A love letter of sorts…
I’ve had a funny day. I’m here on my own but I don’t feel alone. I contacted family and friends to fill them in on the ‘news’, put a picture and caption on social media and felt a wave of support come my way. A wave which will help carry me through any tough bits which may happen down the line. A wave of words and intentions which will carry me through. I am truly grateful for it and the one and only time I got emotional today was reading comments online from friends and from strangers which expressed nothing but love and support. I have a magical online community who I can reach out to anytime and that is something not everyone has. It has become a hugely important part of this journey and I’m sure it will continue to be! So thank you, so much, from my teary eyes!
Earlier, I walked through the city with sounds of home in my ears, reflecting on my last stint here and hopeful for the next one… I felt the call to sit and write. The city spoke to me. I listened. I loved it and I wrote this…
It’s 6pm on a sweaty Istanbul evening. I’m sitting in the corner of a Ministry of Coffee somewhere in Sisli regretting the almond latte I just ordered, I should have ordered an ice drink. Amateur! I’m looking out on the hordes of commuters coming, going, chatting, smoking… cars are bumper to bumper and beep at each other in the hope they can move just one more inch, pointless really… the city is alive. It’s always alive, no matter what time of day it is. On a day where I should be full of dread for the months ahead, I couldn’t be more in love with this crazy town and I’m somewhat excited to spend more time here. You’d think I’d had enough already. I first landed here exactly two years ago and have racked up at least 25 trips since. But after a long break, I’m ready for another stint. It has become my second home after all, I’ve never visited somewhere so frequently and yet I feel as if I’ve just scratched the surface of this wondrous place.
Istanbul is a place like no other. It’s a city of nosejobs, of hair implants, of butt lifts, boob jobs, experimental cancer treatment… it’s a colourful city where the waft of corn on the cob fills your nostrils on a busy corner, where street vendors roast chickpeas and chestnuts, where old men sell lotto tickets, lighters, packets of tissues and where carts of fruit and veg, flowers, plants roll by you all in an instant. You’ll see men scroll on their phones while they weave in and out of traffic on their mopeds carrying everything from gallons of water to McDonalds or Burgerking food deliveries. Its where east meets west, where the old town, grand bazaar and mosques are like a jump back in time and where the malls and airports are like stepping into the future. Time never stands still here. Even during the call to prayer, the hustle and bustle continues. Men lay their mats out on busy streets outside mosques while cars go up on kerbs to get by them, forcing pedestrians to step into shops to get out of the way. And no one bats an eye. It’s the way here. It’s chaotic. It’s heaving. It’s hectic. It works.
Istanbul sits on two peninsulas, one on the edge of Europe and one on the edge of Asia. The Boshporus river runs through it joining the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea. It was a originally a destination for traders from the Orient, India, Persia… it’s where the exotic came from… spices, rugs, gems and precious metals would have passed through here on the way to the west. Those trading goods are still evident in places like the spice bazaar and the grand bazaar, two places both fascinating and exotic for the western traveller’s eye. Both are located in Sultanahmet, the old town where tourists pay hefty prices for goods available for a fraction of the cost elsewhere in the city, where every trader is your friend and offers you the ‘last best price’. Haggling is a must. Nothing is face value and everyone is out to make a profit. Traders will follow you to the opposite end of the bazaar to hassle you to buy that tea set you eyed up 30 minutes before. Locals are nowhere to be seen. They don’t shop there, they think tourists are out of their minds to shop there! But it is an experience and one I’ll do again.
Looking out this window on to the busy Sisli street, there’s not a tourist in sight. The shops here have price tags on their wares and haggling is not welcome. Not that I’ve tried. A shop is a shop, it’s like home that way. There are recognisable stores dotted around, Zara, Adidas, Gap… there are streets which have clusters of of restaurants, of fabric shops and of homeware supplies. If you want a carpet you go to Besiktas, if you want clothes shops you go to Iskital. There are street vendors selling knock off Gucci belts and Louis Vuitton bags around the corner from the the real deal. The posh part of town is around Macka Park and is teaming with obscenely expensive shops, Christian Louboutain, Fendi, Dior. The streets are cleaner there, it’s more orderly and there are less flashing neon signs. The shops leave out bowls of food and water for the city cats or kedi as they’re referred to locally. They roam freely and live in harmony with the city’s humans.
I feel safe here. In a city of 14 million, I feel anonymous but safe. I have walked the streets alone day and night and never feared for my life. It’s so busy all the time, there is always someone around. Police patrol with AK47s. Mall security guards carry glocks. There’s a sense of respect for authority. I’m sure crimes happen, fights break out, people get robbed, stabbed, killed even… but I haven’t seen any of it. Today I have a romantic view of the city, even with its packed, hilly streets, the hot, sticky air, the smoking taxi drivers who beep and nudge their way through traffic… I’ll take it all. I’ll take Istanbul as my second home again this summer, and maybe for a while after that. I’ll jump into this next chapter with a renewed sense of energy. I’ll live and enjoy the time afforded to me here. A friend of mine says: life is a journey, travel it well. Travel it well I will. Sure what other way is there?
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