I had been traveling for a month and a half (Montana, then Italy,) when I landed in Istanbul on a hot September afternoon, overwhelmed. At first, I attributed my frazzled feeling to the early morning flight from Florence. Maybe it was an cheese overdose from the night before. Or even one too few espresso stops through the airport on the way? But as my taxi navigated the highway towards the heart of the city (and my internal fear grew that the thickly bearded muslim man driving the taxi was actually kidnapping me and not at all delivering me to my hotel,) I realized that it was none of those things. It was just me absorbing the electric essence of Istanbul.
Cars honked, traffic built. Huge trucks nearly crushed our little car as they swerved to miss the men selling bottles of water and bananas in the middle of the four lane highway. Music laden with heavy percussion and tantric winds flowed out of windows as the streets narrowed, hashish smoke blown from the hookah pipes rolled out of the cafes on the corners, and the occasional birka clad woman hurried through the malay and out of sight. We turned up a surely San Franciscan inspired hill and through Taksim Square, where metro and street car passengers unloaded in droves, dressed in ripped denim, pierced, and chatting on smartphones. The taxi pulled to a stop before our hotel, the sun burning orange and pink in the sky and the call to prayer sounding soulfully over the city. Watching the driver pull away with jolt, his Turkish nazar eye watching me from below the rear view mirror, I closed my agape jaw and went in, imagining how commonplace all of this new scenery would be in 12 days when I would return to the airport and fly away. I was wrong. Istanbul was, and continues to be the most extraordinary, provoking, mysterious and diverse city I’ve ever visited.
Istanbul (was Constantinople) is one of the world oldest and most impressive urban expanses; the only major city to span two continents, with one half plopped on the European border and the other tottering on the edge of Asia. In a single day, it is possible (and almost expectant) that a visitor would feel immersed in mysterious antiquity, yet wrapped in of-the-moment sophistication. Between the modern skyscrapers and time-tested mosque minarets, this dichotomy of life moves to a unique beat that is not to be missed.
We spent nearly two weeks in the heart of the city, exploring luxuriously; meaning, without restrictions on our time rather than in any particulary cushy or over the top way. In fact, on the contrary; most of my favorite days were spent walking the city streets for hours on end with a camera in hand snapping shots here and there, eating this and that, communicating with hands and smiles, meeting people, getting lost, getting found, getting scared, being inspired. Returning home at the end of the day I always felt like I’d “gotten dirty” in the sense that I’d really been in the middle of things and had brushed up against the place as a whole.
I’m just starting to unpack our time there and have lots of Istanbul goodies to share in the weeks to come, but thought I’d (finally) post some favorite pictures from our trip to start painting a picture of this city that has more to be experienced than one, or three, or ten trips could ever reveal.