Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Istanbul was great.
We were there on our own, not playing guide to friends, nor sharing our stay with business related matters. Also, having been a few times now, we've been to all the main tourist must-see locations, so we could just wander as we pleased.

It felt like autumn - it was chilly and windy and leaves were falling- not spring-like as it is in Izmir. Don't get me wrong, I definitely appreciate the warmer climate, but it somehow feels weird for it to be greener than ever in November. So I enjoyed the wind and the leaves and the Istanbul autumn sun.

It was urban.
What is that supposed to mean? Well, there are lots of different cafés full of people reading weekend editions, sharing brunch and a chat. The streets were busy, young and old, fashionistas and devil-may-care, students and families strolling, window shopping and sitting on benches. I love urban trekking; discovering the contrasting neighborhoods and districts of a city, its shops and cafés, museums and buildings, parks and squares, and people from different walks of life. Istanbul is superb urban trekking territory.

Wherever you turn, there's a feeling of
history mingling with modern chaos. Old crumbling buildings, renovations going on, trendy shops and bars siding with older börek shops or incense vendors, entire shops dedicated to baklava and other honey coated pastries next to up-market deco shops, banks next to knick-knack vendors, mosques and ruins. Buildings from the nineteenth century are by far not the oldest. Some are in superb condition, other are a threat to public safety, especially in a region often visited by earthquakes. The fact that they have not managed to turn it into a homogenous picture perfect newly renovated postcard gives it a rough class in my eyes. It's still a mess, and far from the polished glamour so many cities of historical importance seem to ooze, but it feels real.

There's an air of creativity and vibrant energy. Cafés, jazz clubs, garden lounges, saunas and shops are sprouting where you would never guess to look; behind the doors of a crumbling building and shabby entrance lies a café in the premises once occupied by the Italian Labour Association (Società Operaia Italiana), on terraces, roof tops, in court yards, basements, dead ends, you name it. Istanbul is vibrant with (chaotic) life.

People have gotten their tushes into gear and are being very creative in making the most out of things. Better still, they are often doing it with taste and not in view of making a quick buck on a tourist's need for a toilet-stop. I don't mean to sound patronizing, but it's definitely a welcome change, and I fully appreciated it. There's loads to discover in Istanbul and the fantastic thing is you have to look for it, it's not just being served on a plate according to some proven marketing recipe. In this respect it kind of reminds me of Belgrade; both cities manage to preserve some form of authenticity amidst the trendy urban imports, which makes them all the more enjoyable. Perhaps working on a budget has something to do with it?

more pics of Istanbul

1 comment:

Adam said...

Oh oh...looks like u might have become as camera crazy as me! I am a little depressed as I only uploaded 150 pics in the last week.

But they are nice pics....some really interesting.

I do love Istanbul. For me it is a very magical city, in terms of inrastructure, culture, food and people. I have long said that I would like to honeymoon there. Oly problem is that I don't want to get married!