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.
A hookah pipe is called a nargile in Turkey. It's a surprisingly popular activity among Istanbullus of all ages, and we partook in quite a few smoking sessions ourselves. You can order tobacco in a variety of flavors, and spend hours lounging around, smoking and drinking tea.
The two northernmost towns on the European Bosphorus are Sariyer and Rumeli Kavağı. Sariyer is more developed and wealthy, trapped between a dense forest and the water, while Rumeli Kavağı is a quiet seaside village with a convivial atmosphere.
With a name that literally translates to "Big Island", Büyükada is the largest of Istanbul's nine Princes' Islands. We spent a day biking from one end to the other, enjoying fabulous views of the sea, swimming with jellyfish, climbing hills and finding ways to escape the crowds.
During our first Turkish breakfast, I surveyed the table with fear and doubt. Every conceivable inch was occupied by a plate, bowl or cup. It was a ridiculous amount of food! Had the waitress misheard our order? When I said "breakfast for two", had she understood "A merry feast for my hungry horde of Vikings"? Because this... this couldn't possibly be right.
The Imperial Harem, the private pleasure palace of the Sultans, is the most well-known aspect of Ottoman royal life. But why has the Harem proven so persistent in the mind of popular culture? What is the secret behind its fame? Is it the fabulous tile-work which decorates its walls? Or is it the concept of hundreds of beautiful concubines with the sole mission of providing pleasure to a single man? Hmm... it's a toss-up.
Istanbul is most famous for ancient mosques and a starring role in world history, but there's another side to it. One that most tourists never bother to see. It wasn't until our last couple weeks in the city that we ventured into modern Istanbul. On the outskirts of the city center, new skyscrapers are springing up like weeds, and the focus is squarely on business.
Rocketing 780 feet into the air, the Sapphire building in the modern neighborhood of Levent is Turkey's tallest building. A cafe on the top floor and an open air viewing platform on the roof offer one of Istanbul's most breathtaking views.