Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Istanbul, exteriors

Someone I know has been bugging me about posting some Istanbul photos, so here's a bunch. Let me say first off, that I LOVED this whole trip. Istanbul is a fascinating city, and I was able to spend half my visit with a friend who lives there, which gave me some nice perspective on local life.

Part of the reason I loved the city was that going there really felt like traveling with a capital T. Like old school. This city has been a destination for thousands of years, but in the last century it was the terminus of the Orient Express (and I'm kind of romantic about trains). At one time, intrepid travelers would debark from the Orient Express and then take a ferry across the Bosphorus to here — Haydarpaşa station — if they wanted to continue on to Bagdad. The old train stations on both sides of the water exude a lonely, faded grandeur. (A new tunnel under construction will render both obsolete.)

So there I was in a city without statues (and sometimes it seems I travel just for statues), but thankfully there was amazing tilework (blue and white tilework, no less!) all over the place to keep me occupied. This is a detail of the little ferry terminal in front of Haydarpaşa, seen above.

Also the city has this amusingly blasé attitude about how old it is. Like, 1,500-year-old Roman aqueduct in the parking lot, whatever.

That said, much of the old Istanbul was made of wood, and thus has not survived so well. This is not a city with a unified historic streetscape. There's a lot of concrete. And there are a lot of gorgeous old buildings — like this Art Nouveau gem — in terrible repair.

All spiffed up was Topkapi palace, which was easily my least favorite site just because of the hordes of tourists. Still, if you're interested in tiles... (expect to see some if I ever get around to an "Istanbul, interiors" post).

Here are said tourists on the terrace of Topkapi. Behind them is the Bosphorus, the continent-dividing waterway that makes the city so spectacular.

There was an expensive cafe on that terrace, but I found my favorite cafe was right outside the palace's walls in Gülhane Park. There was a tea garden with the same fabulous view, plus tea served in these groovy kettles. (They drink tea everywhere, and I tried to keep up. Tulip glasses and sugar. Never milk!)

Istanbul felt like a very commerce-driven city. Everywhere you went, people were buying and selling. As a New Yorker, I found it kind of comforting. I'd been warned in advance about aggressive touts, but I was only bothered by them in the most central touristy area (in front of the Blue Mosque was the worst). In other parts of town, I went about my business as a single woman without issue.

I stayed half the time in Sultanahmet (that would be the aforementioned most central touristy area), and the other half on the other side of the Golden Horn in the European Quarter. (I dubbed it the "Brooklyn of Istanbul" because I have the dopey need to find the "Brooklyn" of every place I travel.) Very different feel, and exciting in a different way. The streets around my hotel had lots of antique shops and hip cafes, plus lots of beautiful old buildings, some of which, at least, had been fixed up.

I visited the Princes' Islands and dubbed them the "Hamptons of Istanbul." (Yeesh, I'm SUCH a New Yorker.) We walked the loop around Büyükada (no cars on the Islands) on a lovely spring day. Beautiful place.

My friend lived on the Asian side, so I wound up taking a lot of ferries across the Bosphorus. Although these were just run-of-the-mill ferries (like, um, the Staten Island Ferry), I found every trip spellbinding. The city just looks magical from the Bosphorus (that's where this shot comes from). One night I saw dolphins — dolphins!!! Like I said, magical.

And now I'm home. And back to interiors blogging...


Guy said...

Istanbul has been on my to-do list for awhile... and your post is pushing it to #1. Looks amazing!

zeynep said...

Hello ! I am from İstanbul and I live in İstanbul . It's very nice and magical city . There are many places to visit . Thank you .

Christina said...

wonderful. Thank you for the detail. It's a lot of fun to get to know you through your own words and photos in addition to your curated photos (which I also LOVE).

Erin said...

I am SO jealous -- my mom was born in Turkey and I've always wanted to go there. It's my fantasy, ahem, motherland.

ps: your pics are gorgeous!

carol l. said...

how wonderful things look here! but how sad to think of the old train stations being obsolete. A dream journey to take the Orient Express all the way to Baghdad! and to drink tea with sugar along the way. But all my fellow passengers should be dressed in 1930's attire. Ah well!
Lovely evocative pictures! I can imagine a wonderful trip!