A visit to Bizantium, Constantinople…Istanbul

Not the sunset I arrived to.

The sun was setting when I crossed Galata Bridge. The shape of Suleymaniye Mosque minarets and its majestic dome were dark against a sky set on fire. And when I ventured outside of the hotel looking for sustainment, the flames in the sky had subsided. It was then the colour of ebony, as the full moon was not allowing full darkness to take over. Not that night.

I took all of this as a sign as I’m often prompted to. In a world where so often we lose ourselves, our lives, our identities. I take moments such as these as signs, the signs, even if fruits of a fertile imagination and interpreted through a subjective lens. Arriving at Istanbul during a full glory golden hour to then be presented with my favourite kind of full moon night meant that I was in the right place. All insecurities I had felt previously, were gone.

Now, these were my first hours in the city I had for so long been wanting to visit. A craving, a desire delayed by my own fears of visiting this country alone. The next day I woke up to a sunny morning and the next 24 hours would overpower me. Istanbul is a city of senses. Everything feels so strongly. All of your senses are suddenly working ten times higher. It is loud and noisy. Scents of every kind. Full of sights that both devastate you with the cruelty of destiny and astonish you in all of its magnificence. And your brain is simply trying to keep up. In the midst of everything, you need to be aware – not be run over by a motorcycle that has been kept together by scotch tape, or a crazy taxi driver. Not to be lured into tourist traps. By pretending you are not listening when men are calling you/cat calling you. Ensuring that even if you get lost (my favourite thing to do when exploring anywhere else in the world) no one is following you. And most importantly in Istanbul, you don’t step into a cat.

These first 24 hours were brutally amazing. I crashed into bed early that night, feeling light-headed. I was high on adrenaline. Excitement ran through my veins, yet I felt a sense of gloominess. Because there was so much about Istanbul that I did not expect. And most of it was how I underestimated the way religion affected the day-to-day in a city that has been for centuries the gateway between two continents.

Where were the women? In Sultanahmet, the neighbourhood I was staying in – the most touristic part of Istanbul, the old town – I was reminded of Morocco. At the hotels, at the restaurants, at the stores – only men were receptionists, only men were sellers, only men were serving tables. The women likely part of the backstage – the ones who clean when no one is looking, who cook in closed-door kitchens. And yes, this was intimidating for a foreign woman travelling alone. And whilst most of these men were incredibly kind and nice, I had my reservations. But most of all I was disappointed in myself, letting this detail be the cause of the sudden gloom. I realised that since the pandemic, basically since 2020, I hadn’t really explored places that were so different to my own culture. I have been too comfortable. And there I was, just before my eyes closed for a full night’s sleep I made my first resolution for 2023 – I want to travel to places that challenge me in every single way. Places that open those corners of me that are still too narrow.

So the next day I was walking with a different confidence, chin up high, camera at hand. My senses were sharpened, heithened and my brain cells were quicker. And wittier too.

I read my stuff before going to Istanbul. I knew some of its history. The city that was called Bizantium, Constantinopla and now Istanbul. The city that had been conquered and desired by so many. So much history is literally buried in there, to the point that it keeps getting excavated every single year. Such a magnificient city though has had also a recent turbulent years. Between 2015 and 2017 it was a constant target of terrorist attacks. And you are reminded of this is most places. The tourist hot spots are surrounded by security and police. You always go to security even to enter the bazaar or the local malls. Any museum of course. And after being checked three times on my way back to London, at Istanbul’s airport, I landed only to learn, once my phone was connected, a bomb attack happened just before I entered the plane, in a street I had been on the two previous days.

Perhaps I was lucky. I think every single day we get to live we could then probably be considered lucky. Bad things can happen any where. But it made me so sad, and mostly angry. Why can’t you trust human beings from stop killing each other?

This is my first post about Istanbul and I definitely don’t want to have this dark event staining the experience that Istanbul was for me. I can only hope to go back one day, to explore more of this city but also from Turkey. This was my last trip of the year, and I couldn’t have done anything better 🙂

That’s all for now! Have you visited Istanbul? Would love to hear what you thought about the city.

Love, Nic

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