It is a great city! Don’t let anybody tell you different. Istanbul deserves its place in history. But it definitely lives up to its reputation of a modern city. I absolutely loved whizzing around on their trams, eating great food in modern restaurants and washing it down with a cocktail in a swanky bar. And the great thing is that while you have your cocktail (that can be counted as an equal to the best London cocktails) and you’re listing to some funky DJ laying the tracks for a perfect soundtrack to the night, you look up and see the dozens of minarets of all the mosques. It’s like I was used to time travelling and I suddenly had a flashback. And then consider that this place has been the centre of the world for so long. Mix in a bit of the fish smells, roasting nuts and the sounds of people being busy and you get the picture.
One of the nice things of Istanbul is the markets. Forget about the grand bazaar. It is the biggest souvenir shop I ever laid my eyes on. Go and have a look, the building is cool but I never had the feeling of history in there. It is in the small streets that everything comes to life. The walk from the Grand Bazaar to the Spice Bazaar was fantastic. A myriad of shops selling everything anybody needs. From cooking wares to food to dolls to all the souvenirs that are being sold in the Grand Bazaar (at half the price of course). Turn a corner and it’s all food stalls and dead chickens and mosques. And then you start smelling the Spice Bazaar way before you see it. Now, I have a bit of a soft spot for the Spice Bazaar. It is a bit cliché but come on, it is still going after 3000 years. It’s what fashion calls ‘a classic’.
Now Istanbul is more than fancy attractions for a big tourist crowd. Cross the Bosporus and behold there is more of the city. Here the difference is not so much between old and new but between East and West. While the western side has predictable trams (mainly because there is only 3 minutes between trams), nice clothes shops, modern buildings and several universities, the eastern side has definitively an eastern flavour to it. It made me happy again to be able to stand on the side of the road and flag down any bus that was coming (and hoping it was the right one). It made me happy to walk into a restaurant and point out which food I wanted. It made me happy that people didn’t speak English.
Now language is always a difficult issue. I want to go and speak the local language (which in most countries I am unable to) and people want to talk English with me because that’s how money gets spent. I did try to do my best in these modern times in this modern city so I whipped out my smartphone and did some translating. And let me tell you, it works like a charm. Granted, it’s not a babel fish. Things get lost in translation and sometimes it’s outright weird with the occasional sticky situation but it does work. I speak in English and my phone produces Turkish. They speak Turkish and my phone talks English to me. How good is that!