This place is unlike anywhere I have ever been or likely anywhere I will ever go. Sixteen million people live here. It is all things to everyone. We are beginning our journey here just as the US are evacuating from Syria and the Turkish military is attacking the once protected area of the Kurdish people by air and land. We are visiting a country at war.
You must have a visa to enter Turkey so we paid for one prior to going through passport control. We were stamped and made our way through into the arrivals lounge and chaos. We negotiated the bank of hundreds of smokers just outside the airport doors to find a cab. Job done and towards the Bosporus we hurtled. Istanbul is perhaps the biggest contradiction in terms I have ever visited. The suburbs passed through on the way from the airport are very very modern. Huge skyscrapers lit up like Vegas. Outlet malls everywhere you gaze. Chain restaurants and all the standard Hotel brands.
It takes an hour to get into the centre of Istanbul and the longer you watch out the window the more it becomes clear that western media portrays Turkey so much differently than it actually is. This place does not need propping up. It is not destitute and it appears to be thriving in every way conceivable. I am so glad I came here because it has set me straight on what Turkish life is really like.
Our Airbnb is about 20 meters from the Galata Tower. That remarkable building sits proudly like a beacon on the European side of the Bosporus gazing across to Asia.
Upon arrival we were greeted warmly by our host Jamil and we got a lay of the land. We soon got out on to the street to find a cafe (not hard) and enjoyed some Turkish cuisine.
We wandered about after that in the local area and eventually shut it down around 1:00 AM. Back up at 6 to have a Turkish coffee and find a cab to the Blue Mosque.
You don’t need an alarm clock in this city. A call to prayer is sung from the minarets to wake the weary so that they can start their day the right way. A few minutes later and we were screaming across the Galata bridge while locals fished on either side.
Getting anywhere early is the right thing to do but in this case it provided us an opportunity to tour the mosque at opening. As a special bonus we were incessantly pestered to buy a carpet by at least a dozen different men who were curiously all English students to begin with. Then they all funnily enough either had visited Halifax or had cousins in British Columbia.
Of course if we said we were from Iceland they would have all visited Reykjavik too.
What are ya gonna do. There are thousands of carpets to be sold and you gotta hustle to get them gone. After the Blue Mosque we strolled over to the Hagia Sophia and wandered around with jaws dropped. Amazing place, of that there is no doubt.
After a morning with the prophets we wandered on to the Grand Bazaar for some retail therapy. Didn’t buy anything but seriously bowled over by the experience.
Do you want a Bolex or Bugo Hoss suit. Are you interested in knock off everything? You are in the right place.
It’s massive it’s busy and it is one of the oldest shopping malls in the world. From there we wandered the streets jammed with tourists and Turks alike passing literally thousands of shops eventually arriving at the Egyptian spice bazaar. Smells and colours and people selling anything and everything you can imagine.
We had a seat at the other end of the market near the river to take a load off and consider the remainder of the day. I won’t go on and on. I would recommend this place to anyone. It changes you. It helps you understand. It breaks down walls and it teaches you that what you are used to is no better or worse than what you see and experience here.
I will be the first to say that what has been depicted by Western media most of my adult life is skewed. If you are interested in putting things straight come and see for yourself. You will initially feel betrayed but let this place and these people sink in. You will be doing yourself a massive favour.
Istanbul expands the mind!
Images taken with Leica Q-P