Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Istanbul. The City. The People.

When I arrived in Istanbul, I had been traveling for almost 24 hours. Taxis. Planes. Connections. Shuttles. I was exhausted and wired at the same time. Breathing in a new place and culture for the first time is an amazing way to forget you have jet lag.

This city was like no other I had seen. East meets West meets Middle East. Think NYC without the skyscrapers, but minarets piercing the sky. People everywhere. And an unbelievable energy. The streets were full of retail shops and restaurants, whose tables spilled onto the sidewalks — always filled with people eating, laughing and carrying on. There were roasted chestnut vendors on every corner, sometimes accompanied by a vendor selling grilled corn and/or another selling mussels. Stray dogs and cats ran the streets, mostly looking for food or a place to nap (they looked well fed but it still broke my heart). Crossing the street was like playing Frogger for real (think the Seinfeld episode with George and the Frogger arcade machine), the cars and pedestrians would wait for nobody. And their use of space blew my mind. Restaurants lined up under bridges. Shops inside walkways, underneath roads. Stores and apartments stacked high and snug.

And the people. The people really seemed to define what Istanbul was all about. Diversity to the max. All of the cultures mixing and melting together in one enormous city. And as for religion, apart from the 5 calls to worship every day, no religion was in your face and there didn't seem to be any discrimination. Some of the women there wore head scarfs or hijabs and some did not. It wasn't uncommon to see women in bars or smoking outside of Mosques. It was much more liberal than I thought it would have been for being a predominately Islamic city. And most of the people (or the ones with whom we came in contact) seemed to work in either the retail/trade business or the restaurant industry. There was constant persuasion by business men to get you to come into their establishment. I heard many "pick-up" lines at the Grand Bazaar: Are you lost? Come inside and I will help you spend your money. Or, Have you been looking for me all day? And we had many waiters tell us that our table was ready as we walked by. One guy even said, "Whazzup, Dude?" to DJ. I guess we stuck out like sore thumbs. I blame the beard! But overall, the people were friendly, kind and many spoke English very well. Charming, really.

Next entry: The Sites

Monday, October 5, 2009

Istanbul. From 7 hours in the Future...

Just a few photos from the past two days. I have been walking everywhere. Across the Golden Horn and through the Grand Bazaar. Ate a fish sandwich right off the peer. Watched people pray in the Blue Mosque and squeezed past the protesters in Taksim square. And caught a glimpse of Asia.

The city is beautful. Old. Congested. It pulsates with people at night. It is wide awake at 2 am (and beyond), retail shops, restaurants, street's unreal. 

The internet does not work well from our room, so I am writing this from the lobby. More photos to come...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Monday, June 15, 2009