You'll see here why I kept calling these passages... but really, they are streets, prettily arranged during business hours, but "street looking" when all businesses are closed.
This street aka passage hosts a mixture of bars, pubs and restaurants. You'll see here why I kept calling these passages... but really, they are streets, prettily arranged during business hours, but "street looking" when all businesses are closed.
Excuse me, but please notice the tablecloths. Some places ought to take notice and follow the example. Ahem.
Excuse me, but please notice the tablecloths. Some places ought to take notice and follow the example. Ahem.
Would you please look at these armchairs?!  I couldn't help but sit here, and have a drink just for the sake of, well, sitting here and having a drink!
Would you please look at these armchairs?! I couldn't help but sit here, and have a drink just for the sake of, well, sitting here and having a drink!
Oh, and of course they provide protection against cold weather and wind.
Oh, and of course they provide protection against cold weather and wind.
Blue-green armchairs now, on the left!
Blue-green armchairs now, on the left!

The rooftops

Hagia Sophia from a rooftop, a restaurant that had the mandatory tables on the street, too, AND hosted a hidden jewel on its rooftop. TIP: Many restaurants and bars have rooftops, if you're ever in Istanbul, be sure to ask "do you have a rooftop?"
Hagia Sophia from a rooftop, a restaurant that had the mandatory tables on the street, too, AND hosted a hidden jewel on its rooftop. TIP: Many restaurants and bars have rooftops, if you're ever in Istanbul, be sure to ask "do you have a rooftop?"

There is so much to tell about Istanbul...

I don't want to make this longer, because I've already written the postcards I wanted to send, but I wouldn't do the city justice if I don't mention one of its major appeals: its hospitality. Istanbul's diverse ethnicity, where the sum of minorities becomes the large majority, renders an atmosphere of hospitality and helpfulness in the best Arab tradition that doesn't lose its force even in the midst of the enormous population of 14 million people.

Istanbul and its citizens are friendly, the cabbies are helpful, the store owners will help you in your language –whatever that is. This is a very safe city where the most trouble a tourist can run into is bargaining aplenty in the city bazaars.

Enjoy Istanbul, if you ever visit!

Bonus shot, the Spice Market

Misir Carçisi, built in 1664
Misir Carçisi, built in 1664

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Comments 46 comments

Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

You're back! We missed you. Thanks for this wonderful tour of the city -- sounds as if you had a great trip. This is a good history lesson, too, I gotta send this one to my mum, she'll love it.


Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid Author

Hey, Teresa! You're nice to say you missed me, I'm sorry to report I'm afraid I'll be missed again :-) You almost caught me going to get the laundry for my next escapade, Europe awaits :-) Two weeks this time, whoopsie! But I'll come back with more postcards! I hope your mother enjoys these!


ParadigmShift... profile image

ParadigmShift... 7 years ago from San Jose, CA

This is amazing! You don't get these shots in those calendars they sell (I know cause we get one every year). But those cafes! Someone should take that idea and start the trend here in the states! Or at least California! Great hub and welcome back Elena. Thank you for the adventure


Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid Author

My pleasure, Paradigm! Those cafes are simply worth the trip, I'm telling you! And I'm not entirely unfamiliar to street life, living in a Mediterranean country as I do, but really, I never saw the likes of this, except maybe in the very heat of summer in the very summery locations round here or in Italy or Greece!


pgrundy 7 years ago

Oh how beautiful and exotic. The photos are incredible, thank you so much for sharing them. Now I'm hungry on top of restless, but hey, that can be a good thing!

I hope someday I get to see Istanbul. Stranger things have happened, and I'm by no means discounting the possibility. Good to see you back!


WhiskeyChick profile image

WhiskeyChick 7 years ago from North of Somewhere

That is just amazing. I'd love to go there one day. So you took those pictures yourself? You've got a good eye if they are.


ladyvenus 7 years ago

So this how Istanbul look like Nice place. Never been there hope one one I can. Thanks for sharing this hub.


goldentoad profile image

goldentoad 7 years ago from Free and running....

pass the hookah!


