I finally see the city through a tourist's eyes
18.03.2010 - 21.03.2010
I've done İstanbul backwards. My fırst visit I was so far off the beaten path that I rarely saw a tourist in five days. I got caught up in the nightlife, and before I realized it I was out of time. No Topkapı Palace, no Hagia Sophia, no Grand Bazaar, not a single mosque or hamam - party over oops out of time. I knew I'd be back, since my whole original point of going had been to see the Hagia Sophia and the buildings of Sinan.
Trip two was with Billy, and we had just spent two fantastic weeks in Jordan & weren't in full-blown tourist mode. We at least made it to the Hagia Sophia, and the outer courtyards of Topkapı Palace.
So this trip I made a change, and traded in my favorite hip (and now expensive) bed and breakfast in trendy Beyoğlu for a family-run guest-house in Sultanahmet, the old Byzantine and Ottoman quarter - and tourist central.
But why? my friend asks over coffee my first night. Sultanahmet is so boring. And oh do I agree. I love waking up and seeing the great historical palaces and mosques and churches a block from my door. I love seeing how they change character throughout the day as the light changes. And I'm definitely seeing the sites like a good tourist - I've seen four Important Places just today, which might be a record.
But it's Friday night, and the streets of Taksim are filling up wıth people. We walk through Taksim to his neighborhood ın Harbiye, and it feels like the city is alive. And I don't want to go back to sleepy Sultanahmet with it's carpet sellers and tourist groups and crappy food and pre-packaged sets of commodified experience. I want to be here, where the action is.
I tell myself I'll go out and make a night of it Saturday. I already know where all the hot clubs are this season. But after another day of being a good tourist, I'm exhausted - and after a crappy massage at a historic but touristed haman I'm in bed before the first club even opens it's doors.
Sunday morning. My plan is to hit the Bıg Three: Hagia Sophia, Sutan Ahmed Camii, and Topkapı Palace. It's the first really warm weekend of Spring, and I love the walk up the hill from my guesthouse and watching the minarets and domes come into view through the trees. I start with Hagia Sophia, which must be one of the more fantastic buidings on the planet. I'll post photos soon, though none can do the space justice.
Outside it has turned into a perfect Spring day. I stop for coffee in the courtyard, and read a bit more in my guidebook. It talks about the pigeons of İstanbul, and how Muslims concider a direct hit from one to be a blessing. I think that Rick Steves made that part up.
And then Allah blessed me. Real good, too.
It's still a beautiful day, and I wash and head to the Mosque of Sultan Ahmed. It's prayer time, so I relax in the courtyard and people watch. I move into lazy Spring-day mode, and after a slow lunch and a long linger in the park I head to Topkapı - only to dıscover that I'm late, and no more tickets are being sold.
So back to the park. I sıt down on a stone wall, buy some grilled corn on the cob, and marvel at the thousands of people in the park with me. Turks, Europeans, Arabs, Persians, Asians, all enjoying one perfect day together. I wish that we could somehow capture this, that everyone could just bring this home with them.
This is what happens when Allah sends a bird to shit on your head. Ya get sentimental.
The tour busses leave, but the park is still full of families and groups of friends stalling the end of day. And we've all spent the day touring these grand buildings from another era, buildings that were designed to elevate the soul. And I wonder, did they? And do they still?
I missed the nighlife. In return I got this one peaceful Sunday; and here, by the fountain, between the mosques and the churches, will be one of my lasting images of İstanbul.