I visited Istanbul in January and spent 18 days in this weirdly charming yet frustrating city.
I was born in Istanbul and spent 17 years there before leaving for college. My life there consisted of going back and forth between home and school and occasionally meeting up with friends at a cafe, which I would be driven to and from by my parents. Needless to say, I never really got to experience the city until recently.
After spending a year abroad, I finally returned to my hometown in October. I only spent 5 days in Istanbul and it showed me all its beauties. I got to catch up with friends, enjoy the best of Turkish cuisine, and enjoy a couple glasses of black tea by the shore while inhaling the salty smell of the Marmara Sea. The hours that passed by strolling in Kadikoy, (a vibrant neighbourhood by the sea on the Anatolian side) drinking artisan coffee in cosy cafes, visiting vintage stores, and admiring the clandestine beauty of the labyrinthine streets were priceless. Although I had to bare with the tedious bus ride back home, spending time in Moda and Kadikoy almost turned the agony into a pleasurable suffering.
However, the pleasurable suffering of bus rides I had encountered in October shortly turned into annoying waits when I visited in January, and after day 10 of my visit, they became absolutely unbearable.
Like a light that attracts moths, this radiant city is a gem that burns and poisons those who stay too long. Too long of a stay transforms Istanbul into a monstrous aggregation of road rage on concrete newly poured on the death-bed of acres of forests.
After the first week, the dazzling view from the Bosphorus Bridge was no longer what I associated with it, the bridge merely became the artery of traffic, an artery with slow blood flow due to high stress and cholesterol. The sound of the bridge was that of furious car honks rather than the serene ripple of the sea below or the singing seagulls.
Here’s a paragraph from my journal entry during my stay there:
” In Istanbul, I lose my ability to think, to ponder and daydream. I cannot do anything merely productive or practical when left to my own authority. Although this sense of freedom from all thoughts is somewhat meditating for a few days, it soon turns into an existential frustration. My time here is spent mostly on public transport, going from one mind-numbing shopping centre to another just a few miles down the road. My time on the bus is completely futile, it vanishes along the road, it diffuses so quickly that it is almost as if the days there are a couple hours shorter so you get older faster. The only way to survive the bus rides, the rapid procession of a disturbingly harsh break with a sudden acceleration, is to numb your mind, to delete all thoughts in your brain and let your body sway with the nauseating motion. The bus is usually filled with bodies to the point that an outside prospector can see the abstract composition of coats, hands and sometimes even faces pressed up against the doors. So, attempting to do anything useful or entertaining is simply inconsiderable. “
The amount of time wasted going from one place to another is quite tragic for the residents, however for the visitor, it can be worthwhile to endure to see the beauties of the city.
On the bright side, the art scene is quite impressive. There are numerous independent movie theatres, mostly in central locations, which show independent movies from all over the world. My personal favourite is the one in Kadikoy called Rexx. Moda Sahnesi, in Kadikoy as well, is equally comfortable and easy to find. Moda Sahnesi is also a very high-quality theatre, every play I have seen there have been very high quality, and the plays usually star famous actors.
Although there are quite a lot of theatres and cinemas around Istanbul, there is a lack of galleries and museums on the Asian side, exhibitions seem to be accumulated on the European side. I have another blog post coming up about specific exhibitions I visited during my time in Istanbul so make sure to check that out in a couple of days!
Nevertheless, Istanbul is a completely unique, weirdly charming city, a must-see destination. The clash of western and eastern cultures, the culinary scene, and the dazzling views of the Bosphorus are one of a kind!