I’m really not sure what I expected from Turkey’s ex-capital city.
I’ve seen photos of Turkey, but they were either from Piet’s trips to the interior and less urbanized areas from a long time before we met, or from some friends of mine who used to do the entertainment at a resort hotel in Antalya. I can’t even say that the Ottoman Empire or the the geographical area Turkey is or has ever been high on my list of interests, so from the cobbling of Piet’s trips and my other friends’ stories from Antalya, I sort of pictured Turkey as a weird combination of backwoods Muslim culture set back a century mixed with fun-seeking, looser-moralled, well-tanned semi-acrobats.
Neither of which is really that true when it comes to Istanbul.
I mean, there’s definitely a plentitude of mosques and headscarves and veils, but it’s all very evenly tempered with a metropolitan attitude and focus on tourism. Our apartment, for example, has wi-fi and a tourist friendly flushing toilet (as opposed to the squatting toilets where you throw your toilet paper in a trash can), while at the same time it offers satellite television that has about 500 channels, 395 of which are entirely in Arabic, one of which is BBC World, one of which rotates German and US news programming, and the rest of which are religion, other assorted foreign languages or porn.
Istanbul is, in a nutshell, a helter skelter juxtapostion of modern city living and inept old world disorganisation.
There are some beautiful views from the park that overlooks the Blue Mosque and a very rich, heady stew of culture around every corner, at least in the area we’re staying, Sultanhamet. We’ve been here not quite three days and I’ve been half drowned in miniature glass cups of tea offered by gregarious waitstaff. I’ve heard the wailing calls to prayer from the hundreds of minnarets around the city, sat along a concrete wall on the Sea of Marmara and watched a strolling man bring a bag of fish from the nearby market to feed all the (very happy and excited) stray cats that were sunning along the rocks.
There is definitely a strong pull of culture here, some of which I enjoy, some, honestly, I don’t, but every day is another new experience. Yesterday we went to the Blue Mosque and Taksim Square and today we visited the Grand Bizaar, the Spice Bizaar and took a walk down the sea side. There are still plenty of things on our to-do list and I’m holding out fairly well, though I do huff and puff plenty when it comes to hills or stairs, and don’t even ask about how my pathetic bladder is holding up with all the tea and fresh fruit juice I end up drinking.
But otherwise, I’m looking forward to the rest of the week.