Monday, January 10, 2011

Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey. There’s so much to say about this enormous, cultural city that I don’t know where to begin. It has always been an important and mighty city throughout history, and continues to have a powerful effect today. We caught a boat across the Bosphorus to get from the Asian side to the European side of Istanbul. This sprawling city is partly in Asia and partly in Europe—the only city in the world on two continents. As we approached land, we saw mosque minarets rise above the rest of the buildings like needles all along the horizon. We had seen our fair share of mosques around Turkey already, but nothing like this. We knew from the first sight that we’d have a lot to photograph here.

The place is such a unique blend of old and new. It was the first big city we’d been to in awhile (after making our way through small, simple towns and islands in Turkey, Greece, and Croatia). We were impressed with how modern it was. We hadn’t seen tall buildings, busy downtown streets, posh hotels, or fashion on the streets in a while. It felt so good to be back in the hustle and bustle of one of the biggest cities in Europe (population of 12.8 million!). Yet although the city has grown and modernized with the rest of the world, the streets still contain so much old-world charm, ethnicity, and mystery. First of all, you can’t miss the ancient and intricate mosques on every other corner. Even among the sleek metro and the business people, the Muslim call to prayer sounds 5 times a day. You can hear the muezzins’ melodious voices coming from every direction and overlapping each other because you’re constantly surrounded by so many mosques. In front of every mosque, you can see Turkish men washing their feet, hands, and faces at an ablution fountain before entering the mosque for worship. A surprising amount of women in the modern city wear traditional Muslim head coverings and very modest clothing—ankle length skirts and trench coats. I sometimes felt overly exposed. I can’t imagine what summer must be like in Istanbul, since that’s when we show the most skin. Tea is just as prevalent as in the smaller Turkish towns. The majority of restaurants serve traditional Turkish food like kebab and pide. I was drawn to colorful glass lanterns, low tables with cushions for chairs on the floor, and of course, more rugs. I have never seen so many patterns in my life, whether its on rugs, pillows, walls, tiles. I wish I photographed the patterns more for future design inspirations. A small embroidered pillow is a work of art all by itself. 

In Istanbul we took the metro every day and STILL did a ton of walking. Not only does the city cover a lot of ground, but it is built on seven hills. Every day we crossed a bridge over the Golden Horn inlet past a ridiculous amount of fishermen. I was delighted to sit for hours at classy cafes people watching. I missed cafes. Every day we started our day with a nutritious Turkish breakfast at our hotel—a boiled egg, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, cheese, and bread with jam. And every day we bought a sesame seed covered simitci roll from a street vendor during our hours of walking.

Istanbul has so much culture and color, something that you’d expect would fade away in such a big metropolitan city. I felt like I could stay forever. 

- Julia

Coming up: many more general posts around the city, a post dedicated to Turkish food, a photograph  collection of Muslim women, a small street fashion post, and a highlight of a vintage boutique we were lucky to stumble upon.