Istanbul was one of those places I went to but I was never really a tourist because I stayed for just long enough to escape the tourist tag but then it was too short a stay to say I’ve really lived there. But I guess in that, I had an advantage for I came to know the city neither like a tourist nor like a local.
I like cities that have long and intriguing pasts. Istanbul is one these cities, rich in heritage and tradition and yet, caught like an island between two seas, the sea of modernization and the ocean of history. There were fast metro trains and also big roads with fancy cars. But there was also a feeling of being stuck in time. Some streets and bazaars felt ancient, almost timeless as they bustled with people and things. While other streets were dotted with Burger Kings and Starbucks and almost everything American. The people were like that too. Some were conservative looking like keepers of a great tradition while others with bleached blond hair and blue jeans seemed to be represent the extent of globalization in our little world called earth.
As we walked down the cobbled paths of the city, observing centuries old architecture, we marvelled at their grandeur. We also marvelled at the friendliness of the people there. Before we had visited Istanbul we had heard that in Turkey, if you enter a shop and converse with the shop keeper for longer than five minutes, you will be offered a cup of tea. Well, it’s not true. You will be offered a cup of tea after two minutes, not five. 😉
There was the Hagia Sophia , the Blue Mosque, the Galata Tower, the Grand Bazaar and the so many other monumental sights. Every place was like a new world waiting to be discovered. But somehow, my favourite memory of a place in Istanbul is that of a little rooftop restaurant some ten minutes away from the Grand Bazaar. Perhaps, I hold it so fondly in memory because it was there that I made my first Turkish friend. It was also there where I enjoyed many evenings with the friends I travelled with. Nothing beats good friends, cheap food and a great view.
Not to be ignored is also the Strait of Istanbul. There is a certain thrill in moving across the Bosphorus on a big motor boat. The best part is relishing the feeling of moving from one continent to the other in the same city. It’s Europe one moment and a couple minutes later, you’re on the other side in Asia.