Coming from the great IAMsterdam and being a self-professed pun addict, I have to confess I am always more than mildly excited to see what delightful slogans city’s have chosen to depict their culture. I <3 NY, LondON and the “Poor but sexy” Berlin make all these cities even cooler to me, even if that makes me decidedly less cool to you.
What then, I wondered, could Instanbul have in store for me. I was predicting something Aladdin chique with a twist of modernity (probably a terrifying insight to how I
waste spend my time and imagination). However, cramped into our tiny seats on Turkish Airlines and discovering that they had just won “Best Airline in Europe” did make me slightly dubious of any further self-proclaimed title. But upon arrival “IstanCOOL” did seem to match the reports I had heard from all previous visitors.
Eagerly I awaited a visa (easily obtained if you were European and willing to hand over 15 bucks- check and check!) and then endured the long line through passport control, followed by an endless search for the metro which took an hour longer than anticipated. But then the glorious and impossibly big Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia loomed up above us, the squares were almost empty and a comfortable 25 degrees settled down on our shoulders.
This was the apt beginning of a trip of extreme ups and downs.
The beauty of Hagia Sofia was diminished by punishing queues in the hot sun and her faded beauty seems as if it won’t last forever with the once luminescent mosaics now mostly replaced by painted versions of its former glories. But the beauty and sheer enormity will still take your breath away. The overpriced beer is soon forgotten as swallows dip and glide to the sounds of the haunting call-to-prayer and time seems to stand still. The vibrant boats bobbing on the Bosphorous are counteracted by pollution and wafts of fish, and the delight of watching hundreds of fishermen pulling up the fish before your eyes is slightly off putting when considering it will probably make up your dinner that night.
We ate the best food in tucked away gems and the worst food when caught in a tourist trap with growling bellies and tired feet. We single-handedly kept the economy afloat by purchasing a tonne of over-sweet baklava and Turkish delight. Each bite, more delicious than the last, left our tummies crawling with regret. Everywhere was a contradiction.
There we were nestled in a comfortable meyhane admiring the decor and the next moment the barmen are jumping over the bar slamming down windows and shutters against the tear gas which seeped into our nostrils and choked our lungs. We’d somehow ended up in a protest. “Welcome to Turkey” muttered a man behind us.
The city of 2 continents didn’t seem to know which way it was turning. Or perhaps it was just moving so damned fast we got churned up in the current.
We delighted in our bargaining skills but the vendors always seemed to come out on top.
I saw the largest diamond I will probably ever see in a surprisingly run-down palace. It was beautiful.
We were pushed and pulled to the point of exasperation, but the whole time we were laughing. I hadn’t expected such an enormous sense of humour as the one I found behind carts, in trams and on the streets.
Ultimately we were reluctant to leave this exciting city, this old city, this knocked about, tourist filled, loud and beautiful city. Like a diamond in the rough polished with only steel wool I felt like I’d seen glimpses of what Istanbul could be, but know that there’s oh so much more.
Go to Istanbul, experience this city. But be prepared, it’s much more “I-stumble” than IstanCOOL.