VioletSun profile image

VioletSun 7 years ago from Oregon/ Name: Marie

Thank your for the eye feastand descriptions. I love, love old buildings, love to see the architecture, and mixed with outdoor, trendy cafes? I am in heaven.  


Paper Moon profile image

Paper Moon 7 years ago from In the clouds

Oh this hurts me soooooo badly. You have made such a delightful hub on this, that I feel I will have to endure pain if I do not get to go. This sounds like the spice of life itself. Thank you for sharing this. :-D


Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid Author

Hello, Pam!  Beautiful and exotic it is, and your comment about being "hungry" makes me think it was probably a good idea to leave out all the food related photos and commentary :-)  I'd probably given you a major case of the craving!  Laugh! It's nice to be back, if only for a few hours :-)

WhiskeyChick  thanks for the comment. Yes, all photos are mine, I'm not too sure about my eye, I keep saying it's my nifty camera :)

Thanks, ladyvenus.


Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid Author

Golden! The hookah smells wonderfully, too! It actually smells better than it tastes, so I'll pass it to you and then sit by your side while you puff away :-)

Violet, my pleasure! It is really heavenly, morning for the visits and afternoon for the cafes, can't beat that!

Paper Moon, spice of life is a very adequate way to call Istanbul! I'm sure you'd love it!


Cris A profile image

Cris A 7 years ago from Manila, Philippines

Wel well well somebody's definitely living the life! And taking photographs, too! It's nice to hear of or read about places not from travelogues. Personal accounts are way cooler, specially when the storyteller is happy to share her experience!

Nice pictures - I knew there'd be a pic of rooftops somewhere! :D


Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid Author

Hey, Cris! I think you've got me pegged with the rooftops :-) And yes, I'm happy to share, I'd like to think others can as well live the life, vicariously, through these postcards :-)


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

What fantastic photos! I've been to Istanbul a couple of times, and these photos just took me right back.

I agree with Cris, rooftop photos are your speciality (-: Don't stop, they are wonderful! How is your own rooftop garden?


Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid Author

Hey, LG! I'd hoped at least one visitor to this hub would have also been a visitor to Istanbul :) I'm glad you were taken back, means I captured the city spirit acceptably!

My rooftop is just in its most wonderful spring glory. It's a bit of a pain to travel in spring, because we miss the terrace in full bloom, but oh well, it'll still be here when we return from our European escapade :-)


Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 7 years ago from India

I've only visited Istanbul through books and the city has always fascinated me, perched as it between East and West. Your pictures are lovely Elena...those little streetside cafes look most inviting. Is that where you wrote your postcards? :)


Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid Author

Hello, FP! I wrote my postcards in a tea place located inside a muslim cemetery, called Corlulu Ali pasa Medresesi, you can google that and be charmed and fascinated all over again :-) I had a Turkish tea, too, while writing the postcards!


sixtyorso profile image

sixtyorso 7 years ago from South Africa

Thanks for the great hub and the memories. My dearly beloved and I were in Istanbul in October last year as part of our Emerald Princess sea cruise.

Thanks for sharing.


sixtyorso profile image

sixtyorso 7 years ago from South Africa

We also went to Cardassi which is also very interesting.


Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid Author

Hello, sixty! Glad to find another hubber familiar with Istanbul! :-) I'm not familiar with Cardassi, though?


sixtyorso profile image

sixtyorso 7 years ago from South Africa

Sorry I meant Kusadasi which is near the ancient city of Ephesus and it’s surrounding environments and the House of the Virgin Mary on top of Bulbul Mountain, a pilgrimage site for all denominations. Kusadsa also is home to the Basilica of St. John.


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

I've been lucky enough to go twice - once with my best mate from school, once with my other half. It's a wonderful place.


SoManyPaths profile image

SoManyPaths 7 years ago from West Coast USA

I always wanted to travel there. Now I want to even more.


serda profile image

serda 7 years ago from Istanbul

Hi, love your post, beautifully elaborated.

I'm stuck on one thing though... you say

"...helpfulness in the best Arab tradition that..." in your second from last paragraph.

