We spent three weeks in Istanbul. Like every other place we have been, we could have spent much more time digging deeper and exploring the innumerable hidden corners of this enchanting city.
Istanbul was our last stop in Turkey, a country that is warm to the core but still struggling with its national identity. The political and social changes that were introduced by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, still revered as the founder of modern Turkey, are being eroded by a government bent on restoring restrictive Islamic regulations. Most of these restrictions are aimed at women. It remains for us the one sour note in a month of beautiful experiences, especially when we were so impressed with Islam as a religion and culture.
Given the rain and the temperatures that we faced, the ability of our clothes to keep us warm and dry was pushed to the limit. But that didn’t mean we didn’t have fun! Here are some of our best memories of Istanbul.
Standing between the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque listening to the muezzins trading riffs in the call to prayer. First one would call a line, then pause for the other. The result was a wonderful duet. Aran liked the range and power of the Blue Mosque, and Chris liked the restraint and tension from the Hagia Sophia. Both were truly masters of their art.
All the markets, including the spice market and the Grand Bazaar, where we met the carpet professor and many other merchants. We poked our heads into some of the “hans” where we met a silversmith who is part of the on-site supply chain for the stores.
Cruising the Bosphorous. Spent a great day relaxing on the ferry that does a day trip up the Bosphorous to the Black Sea, and then back again. We met a couple of lads on the ride, who were great company and who shared Eva’s taste in ice cream. The buildings and sights along the way are wonderful, and Eva was thrilled to have spotted some dolphins as well.
Christmas in Istanbul. We basked in a non-commercial Christmas, created our own tree, and found the church on Istaklal street with a Christmas Eve concert. Alas, it was not quite the King’s College rendition we were hoping for.
A low key New Year’s in Istanbul. Started with a lovely dinner at our apartment which, due to a power outage, was enjoyed by candlelight. Once the power was restored, we went around the corner to the local pool hall and brought in the New Year in fine fashion.
Meeting a friend. Browsing through Facebook one day, we discovered that our friend and former neighbour was in Istanbul and staying just a block away. On New Year’s Day, we spent a lovely afternoon and evening playing Istanbul, the board game.
Fishing off the Galata bridge. It’s a sight to be seen. Both sides of the bridge lined with fishermen (yes, all men) and one person with the smart idea of fishing through a grate in the road. We also strolled through the fish market and tasted the fresh fish sandwiches on offer. Nothing could be fresher!
Seeing the Whirling Dervishes. It’s a religious ritual, not a performance, but you still buy tickets and at the end we were each given a bag of books on Sufism.
Meeting people. We met some wonderful people in Istanbul, including Ismail, Ayfer, Damla and Okan, who we met through Servas. Also through Servas, we shared a lovely lunch with Diane, who helped us understand current day Turkey. On our last day, we visited with Selen and Serkan, fellow travelers on the Families on the Move Facebook group.
Many thanks also to Tom, Jeannie, Isobel, and Jack for all their advice after a year in Istanbul — including not to miss the Chora Church.
And so, after three wonderful weeks, we bid adieu to the city that straddles two continents and headed off to warmer climes. It’s been amazing.