I'm sitting in the tram, going to the place which I know very well, but still feeling like I left a part of me somewhere in warm country. Night is cold here, very dark with many stars in the sky. This sky doesn't look like one I used to watch during last few months. There are only few people on the street, which is nothing surprising. In September the weather is getting colder and rain is famous guest at this time. Exactly one year and twenty days ago I was going to the airport to catch the plane to unknown place. Exactly one year and twenty days ago I didn't know that only two and a half hour distance separates me from such a fascinating city. Exactly one year and twenty days ago I discovered Istanbul.
Istanbul, people say it's one of the most amazing cities in the world, the city of contrast, where east meet with west, old with new and poverty with the richness. City strongly combined with the history, culture and tradition but on the other hand very modern. Before my journey to Istanbul I read this kind of opinion, but it was nothing with the feeling that I've experienced during 10 months of my life there. Enormous Istanbul became a very small place and it will stay in my heart for forever.
First steps after leaving the airport in Istanbul was kind of shock. On the one hand I watched fashionably dressed people and on the other religiously dressed girls. Everywhere was noise, mess and big chaos. Furthermore first Adhan from the mosque: “Allahu akbar!” (eng. Allah is the biggest) was the most tangible evidence that I'm in Orient country. I took the tram to move from European to Asian side of city and the most surprising was the openness and kindness of people. I remember like yesterday, they were asking me if I could have said some words in Turkish. Without hesitation I answered “armut” (eng. pear) and “I'm looking for ‘oda'” (eng. room). The laugh of Turks defused stress hiding inside of me and immediately I found fondness for this nationality.
Before going to Istanbul I heard various opinions about Turkey. Mostly that it's very dangerous country and that I have big courage to go there. Nonsense, nonsense, nonsense! Ok, European's neatness and orderliness cannot be compared with Turkish disarray, Turkey is absolutely different. But is an otherness something worse or bad? It's just different. Firstly I wanted to tell that Istanbul is a place for everyone, because the diversity of city let every person to find something for their self, but it's not. If you come to Istanbul you will fall in love or hate it at first sight. Nothing between, there is no way to say something neutrally of this city, because indifference doesn't live there. How you find Istanbul, it depends on you. If you look for fun, surely you'll find it there, if you look for art and inspiration – you're invited to Istanbul, if you want to learn about other culture and traditions – do not hesitate to book a plane ticket to Turkey. Worse thing is when you want to stay alone for some time. In this situation you need to hide in your room, because it's impossible to find an empty place somewhere outside, which is nothing surprising. The population of Istanbul is more than 13.5 million, which for example is around 4.5 times more than population of Lithuania! (once, when my Turkish and Lithuanian friends met together, they were talking about population of their countries. When Lithuanian said that number of people of whole his country is less than 3 million, surprised Turk answered: why didn't you all come to Istanbul?). For this reason, I can say that this city never sleeps. On every time of day and night there are many people that mostly are sauntering and catching the magic of the city.
What is magical in Istanbul? Everything and nothing. Literally. Istanbul has many colors. Incredibly beautiful bosporus gives feeling of detachment from reality, especially at night when you cross two continents by the bridge or if you cross it by the last ferry. Istanbul is beautiful at night, it blew me away. But for many people going back home ‘from Europe to Asia' is a routine and an ordinary thing. It became normal for me walking with friends through the labyrinth of street sellers to the coast of bosporus, in order to drink some beer and eat sunflower seeds (it's very famous there) or just sit on the stones during the day and read a book or study for exams or easy drink tea and enjoy the view to the other side of Istanbul (Asian or Europe), or to islands, or to nowhere. For the free time one of the best places to visit are Prince's Islands. Very popular is riding a bike on mountain area or just sunbathe on the beach at the same island. Except of bike the best way of transportation is horse and cart. Having a picnic there is also a good idea. Another great place to visit is Çamlica Hill where you can try to understand the endless enormity of Istanbul. Also shisha pubs shouldn't be forgotten. Surprising that in some of these places is not served any kind of alcohol, only coffee or tea and popular is to play backgammon! (Europeans forgive you this only because of strong and delicious taste of “nargile” (eng. shisha). Istanbul is a clash of two realities. After walking through snobbish districts, full of gold, where important deals are made by people from all over the world, you can find yourself in the middle of slums and poverty, where people live by begging or collecting rubbishes. Nevertheless you can feel history at every turn. It was surprising when I asked about history, every Turkish citizen knew the answers to my questions. It's also incredible that Turkish society is so much patriotic and hospitable. Turkish flags and portraits of Atatürk don't let the people to forget where they are. Unbelievable are Turkish bazars. People sell there everything (I'm not scared of using this word, because there is literally everything), thus I loved visiting ‘rubbish sellers' and spending hours on admiring the old and rare miracles of their commodities. It can be written a lot about Istanbul, but every writings will be nothing with emotions which can be experienced after walking through the streets of it. I was lucky that I had an opportunity to live in such a fascinating city.
Firstly Byzantium, then Constantinople, and at the end Istanbul is a masterpiece of God and a sun and heart of Turkey.
Photo Credits: Matthias Rhomberg