I hope you don't mean that Turkey is an Arabic country, because it definitely isn't.

PS: I live in Istanbul :)


franciaonline profile image

franciaonline 7 years ago from Philippines

Beautiful Istanbul! Thanks for this hub, Elena.


Iphigenia 7 years ago

I've never been - but this makes me want to go - did you see any Whirling Dervishes ?


LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

Whirling Dervishes were in Sudan, I think?


Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid Author

Hey everyone, thanks for your comments, glad yu enjoyed the hub and photos! I'm back from the second leg of my journey and hope to have more stories and photos to share soon!

The Whirling Dervishes are in Istanbul -- maybe also in Sudan, but they defiitely turn around in Turkey :-)


Sally's Trove profile image

Sally's Trove 7 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

Absolutely gorgeous narrative and pictures, Elena. I've never been to Istanbul, but I guarantee I'd be spending a lot of time lounging in those beautiful street cafes. Thanks so much for taking me on this beautiful armchair tour!


Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid Author

My pleasure, Sally! Long time no see, by the way! Well, I'm one to speak--having been absent on jolly merry holidays for 3 weeks! :-)


justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 7 years ago from Texas

How interesting and what gorgeous photos! That bridge is amazing! I think I saw Jackie Chan have an outrageous chase scene in that street bazaar in one of his movies! :D


Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid Author

Hey, Suzanne! Glad you enjoyed the virtual tour :-)


James Mark profile image

James Mark 6 years ago from York, England

A very late comment - thanks for this tour. Your article popped up because I am busy writing one about a Turkish town on the Mediterranean.


Elena. profile image

Elena. 6 years ago from Madrid Author

Hi, James! Never too late to leave a lovely comment, thanks! I hope you get to visit, besides getting to write about it :) Good luck with your article!


Riviera Rose profile image

Riviera Rose 5 years ago from South of France

I'm off to Istanbul this May and so loved this hub - am desperate to find those open air sofas and have a coffee there! Thanks so much for sharing!


Elena. profile image

Elena. 5 years ago from Madrid Author

Hello, Riviera! I hope you'll have a great time, spring ought to allow for the open air experience for sure, it's when I visited! You'll love it, you'll see! :-)


marwan asmar profile image

marwan asmar 5 years ago from Amman, Jordan

Delightful.................


Saleemayoub profile image

Saleemayoub 5 years ago

I've been to Istanbul at a very early age. I was thinking of going again some time soon.After reading this hub I am packing now!


Elena. profile image

Elena. 5 years ago from Madrid Author

Glad you enjoyed, Saleemayoub! If this article was nice, imagine the real thing! :-)


DeBorrah K. Ogans profile image

DeBorrah K. Ogans 4 years ago

Elena, This is a wonderful informative hub! It has revived many great memories of my trip to Istanbul! Beautiful photographs! Is it possible that I may use your pictures of the Hagia Sophia & Blue Mosque? I will defintiely give you the proper credit! Thank you for sharing, Peace & Blessings!


Elena. profile image

Elena. 4 years ago from Madrid Author

Cheers, DeBorrah! Sure, if you credit the source, it's fine to use the photos :) And, of course, it'd be great to see the end result, if possible!


creativeaqua profile image

creativeaqua 3 years ago from India

Istanbul is a place I would love to visit. Have heard so much about it from a friend. The lively streets, the markets and the beautiful history of the city.


Elena. profile image

Elena. 3 years ago from Madrid Author

I much recommend visiting, even if nowadays the city, and the country, are going through a bit of convulsion. But that will pass and Istanbul will still be there.


serbonero profile image

serbonero 23 months ago

Yes, enjoy Istanbul ! This is one of the "must visit" cities... I have been there a few weeks ago and I am fairly impressed with its size and cultural diversity...


Elena. profile image

Elena. 23 months ago from Madrid Author

I agree, Serbonero, Istanbul is a "must visit" city in my opinion as well. For its huge size, it's really a "warm" place, and the diversity makes it really interesting. Thanks for stopping by!

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