Earlier I wrote about my Weekend in Istanbul:
Here is my final post about my weekend in this complex, multi-layered city.
What We Saw
To me, Istanbul was tidy and charming (at least the areas that I saw). The city was full of clean streets, green boulevards and hills. (Think San Francisco.) Here is one of many winding cobblestone streets that I saw.
Istanbul is a colorful city in many ways.
Even the buildings are colorful. On some streets, every building is a different color.
When the weather is nicer, Istanbul would be a fabulous place for sitting in sidewalk cafés. (This photo was taken by someone else on a sunny day.)
What Surprised Me
I knew that Istanbul is famously divided by the Bosporus strait which cuts the city into East and West, Asia and Europe. What I hadn’t considered was the Golden Horn, which divides European Istanbul and the Sea of Marmara, which provides water to the south. All this meant that Istanbul has miles and miles of waterfront and so many beautiful views of water, boats and bridges. I loved this.
One can get right up close to the water in the many cafés and restaurants that line the waterfront. This photo was taken from a place where we ate lunch outside (Assk Café). Luckily there were heaters.
I was surprised by how darn cold it was. First, I thought it would be a “nice change” from the sun and warmth of Dubai. Then the rain made me homesick for Seattle. After that, I was just cold, wet and a little bit miserable. Even though I had the proper coat and shoes (for once), I was freezing.
We spent a lot of time riding in taxis, waiting for a taxi or searching for a taxi. Also, we had various communication breakdowns with drivers. I only knew one word in Turkish: merhaba, which means “hello.” I relied heavily on this word. (It’s the same word in Arabic.)
There were a lot of stay dogs in Istanbul. What surprised me was how healthy, well-fed and docile they looked.
What I Bought
Aside from too much Turkish delight, this is what I bought. I love the handmade tiles of Turkey.
Here’s a detail of the hand of Fatima trinket. These types of things were very cheap.
I also bought a Turkish teapot. The top is for strong tea that is slowly brewed over the hot water below. The tea is diluted with the water from the bottom. This tea-brewing method creates a unique taste. I used to think this was a samovar. No, it’s just a teapot.
This is a samovar. (We didn’t buy it. It was in the Ritz-Carlton lobby café.)
What I thought
I found the Turks to be a smiley, cheerful people (except for one guy). This is what I noticed coming from a place that’s not particularly smiley.
Also, at first glance, Istanbul appears truly secular. Of course, there were gorgeous mosques all over the city. But from my perspective (coming from the UAE), it didn’t have the feel of a Muslim country. I realize there’s a reason for this, due to Turkey’s own unique history and Ataturk’s reforms and laws against the hijab. I also realize it’s a different story outside the city.
Above all, Istanbul felt like Europe. Well, according to the map, we were in Europe.
Lonely Planet calls Istanbul one of “the world’s great romantic cities.” I believe that. In fact, what I saw of Istanbul reminded me more of Paris than any other city I’ve been to.
So, my first impression as a weekend visitor was that Istanbul is more European than Middle Eastern, more secular than Muslim. Also, the city is so old, complex and layered, so rich with history, architecture… well, with everything. I got the impression one could spend a lifetime there and still not explore everything.
May my next trip to Istanbul be longer and filled with sunny weather and lots of time spent antique-shopping and sitting in sidewalk cafés.
Question: What are your impressions of Istanbul?