It didn’t seem possible. Had our 91 days in Istanbul really come to an end? I couldn’t believe it, so I opened my journal and counted the pages. Although it felt as though we’d just arrived… although we were still in the process of settling into the city’s rhythm… that was it. Our time in Istanbul had reached its conclusion.
After the sun goes down, the usually lively neighborhoods of Istanbul undergo a transformation. Gone are the simit sellers, the shouting schoolkids and the turbulent traffic, leaving behind empty streets, silhouetted minarets and decrepit houses which look all the more haunting by moonlight. Striding down the cobblestone alleys in search of a stiff drink, with your collar up against the wind, you’ll wish you wearing a fedora: Istanbul at night would be the perfect backdrop for a classic film noir.
Istanbul is a photographer’s paradise. Both colorful and gritty, beautiful but deteriorated, and filled with people who always seem happy to have caught the camera’s eye. We’ve had a fun time browsing through the tens of thousands of photographs we’ve collected during our 91 days here, and have selected some which show off the many facets of Istanbul. It’s probably impossible to define a city with a few images, but this is our best shot.
It was a common sight in Istanbul. You’d be standing in front of some amazing building like the Hagia Sophia or the Galata Tower, and all the tourists would be completely ignoring it. Their cameras were trained on something cuter than some ancient old structure: a playful pack of mewling kittens.
Istanbul is the kind of place which favors bold exploration, as we learned after a day spent in the maze of streets around the Grand Bazaar. The city is filled with quiet, secret spots… if you can muster up the courage to go down that darkened hall, into that empty courtyard, or up those crumbling stairs.
We had been suffering through some rough weather for weeks, but spring finally arrived toward the end of April. The bad weather had us a bit of an emotional rollercoaster — overcast days are not normally our thing, but somehow the clouds struck a melancholic note appropriate to Istanbul.
The city is far easier to walk than I’d feared, and public transportation is cheap, quick and efficient (if crowded). Most importantly, most of the major sights are packed closely together in or near the historic center. On one of our first days, we walked along the tram line from Sultanhamet Square (next to the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia) to Beyazit: a short, straight walk during which we saw one historic treasure after the other.
The beginning of our stay in Istanbul coincided with the beginning of March, and the slow onset of spring. The temperature was still cold, but blossoms were starting to appear on the trees and every day was milder than the last. And on the streets, we could sense the optimistic, expectant energy which always goes hand-in-hand with the end of winter.