We tried to put the story of the week we spent in Istanbul down on paper several times. We started writing about Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and Galata Tower, but we soon realized we weren’t getting very far. And so one day, I came across the last box of Baklava that had remained from our trip. Memories started flowing like lava, and we went about writing our blog.
It’s difficult to start describing this city by recounting individual locations, issuing touristic advice or simply saying which street leads you where.
There are no set rules or guidelines for visiting Istanbul. Articles about the “10 place you must see” are also fairly futile.
We had to stop in Kadikoy, the Asian side of Istanbul. As soon as we arrived at the station, we felt the air, which was inundated with the smell of fish and fried chestnut.
On the Bosporus Strait, we met all types of fishermen: men and women, young and old.
You can go from the Asian side of Istanbul to the European side by metro or by boat. The trip is longer by boat, but it’s much more impressive: the Bosporus Strait unfolds before your eyes, as does the entire city with its contrasting and tall historical buildings.
The one thing about Istanbul is that there is definitely a lack of English speakers; I mean, you won’t have any trouble figuring out prices of things and other basic stuff, but we’ll spare you the praying, body language contorting and Google translating that we had to go through and advise you to purchase an “Istanbul-card” instead of buying individual tickets each time. The pass works on busses and boats and in the metro.
If it were up to us, we would include the Istanbul metro into the list of city sights. Like the people, the metro stations are colorful and diverse. It is hard to take your eyes off the mosaics and drawings on the cars, which tell the story of Byzantine and Islamic epochs.
We couldn’t keep ourselves from taking pictures, but this is apparently not allowed. And that’s how we ended up spending half a day in the police station explaining our peaceful and innocent intentions.
One of the starkest contrasts in this city is between the Islamic worshippers praying on their knees towards Mecca, and Western or Asian tourists wandering around with selfie sticks and Nikons.
At night, Istanbul transforms into a completely different city; so much so that you might be hard pressed to recognize streets you thought you had mastered just hours before.
During the day, you might not even notice the places that stand out most at night.
Istanbul’s digital billboards appear to tell us the story of the city, but in a language and with an alphabet that is unfamiliar to us. It doesn’t matter whether the street is full or empty, the billboards keep telling their story.
The city center is bustling with people in the evenings, with many vendors trying an impressive assortment of tactics to try to get people interested in their product. Be wary of “free samples” – they’re not free.
On our way back, we stopped at “Galaktioni” – a Georgian café located in the European part of the city. We shared our big secret with the host – poet Irakli Kakabadze: “one week in Istanbul was far from enough”.
Irakli smiled and told us that we had actually managed to do a lot in one week. Irakli has lived here for 5 years already, and still manages to discover new things on his street on a daily basis!
And so, here is our best advice: Istanbul is a city where you have to go with the flow (be it the flow of the Bosporus), wander and roam as much as you can, and don’t be afraid of getting lost.
Author: Mariam Mumladze