Last week I went there for the first time in my life. The trip was an excuse to visit a dear friend of mine, who is studying there and, of course, to know what is to be considered one of the greatest cities from the ancient times still alive. And believe me when I say that Istanbul is alive. Statistics say that it has a growing population of 12.6 millions, but Turkey is the first to recognize that there are approximately 20 million people living in the great metropolis. Twenty million. It is twice the Portuguese population!
Everyone knows that Istanbul is a great city, that it stands in Bosphorus like a door that separates East from West and that it has been called Bizatium before Rome and Constantinople after the Emperor Constantine I. Right now the Turkish call it Istanbul, which means, among other things, “in the city”. I find it very accurate: when you are in Istanbul, you truly feel it.
First of all, let me tell you about the Turkish people. When I was in Berlin, the second city in the world with more Turks (after Istanbul), I found them completely different from European people, practical and very close to the Arabs. After this week I consider them one of the nicest, most hospitable and helpful people I've ever had the privilege of knowing. They are not European at all, but they are not Arabs as well. They are Turkish, and they are so proud of it.
When I refer to their kindness I’m not talking about those guys working in touristic areas, which constantly invite us to drink tea inside their shops, in order to convince us to buy something we actually don’t need. I’m talking about all the people I’ve met, at least when I was there.
Once I read in some touristic magazine that Istanbul was the city of a thousand mosques. Well, to me it seemed the city of a million mosques. There are mosques everywhere: they have the biggest mosque and the smallest one, the most ancient mosque and the most sacred one, the one where is said that one of the disciples of Prophet Muhammad has been, the one that gave birth to the Bizatium’s ecclesiastic style and the one that was transformed by the Ottoman Empire. They have Hagia Sofia, one the biggest medieval monuments I’ve ever seen, and the famous Blue Mosque. In fact, they have so many mosques that the skyline is like one of those beautiful prophetic pictures one sees in Star Wars (a brief geek moment, I’m afraid).
I had the chance of entering in some mosques and it was a tremendous experience. Those rooms, without any furniture, celebrate the emptiness in such richness that is the most comfortable experience ever. Someone told me that those are the places where one is closer to God, and maybe it’s true.
A few years ago I learned that in Marrakesch everything is for trade, even my sister apparently. One thousand camels. That would be enough for my family to live in the desert like kings! In Istanbul everything is for sale, except that which is not. Everything is negotiable until you reach the point which is not. Everything, except their honor.
They also have Atatürk. For those, like me, who didn’t know who (Mustafa Kemal) Atatürk was, let me tell you that once you put a foot on Istanbul, you feel the most ignorant being on Earth. Atatürk, which means “Father of the Turks”, was the father of the modern Turkey, and for them, he is like the king of all kings, a modern hero, or a long-lost father. There are pictures of him in every single place you can imagine. The young Atatürk, the old and wise Atatürk, the brave general Atatürk, the political standard Atatürk, or simply the best-selling poster in Turkey. Before writing these words, I was thinking about someone with such a political influence in the daily-basis as he does but we, in Europe, don’t have one. We have people we admire and respect, but we don’t have an Atatürk.
And one should never forget the food. Oh my god, the food! Turkish food entered directly to my top-three best kinds of food ever, being the first place occupied by the Portuguese, of course. Every restaurant you go, you can enjoy the best meal in the world, there concentrated in three or four amazing dishes. And above all, the food is very cheap! Fabulous bread, astonishing Turkish pizzas, the meat is always tasty and the fish always fresh, not to mention the most beautiful pastries I’ve ever seen (Vienna and Paris, I’m so sorry). The food is going to be something to remember…
I had heard Istanbul is famous for the bazaars, and that was true. First one has the Grand Bazaar, which is like an entire neighborhood transformed into a market, with its complex structure of streets and the incomparable vaulted ceilings. Then one has the Spicy Bazaar, smaller, yet magnificent. The Fish bazaar, the Carpet bazaar, The Do-it-yourself bazaar and all the markets one can think of. Everything is meticulously organized and ready to jump to our backpacks.
The prices are made for tourists, but one can twist the end of the negotiation, especially if one knows how to say the magic words: “We are not tourists. Please make us a student’s price”. In Turkish of course. Or, if one is the best negotiator ever, like my sister for instance, one can say all the words you know in Turkish, then make a big smile and, finally, be severe in the negotiation part. That has worked for me, as well.
There was still time to go to a Turkish bath. An Italian friend recommended us one old bath, which was more than 400 years old. He also told us that no swimsuits were allowed, so we were a little bit curious to see what would happen inside. Men for one side, women for another. Separated rooms, separated baths. One strong soap massage made by an old and hairy Turk, inside a marble room with 40 degrees and steam, full of other men and treatments with hot and cold water. We were well treated and it’s an experience to repeat.
When I came back yesterday, all of my friends wanted to know everything about all the things I had done, which is impossible. So I’ve decided to write about some of the most intense experiences, one of them simply being there, among those people. I hope this gives all the interested a small idea of what I lived during the past few days. And, for photographs, they are with my sister, who is still there, that lucky girl. But they will also be published here. Some of them at least. What happened in Istanbul stays in Istanbul.
My fascination with this city began one night during a good conversation with a German friend. When I told her I didn’t know much about the city she told me: “Istanbul ist cool mann!” Und das stimmt. Istanbul is cool.
More photos here:
> ISTANBUL IS COOL
These photos are property of Mary Torres Campos. All rights reserved.