Postcards from Istanbul
Bridge from Europe to Asia
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
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
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
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
More by this Author
As part of my series of Best Bookstores in the World, here are two amazing bookstores in Japan, one in Kyoto by the name of Keibunsya, and the other in Tokyo, that goes by Daikanyama T-Site, the flagship store of the...
In my experience, one of the best ways to get a feel for a city is have a stroll around it on a Sunday. The pace is slower, you'll see people doing what they would, shopping, eating out, enjoying the day with families,...
A springtime leisure Sunday in Tokyo around Daikanyama and Nakameguro, where you'll feel like a citizen rather than a tourist.