Thursday, 12 March 2009


Merhaba Most Excellent Blog Fans!

Istanbul (my destination for last week). I have been back a couple of days and am mulling over how to describe it, how I truly felt about this sprawling, ancient city. And I still don't know. So you will have to excuse me if I ramble a little in this post.

Having read numerous guide books before I went (Rick Steves' Istanbul; Time Out travel guide: Istanbul; Lonely Planet: Istanbul; Style Guide: Istanbul; A Hedonist's Guide to Istanbul; Eyewitness Guide to Istanbul) along with blogs, and travel articles I had squirreled away from magazines over the last few months, I thought I was well prepared for Istanbul and all it had to offer (Okay, okay, so maybe I went a teensy bit overboard in the research department but I wanted to be prepared rather than just winging it). Hmmm how wrong I was. I, naively perhaps, expected to fall in love immediately. To have a longing to return again and again to the "World's Hippest City" (not my words*) where tradition, culture and ancient architectural marvels collide with the cosmopolitan, the modern, and the fabulous. Instead, I feel confused. And I wonder if this is because Istanbul is itself confused. Is it that Istanbul is still trying to find its identity following the fall of the Ottoman Empire, is it still trying to reinvent itself in its desire for entry into the EU, is it the effect of gentrification? Or is it simply that I, who came expecting the exotic (fuelled, in part, no doubt by those copious glossy magazine articles), had preconceived notions of what Istanbul should be like, rather than what it actually is like in the modern day? I'm not sure and after only 5 days in Istanbul, I am (obviously) in no position to provide the answer. However, while I was there I did read the beautifully written account of Istanbul by Orhan Pamuk "Istanbul Memories and the City" (which I would highly recommend to anyone, whether you are intending to travel to Istanbul or not) and on a grey, wet day in the very back streets of the Old City, I felt I understood what Orhan meant when he talks about a communal melancholy ("Huzun" in Turkish) which seeps through the city and fills its occupants.

What I did fall in love with almost immediately was the people of Istanbul. Generous, kind, friendly, open. They were, in a word, wonderful. If I was fortunate to go back to Istanbul, it would be the people who I would seek out, spend time talking to, photographing, taking tea with. A number of times, after thanking a local for directions when we were hopelessly lost, I almost burst into tears of happiness when a Turkish man would smile, dip his head and pat his heart - such an endearing, delightful gesture. For me, to be invited into the home of an Turkish family would be an honour. For I strongly suspect that the heart of Istanbul, its true identity, lies behind the locked doors in the back streets of the Old Town and steep, cobbled streets of the New District.

Precious memories: hearing my first call to prayer (ever) while standing in the courtyard of the Blue Mosque. It was an incredible moment: spine tingling and something I will never forget; being "warned off" by a pack of street-wise dogs while off wandering on my own (the Dog Whisperer would not have been impressed by my actions- I squealed and ran! Probably the most foolish thing to do in the circumstances); sitting, drinking Turkish coffee and eating cheese toasties while inhaling the heady, sweet smoke from the narghiles being smoked by a cafe full of locals; crossing the Bosphorus in a private launch from Rumeli Hisarı to Kanlica; drinking sweet, fresh orange and pomegranate juice every morning (and afternoon!); strolling along the waterfront in Bebek (European shore) and Kadikoy (Asian shore); drinking Boza in the exquisite 1930's Vefa Bozacisi cafe (more on this in another post); watching the sun go down while chatting with some local fisherman near-ish the Galata Bridge; witnessing the kindness bestowed on the thousands of meows which inhabit the city (I have never seen so many well fed cats!); eating dinner late on Saturday night in a restaurant crowded with happy Turkish families; scoffing the freshest, most delicious kebabs at a teeny place called Aynen Durum just outside the Grand Bazaar while listening to the boisterous men bellowing frantically down their mobiles at the informal money exchange market; watching grown men take childish delight in throwing pieces of simit (the delicious, chewy, sesame coated bread sold by street vendors everywhere in Istanbul) to the eagle-eyed seagulls following the early morning ferry; getting icing sugar up my nose, all down my clothes and camera bag while trying to eat yogurt in Kanlica (messy Messy!); nibbling freshly made, flaky börek ....
This is one of my favourite photographs from Istanbul (yeah, I know I blew the highlights out of the sky on his hands but I still like it!). He was jeweller who had a gorgeous store near Tomtom Kaptan Sokak:

Inside the Blue Mosque:

Treasures for sale in the back streets of Sultanahmet:

The view from Moda, Kadikoy (on the Asian side):

*from Lonely Planet Guide to Istanbul


  1. A very interesting read and the picture of the jeweler is excellent - I love the lighting, the hand really doesn't bother me.

