Sunday, October 21, 2012

Istanbul, Not Constantinople

That song ran through my head the entire six days we spent in Istanbul, but it was wrong.  Istanbul is still Constantinople; its Byzantine past is as alive as its Ottoman past and its modern present.

We wandered through parts of town on the European side as well as the Asian side that might have been lifted from San Francisco: painted Victorian style townhouses lining hilly streets, but here broken up by minarets and Greek Orthodox churches and tightly locked synagogues.

Simit, Turkish 'bagels', were sold everywhere, and the markets had gorgeous fresh and dried fruits, as well as the longest, thinnest leeks I've ever seen.

The language was a puzzler.  It took us four days to remember how to say 'thank you' in Turkish, despite being told repeatedly.  Turkish doesn't sound like any other language I've ever learned, but every once in a while I got the foreign words that had been 'Turkishized'.  A lot of French has found its way in.

In six days we managed to see many but by no means all of the major sights and only a couple of the off the beaten track neighborhoods.  It helped that we stayed in a super hotel, the Witt Istanbul Suites, in Cihangir rather than in Sultanahmet, the tourist center.

We took a ferry to Üsküdar on the Asian side and visited the lovely little neighborhood of Kusguncuk, which felt like Glenview in San Francisco.  A walk through Balat and Fener in the European side, below the Golden Horn, showed us a neighborhood that had been home to a changing ethnic and religious population over the centuries of Byzantine and Ottoman rule.  The Greek Patriarchate sits not far from the synagogue that was home to Sabbatai Tvi, the Jewish false messiah, and they are both now in the center of a conservative Islamic area.

We couldn't get enough of Istanbul.  The people were warm and friendly, the food was usually delicious, and the location was incredible, water everywhere you look, a skyline as interesting by day as by night.  The traffic was horrible, but the tramline was great and the taxis not very expensive.

As you might imagine I've got hundreds of photos and lots more to mention, but that's still to come.


Lisa said...

Loved reading about Istanbul and can appreciate the fact that it took four days to learn how to say thank you. Your photos are terrific as always!
So glad you had such a good trip.

Minsk said...

Your photos are terrific as always!