Istanbul, one of the world’s great cities, is going to be our home for the next 91 days. Minarets, mosques, harems, hamams, kebab, coffee, Turkish delights, towers, castles, islands, whirling dervishes, Greeks and Ottomans, hills, ferries, markets and music… Istanbul’s culture is one we’re completely unfamiliar with. So, it’s a good thing we’re ready to dive in headfirst; we’ll have a lot of learning to do.
It was a late Tuesday afternoon when we arrived at our apartment in Cihangir, a hip neighborhood in the Beyoğlu district, popular with artists and foreigners. After the long day of travel, we could have been content with an evening on the couch and an early bedtime. But our eagerness to explore trumped the exhaustion, so we bundled up and went out into the streets. In Cihangir Square, we settled down in a bustling cafe to do some people watching.
Trendy scenesters with tasseled scarves had occupied the table to our left, while a group of effusive American students were to our right. A couple guys were plastering posters for a rock concert onto a nearby wall, and the decidedly non-Turkish sounds of Depeche Mode were wafting out of the bar behind us. Everyone was smoking, and the liquor store across the street was doing steady business. Were we in the right country? All the preconceptions I had carefully constructed about Istanbul were lying in shards at my feet. (One of these broken shards, for example, was reflecting a man with a bushy mustache and a fez; embarrassed, I kicked it underneath the table before anyone could see it).
But as the sun set, the calls to prayer sounded from the minarets which, I suddenly realized, were surrounding us. Along the sidewalk, a group of women in headscarves pushed impatiently by another, older group of women in headscarves. We were sipping on strong Turkish coffee, and eating ungodly rich pastries of honey and pistachio. The kebab-seller on the corner had whittled his döner stick down to the last nibbles. Alright, were were definitely in Turkey… just not quite the Turkey I had been expecting!
Istanbul has always held a special allure to me. The fascinating history, unique culture and world-class food are irresistible draws, and it was just a matter of time before Jürgen and I ended up here. We spent the weeks leading up to our trip dutifully reading about Istanbul and learning stock Turkish phrases (teşekkür ederim!), and I felt rather prepared. Confident, even! But now that we’re here… now that we’ve seen Istanbul’s size and density first-hand, and can feel the enormous weight of its past, we’re beginning to understand how completely overmatched we are. Istanbul in 91 days? Please. We won’t even scratch the surface!
But that doesn’t mean we won’t try. By the end of these three months, I expect our fingernails to be chipped, and our fingertips to be bruised and bleeding from all our frantic scratching at Istanbul’s surface. And regardless of how successful we are in finding the city’s beating heart, I’m certain we’re going to have an incredible 91 days.
As total Istanbul newbies, we’re totally open to (even depending upon) advice and ideas. Please send us your tips and comments about the city. Let us know if we get our facts wrong, or if we’re missing something essential. You can get in touch with us on our Contact page, via Twitter or Facebook, or by leaving a comment on any one of our posts.
Here we go… bize şans dileyin!
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March 7, 2013 at 6:08 pm