Slowly, surely, my stay in Istanbul is coming to a close. The world of sky-reaching minarets, regular imam songs, loud bazaars with fragrances all over the spectrum and endless offers of kilims, corn, sesame pretzels, kebabs and chai I will leave behind soon. The experience, however, will stay with me for a very long time, I feel, for such an old city could only leave the deepest imprint in your memory.
Before going, I deliberately blocked myself from any expectations and only had a vague idea what I wanted to visit, some iconic landmarks I wanted to see, but generally just allowed myself to experience the city and gave it a chance to surprise me.
And surely it did, with its huge, loud, colourful and miscellaneous population, permanent and just passing by, truly deserving the title of “Gateway to the world”. It’s also a city NOT for beginners: bargaining is essential and a full-on assault on your (not so deep) wallet and perhaps naive mind is real, not to mention laissez faire approach to traffic rules, which are more like guidelines anyway. Nevertheless, I felt a rush of excitement every time I would step out of the hotel, knowing I will likely experience something that I haven’t before around every corner, which, sadly, is not present in any of the European cities anymore (at least for me, this excitement is no longer as strong, for I always know what to expect), for they are not chaotic: yes, organised chaos gives Istanbul its charm, its intangible energy banging beneath your feet, pushing you to go further and think bigger. And everything is bigger in Istanbul: mosques, churches, houses, stadiums, roads, cars, you name it, it’s probably bigger and fancier. The city was built by great figures of history, bent on materialising their greatness in buildings, either in the name of their gods, ancestors or the city itself, leaving a gift and responsibility to its citizens for carrying on the memory and preserving the greatness further.
Speaking of great things, a dime about food (food is important in my life and I’ve packed spices to last me a while): it’s wonderfully rich in fragrance and flavour, spiced quite exotically for a northern tongue and for a few days I’ve spent here feels like I have a whole different perspective on how to spice meat for my next cooking adventure at home. The sweets are a whole different story: a myriad of flavours and techniques that water the mouth just by looking at them, from honey-soaked baklava to cannel-like pastries from food vendors. Oh, and this obsession with portable street food just adds to the excitement of the whole city, as does tea runners, who seem to be everywhere, but especially in the roofed grand and spice bazaars. I was thinking that a nation which consumes SO MUCH black tea, does it ever sleep?
Though tiring and demanding, this city also gave me much needed food for though and inspiration to write more fiction (and not fiction, there are a lot of thoughts, much like items in my trunk). This, I will admit, I WAS expecting and hoping even, and I look forward to see it ebb out of me in form of a new story. If I could make any recommendation of what to do in Istanbul (and I generally don’t recommend things, but allow people to discover things on their own, it’s much more fun that way), I would recommend to order a coffee or a waterpipe and sit in a busy street for a couple good hours watching people (NOT YOUR PHONE) pass by: whether you want to or not, such variety of faces and features will bring all sort of wonderings to your mind and THAT is an invaluable experience.
After I visit every destination, I always ask myself at the end: would I return here? There were a lot of yes in my travel, very few no, but Istanbul… Istanbul is a definitely. The city seems endless and timeless and I don’t know if my life would be complete if I don’t see it again.