İstanbul, Türkiye

August 2013

Thoughts after the pictures.

Istanbul.  A very interesting city.  The dueling Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia) and Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque) represent some of the most gorgeous architecture ever created.  Given the Blue Mosque is still actively used as a mosque, there was something particularly heart warming about watching people pray in such a transformational building.

Unfortunately, the Grand Bazaar was closed during my visit, but that only gives me an excuse to return.  It is thought that Napoleon had said, “If the Earth was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital.”  I can understand why.  In a world before the United States, Istanbul is a unique location that connects both Europe and Asia via its strait.  Traveling down the Bosphorus Strait, one can only contemplate the times past; the times in which such a narrow stretch of water has held extraordinary historical significance.

While my trip in Istanbul was only 3 days, I can understand why it could take much, much longer to properly understand the city.  The most famous landmarks – Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Grand Bazaar and others are very close to each other, every neighborhood in Istanbul has a distinctly different feel. From the fish market under the Galata Bridge, to the luxury hotels at Taksim Square, to roaming the streets in Beyoglu, Istanbul has many different cities within it.

The food, delicious.  No Michelin stars in Istanbul, so I focused on the local cuisine.  A full Turkish breakfast –  cucumbers, tomatoes, yogurt, olives, bread, egg and orange juice is a hell of a way to start the day.  I’ll take it over a plain pastry any day (sorry Spaniards).  Lentils, kabaps, fruits, and numerous other flavors were well received by my taste buds.  It also helped to have some recommendations from a few local friends of mine for places to eat.

The people in Turkey are interesting.  I try not to make any cultural judgements or commentary on the Turkish, as my visit was short and I simply am not well enough informed at the moment.  Nonetheless, I found it interesting to see numerous women fully covered as they walked around the streets. Also, as it is an many countries, I was subject to many people either trying to scam me or just simply being annoying because I always look like a tourist.

I saw two things that worried me in Istanbul. [Note to anyone who reads this – I have seriously debated including the first story, as it may offend some. Nonetheless, it happened. And while it only happened once, I almost never see something like this outside of lifetime TV specials, so I will include it here.] First, I saw was a man being inappropriately rough with a woman, hitting, grabbing, etc, and the woman clearly was trying to get away from the man.  My first reaction was to go kick the shit out of the guy, as I found his behavior inappropriate.  I walked up to him, as I was disturbed that no one was doing anything to help the woman.  Unfortunately, though, I did nothing. I did not know the nature of their argument or understand the language, and my desire for self-preservation and not wanting to end up in a Turkish prison cell let me to restrain myself.  As the woman attempted to run away, I did “accidentally” get in the man’s way a few times.  But that was it.

Second, I saw some protests near Taksim Square.  The crowd was not too big, maybe 100 strong, and they were flanked on either side by police in riot gear.  I watched for about 10 minutes or so, just out of curiosity. It was evening but the sun had not set, and I had an easy exit if things flared up.  But I dared not stay.

My last morning in Istanbul was simply exquisite. I visited Çemberlitas Bath, a bath that has been in continuous operation since 1584.  I got up early on Sunday morning, at around 6 am, after a short night of sleep so I could visit the bath in peace.

I was the only customer that early in the morning, so I had the opportunity to enjoy the bath in peace and quite, as if it were my own. [Note to self, I need to put one of these in my home one day].  A man scrubbed me well, leaving what was a pretty disgusting trail of dead skin behind.  Then he washed my body, and finished with a massage.  Afterwards I relaxed in the baths, lost in my own thoughts. I was.  And it was good.

I concluded my last day with a stroll through the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art.  It was a lovely museum, about 86,000 sq feet. Although the service was poor, definitely worth having a drink outside at the restaurant.  It is a bit pricey by Istanbul standards but was the most NYC-esque place I have been in several weeks.

My quick tour of an intensely complex city was an interesting one.  As the Terminator once said (well, more than once): I’ll be back.