  2. Thanks very much Alan- I appreciate your comment and kind words. I often have to remind myself not to post photos just because it has taken me considerable effort to get them (normally this is not physical effort ie lugging equipment up a substantial hillock, but mental, mostly a bit of courage)or because I love the photo. Have a read of this post from the Pixelated Image blog:
    You might also enjoy David's recent posts on Vision (which he has been posting about this week). It helps to make sense of why we do what we do, whether you are a landscape photographer, wedding photographer, still- lifer or a street photographer.
    Mmmmm I am well over my 10, 000 first shots- and I still shoot loads of crap. I have decided that the first 10, 000 shots "rule" is for FILM photographers who are probably a lot more discerning in pressing the shutter button. I am plumping for a 100, 000 "rule" for digital shooters (okay, okay, so I am giving myself a lot of space here for taking el crappo shots!!)
    Anyway, Alan, have a look at those posts- they are inspirational.

  3. Thanks for the links - a very interesting read, another blog I will follow with interest.

  4. I read your post with interest. I and wife are going to Istanbul for 4 days next week. Like you, I overdid the research part (that's how I stumbled into your blog) and our expectations are sky high :-)
    I wish I can take pictures like you! I have a Nikon D80 ( but am still firmly in the amateur realm.

  5. Hi Srini
    Thanks for the comment! I am still in the amateur realm as well-but I figure it is just practice, practice and a bit more practice :)
    I would be really interested in hearing about your Istanbul experience when you return. I still haven't finished my Istanbul mini travel guide (still only up to Part 1!)but I definitely would recommend going "off the beaten" track if you have time....I would highly recommend a trip to Bebek- we took a cab from our 2nd hotel, TomTom Suites (hands down best hotel I have ever stayed in), and then got a bus back (easy peasy, everyone is really friendly and willing to help with directions). There is a lovely stroll along the waterfront from Bebek to Rumeli Hisari). You can have a drink at Bebek Hotel (expensive!) or a coffee (very much less expensive!) at Starbucks on the water in Bebek. My absolute favourite cafe in Bebek was Mangarie-it is basically across from the Bebek hotel, tucked away up high, above a hairdressing salon. It is fairly pricey (for Istanbul- not by London standards!)but is fabulous: light and airy,great views, lovely food, very Sydney-ish in style.
    For lunch we went to Korfez in Kanlica (Asian side)- they provide a free boat to pick you up from near Rumeli Hisari. The food was okay (not amazing) but the boat ride and the view from the restaurant was incredible.
    We walked from the restaurant to Kanlica, had a yoghurt, then walked back again to Korfez and they took us back again to the European side.

    Also, I would highly recommend you head over to the Asian side via ferry and take a stroll around Moda. We had lunch at Ciya (again, this is restaurant people rave about but I just thought it was average) but the waitstaff are SO nice that you should go!

    Re airports- we flew EasyJet (they fly into Sabiha Goken airport) and it was very easy to get to Sultanahmet (the location of our first hotel).We took a shuttle bus (10 euro each) that operate out of the airport. I think it maybe took 50mins or so from the time we disembarked from the plane, got our visas (15 euro each for Aussie passport holders, £10 I think for British Passport holders) and were delivered to our hotel.
    On the way back (because we were leaving from Tom Tom Suites), we got the Havas bus which leaves from Taksim Square and it was 10 turkish lira each. Hassle free and cheap.

    Let me know if you need any more info!

  6. Hi Messy,

    I really like how you could remember and type down the original spellings of the places.

    Very well done post!

  7. Istanbul is a beatiful place.
    I like this city.