I traveled to Istanbul in ’90 and ’91 when I was too young to look for culture, yet the city never left my mind.
Istanbul calls you back, as it did me, and forces you to pay attention. And while I paid attention, it is only in restrospect, as I search through memories, that I appreciate the scope of my visits.
I still remember seeing women covered to their eyes on one side of the road, and women in miniskirts and business suits on the other side.
Tradition and modernity, thanks to Mustafa Kemal Ataturk who advocated freedom and equality for the women of his country.
And I remember Ayasofia, the greatest church in Christendom.
As we traveled to Istanbul from the Greek Orthodox country of Romania, Ayasofia (former place of worship for the Greeks of Constantinopole) was an important destination. It is one of the only places reminding the world that before the Byzantine-Otoman war, Istanbul belonged to the Greeks.
Outside the church and ruins Istanbul is a city belonging to twelve million Turks. A place respectful of trafition. The mosques’ calls for prayer are broadcasted throughout the city starting at five o’clock every morning and ending at ten p.m.
We met many interesting people in Istanbul. And took lots of cabs, because while we drove there none of us were brave enough to fight the insanely busy Istanbul traffic.
It is where I learned to negotiate prices. No one buys anything in Istanbul without negotiating. The merchants never let us go unsatisfied, even invited us for tea. And Turkish tea … that is the strongest non-coffee beverage I had ever had.
Sitting in a garden along the Bosphorous at dinnertime, the view resembles a most wonderful dream. There is a bridge built in the ’70s based on an idea that dates back to antiquity; there are modern buildings, and ruins.
As the lights reflect on the water, you close your eyes, and surrounded by all that history, you let your imagination run wild and reinact stories from the legends.
Photo credit: Inside Ayasofia, courtesy turkishclass.com; The Ortaköy district of Istanbul, with the Bosphorus Bridge and Ortaköy Mosque, by Caiuscamargarus; Ataturk image, by Unknown — from Wikimedia Commons.