A Midsummer Evening in Istanbul.

If someone had shown me a picture of the Bosphorus strait before I saw it in person, I would have dissed it as photoshopped; how can a water body in the middle of a major city retain such a cobalt blue color? Istanbul is full of surprises that way, and as I walk to the shore of the Bosphorus through a by-lane of Sultanahmet, the old city, I find myself smiling. Turkish women, wearing colorful head scarves, are picnicking in the park overlooking the blue waters. Their men are precariously balancing themselves on the big rocks along the shore, fishing with such enthusiasm as I haven’t seen before.

If this was India, the sea would’ve acquired a grey color by now and it’s shore conquered by bhel puri wallas. If it was Singapore, they would’ve bought sand from Malaysia and created a fake beach. I like that about Istanbul, it is the way it is; the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, the city and the sea. There is a natural sense of harmony.

I sit at one of the many seaside cafes, on a bench shaded by a tree, which is all you need for a cool breeze to save you from the strong sun. As I sip çay (Turkish tea, pronounced the Indian way aka chai) with a friend like every other person at the cafe, I observe curiously how men here tend to hang out mostly with other men, whether fishing, making a barbeque, having çay, or just idling in the park. I observe the variations in dressing among the women, from short dresses & fancy hairstyles to apparels that clad the body from head to toe, happily dismissing any thoughts on the lack of liberalism or free will in the country.

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Men fishing in the Bosphorus.
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Women picnic in the park by the Bosphorus.

As the sun starts to set around 8 pm (long are the days here in summer), the sea side life of Istanbul slowly starts receding towards the town of Sultanahmet, whose ancient mosques, minarets, houses and ruins acquire a life of their own in the red and orange after-sunset. Its many by-lanes continue to bustle with life, some transporting us to the pages of history, while others tempting us with the aromas of Turkish bread.

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The old city of Sultanahmet at dusk.

We catch a tram to Tophane, an old neighborhood with the city’s best nargile hangouts, and immediately fall in love with the cozy ambiance of the outdoor cafes and the whiff of gul-nane (rose-mint) in the air. This is the Turkey I’ve been dreaming about. As night falls and conversations slow down, I take my leave and walk to Taksim, where the city square is still bustling with life; passersby are buying simit (sesame bagels), pilav (mixed rice) and mussels from roadside carts, well dressed men & women are hitting the night spots, and small shops with doner stands are brimming with people gorging on supper.

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A mosque at Tophane.

On a covered walkway, I’m stopped by a Turkish woman, asking for money to help her old mother get a cab to the hospital. Seeing an older woman a few feet ahead seemingly breathing painfully, I consider offering help for a moment, but watching the other nonchalant passersby, my mind darts back to the Turkey scams I read on Wikitravel, and I decide to walk away. A few minutes later, I turn back in search of a place to buy water, and at a doner cafe just after the walkway, I spot the “sick” mother & her daughter gorging on a kebap! I dart them a glare and can’t help laughing as they smile back with a hint of hostility.

Back in my small by-lane neighborhood of Taksim, my Turkish brother-sister hosts found via Roomorama, are still awake to let me in, ask about my day, and tuck me in for a good night’s sleep. It’s just my second day in Istanbul, and despite a near scam, I’m already in love with the city and its laid back way of life. If I stay here any longer, I’ll never want to leave.

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Have you been to Istanbul? Did you fall as much in love with the city?

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Read more about my adventures in Turkey.

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29 Comments

  1. Abhinav Sarangi says:

    As I suspected, I am yet to meet a person who has been to Istanbul and not fallen in love with the city. I am yet to explore the rest of Turkey though, maybe in my next trip. Enjoy your time there.

    1. True, it’s hard not to fall for it, almost instantly. And after being on the Turkish Karadeniz countryside for almost a week, I can vouch for how beautiful it is, and how friendly the people. Right out of a postcard I’d say!

    1. Thanks =) Yes, I’m traversing the Black Sea coast now and it’s just so beautiful. More updates lined up!

  2. shivya, this is the first post i read in almost three weeks. You make the place come alive! great writing…. have fun and take care:)

    1. Thanks Sapna, and welcome back! Looking forward to reading all about your Ladakh trip =)

  3. Ah you have brought back some wonderful memories. I just adore Turkey, I think it combines the best of the east and the west. Look forward to the next installment.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Rakhee =) I know what you mean. A lot of countries claim to be that combination, but Turkey really exemplifies it. Lots more coming up!

  4. Oh, I need to look into my finances as well as leave balance. You intoxicated me with Istanbul straight …. should visit once in a lifetime. – Sudhindra Haldodderi

    1. Absolutely Sudhindra, hope you’re heading there soon. It promises the beauty of Europe at literally half the budget!

  5. Trishanka says:

    hi,
    Have been following you for quite sometime… Love your descriptions.

  6. locomotive39 says:

    Hi Shivya/All,
    In case any of you folks are coming over to Turkey again, feel free to get in touch with me if you need any help in this part of the world. I have the slight advantage of knowing their language and understanding the South Asian Mindset considering that I am in Indian living in Turkey for more than a decade.

    Cheers and happy travelling.
    J.

  7. Bhanupriya says:

    Great post and a cool blog! Love it….You know, my motto for travel is from Lord of the Rings “Home is behind
    The world ahead
    And there are many paths to tread
    Through shadow, to the edge of night
    Until the stars are all alight
    Mist and shadow
    Cloud and shade
    All shall fade”

    look forward to more..

    1. Love that motto 🙂 And welcome to The Shooting Star! Hope to bump into you on the road sometime.

      1. Bhanupriya says:

        I am sure our paths shall cross! I have travelled widely and always wondered about writing about them, but don’t know why i didn’t…Maybe because I wanted those experiences to stay deep within me. But, now I’m inspired to write…Will send you the link when I finish my first post on Egypt…

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