On one of our first few days in Istanbul, on one hot afternoon, we made our way through a very tightly packed street market. We bumped and shoved through narrow streets lined with endless vendor stalls. The ground was wet and dirty. I just wanted to make it out and have some space again. Being crammed into a large body of people feels suffocating.
At one point, D turned around and said “Can you smell that Turkish coffee?” It’s become such an instinct now that I didn’t even realize I was holding my nose (yeah it’s an odd defense mechanism against yucky market smells). I let it out and breathed in deeply. Like, really breathed in. Immediately, the intense aroma of freshly ground coffee beans rushed in. It smelled delicious.
As we continued our way through the market, I eagerly took in all the smells… the smells of sewage, cigarette smoke, and car fumes, but also the smells of spices that I can’t even identify, raw fish, and grilled meats. Everything was so individually distinct, and yet perfectly weaved together to create an intoxicating ambiance.
This is Istanbul – a city that needs to be experienced with ALL the senses.
(Even if this means an 8 year old insists on hugging you on the street and kissing your neck…)
After 2 months traveling through orderly Europe, Istanbul was a jarring (but welcoming) change. It’s chaotic, gritty, ramshackle, colorful, hip, lively – the perfect melting pot of east meets west. After all, what other city is divided by the ocean to sit on both European and Asian soils?!
Istanbul is a city of contrasts. But it just works. And that’s what makes it so exciting.
Whimsical organic cafes are nestled underneath crumbling abandoned stories. Dirty cheap street food is right next door to trendy bistros. Girls show off their individuality with tattoos and shaved hair, and there is plenty of skin on display. But on the other end of the spectrum, women in full-on burkas are also a common sight. Crowds of people and cars vie for right-of-way on narrow, hilly streets. Dozens of cats roam freely and coexist peacefully with the locals. There’s a lot of trash on the streets. People relax on sidewalks on tiny stools drinking tea and smoking shisha.
And five times a day, the call to prayer booms loud throughout the entire city. During those few minutes, time stands still and I am spellbound. Two instances stand out most in my mind: once while on site at the Blue Mosque, and once while at a super trendy sushi restaurant on the waterfront. Two completely contrasting venues – east & west, ancient & modern – hearing the same call… it feels worlds apart, but also makes perfect sense here. It feels magical.
Indeed, Istanbul is a magical city in the most unexpected ways.
Because pictures speak a thousand words, here are 18 pictures of quintessential Istanbul to tantalize your senses!
Have you been to Istanbul? What were your favorite experiences?
This post is linked up with Relections En Route for Weekend Travel Inspiration. Don’t forget to check out all the other blogs!