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Instant Istanbul infatuation.

TURKEY | Tuesday, 10 February 2015 | Views [680] | Comments [2]

Pretty sweet first photo taken in Turkey

Pretty sweet first photo taken in Turkey

In seven trips overseas, I have not been able to venture further afield than Asia. I'll let the reader decide whether or not they think the reasons behind that were financial, or geographical in motivation. Whatever they were, it is a new world that I now write about. How fitting is it that this 'new world' is debatably one of the oldest cities in human civilisation and the bridge between my beloved Asia and Europe? And why is it I keep asking rhetorical questions when no one comments on my journals anyway? What does it take? A promise to visit you anywhere in the world if you merely acknowledge you are reading this? Or, given the luck my friends have had with my imminent arrival, perhaps I should promise not to visit!

Crap jokes and pleas for validation aside, what a place I have found myself in. I have wandered around such a small part of the busy Taksim area of Istanbul and have already succumbed to that gawking, staring, endless photo taking stereotype of a tourist. How could I not when everything is incredibly interesting, from the thin alleyways overhung by new and ancient buildings, to the vistas of a vast metropolis that are glimpsed beyond them? Smells of the tea and Turkish coffee that every person constantly drinks mingled with the sweet smoke of shisha that eminates from most bars and cafes. The call to prayer echoing from so many quarters that one could easily mistake it as voices within their own head. Or a divine intonation as it is intended, whatever. Shop windows overflow with such delicious and decadent looking mysteries that I find myself drooling on the keyboard as I recall them now. And the cold of a European winter sinks in like I feared it would, first from 35,000 feet up and an hour away from arrival.

I was watching the latest X-Men movie on the Qatar flight from Doha because four flights in 31 hours will cause anyone to make questionable decisions. That many flights wasn't by choice, but my cousins late arrival in Abu Dhabi had forced me to change a 72 hour stopover in Abu Dhabi into a 6 hour one, and with 30 hours under my belt, I jut wanted some brain candy. Glancing out the window I saw the snow capped peaks that covered the interior of Turkey. Yeah, snow. I hadn't considered that. I'm a tactile and visual learner, but not a very good listener, so everyone's warnings about the weather had pretty much fallen on deaf ears. Seeing those mountains filled me with joy at the unknown, but also inverted the drop that puberty had afforded me.

As close as I ever want to get to snow. 

The climate on arrival didn't assail me like a blizzard groper with cold hands all up in where they shouldn't be. I had been smart enough to layer up for the flights, knowing that frozen passengers are more passive and complacent than sweating ones. It seems that only Asia has the airport mosquito that buzz constantly in your ear until your swat at it or get in its taxi. I had gotten onto the airport shuttle without anyone hassling, staring, or even talking to me. Perhaps no one wanted to after 31 hours of travel had added some brown stink lines to my aura.

My brief glance at the internet directions to my hostel disprove my claims to be a visual learner, because the moment I stepped off the bus I had no fucking clue where I was. Everybody else knew where they were and scattered in every direction before I could even get my backpack on. I got a few hundred metres down the road before I used the sun to determine I was heading north, and away from a smarter version of myself. The smart me was back at the bus stop asking directions. It took me a 180 turn then another couple of hundred metres down another wrong road before I did ask for directions and found that I was inadvertently heading back to Asia.

And I had only sought help because some restaurant tout had complimented my new shoes in his opening pitch. I would have normally laughed and kept walking but I still had a sneaking suspicion I was clueless and completely lost. I wasn't at all concerned because my eyes and camera were already like a kid in a candy store. I usually love getting lost as a vaguely deliberate opportunity to see things other than, or instead of, what I had set out to see. I normally prefer to do it without carrying a 20 kilo backpack at the time though.

I eventually found my hostel, but not before discovering the best vegetarian restaurant in town was just around the corner from it. And just around another corner were loose moralled women cajoling me from windows like lost vegetarians were their favourite type of customers. I had only been in Istanbul for an hour and I could already see that it is that sort of contrast that makes it so intriguing.

A luxury apartment awaits me in Sultanahmet, or Old Istanbul, an area molded into many layers by its long and complex history, and by the religion that defined it. With my cousins absence affording me a couple of extra days in Istanbul, I thought I would spend them in New Istanbul. And nowhere is this epitomised more than Istaklil street. There is a palpable energy about the area. A vibe and a sense of urgency that goes beyond people just rushing about because it is fucking freezing cold. You can see the determination and purpose in the faces of the upwardly mobile here. The openness to change in the old and the sense of hope in the young. Istanbul is one of those cities where changes are made that affect the world.

Istaklil at twilight looks far better than what a camera sees.

Even though I remain largely ignorant to what is changing into what, as well as everything that came before, I can appreciate that a lot of it was quite remarkable. That ignorance leads to a special kind of appreciation. I walk around combing every building for concealed hitorical details in its architecture. A glimpse of a smashed fascade thanks to the pillaging fourth crusaders, the first to overcome Constantinoples impregnable walls. I examine features of the pavement like they are artworks themselves, even though they were probably laid about 10 years ago.

It's a beautiful state of being. To be in awe of anything and inspired by everything. That childlike innocence that sees wonder in the whole and finds magic in minor details. It can also lead to misinterpretations though. The energy and urgency of the people on the street may be a reflection of the current unrest of its minorities. The bombing of a police station just weeks before my arrival meant that not everyone is looking towards a brighter future.

Police are ever present and my first walk down Istaklil brought me across a peaceful protest of about 10 people. I watched them wide eyed like I'd had one too many tramadols that day and after 5 minutes of careful scrutiny, I was able to determine that they were definitely not speaking English. Aside from that, I guess they were saying something rather controversial because a gathering of 50 riot police looked like they were about to give them a quick lesson in social pacification. I walked on before a baton and bone party ruined my good mood.

A pedestrian street by some easily ignored decree, Istaklil may be traversed by cars in the morning but is frequented by far too many people to let that happen beyond noon. Most buildings that line the street have something interesting to reveal under close examination, even if that is merely it's youthful blandness compared to the elaborate granduer of its neighbours architecture. Completing this juxtaposition is the shops that grace their ground floors.

Some are stocked with so many different shades of Turkish delight, it is easy to see where the name originated from. Some have kebab shops with spinning wheels of meat so large that the carver would be better served using the two person saws once used to topple massive Tasmanian Oak and the like. Others have fashionable goods seen only in magazines and catwalks, or winter goods required by the season. Others just have a shitty Burger King or Starfucks, or however you spell it.

So much decadence 

By day the street swarms like a Jakarta toll road, but at night it transforms into a club and pub scene that Australian cities could only aspire to have. And unlike Khao San Road, where feral is always fashionable, if you are not well manicured, you might as well just be out for a stroll because no place is going to grant you entry. Which is fine by me. I only witnessed it as I rushed through the icy air to find a place to eat dinner. And with a city that is so dazzling to observe, I don't feel that I need to get involved in everything to make the most of what is on offer. Unless it is heated. I really want to get involved with anything that has heating.

Tags: cold, flights, istanbul, lost, sweets, travel, turkey



Really enjoy reading your travel stories!

  Uma Feb 11, 2015 2:00 AM


Don't feel your journals aren't appreciated, Haz. Most people like us read them and then go on with their normal lives, but maybe unable to forget photo's like the towering piles of turkish delight you've seen (and no doubt tasted!!) keep writing......

  Kirsten Taylor Feb 11, 2015 5:10 PM

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