Beer is to Pizza as Wine is to Waffles
The Blue Mosque is silhouetted along the Istanbul skyline at sunset.
For more golden photos of Turkey, click here.
“I think I’m falling in love,” I whisper to Matt, the breeze from the Bosphorus blowing cool droplets of water across our faces.
“I haven’t even seen you attempt to talk to a girl this trip,” Matt says, one eyebrow rising with a playful smirk.
“Hey, there were the German girls on the bus, and the Punjab lady at the café, and that’s just since we’ve been traveling together!”
“You didn’t even get the German girls’ names, and the Punjab lady approached all of us and it was hardly a conversation.” I scowl at him. This entire train of conversation wasn’t where I was headed.
“Anyway,” I say, trying my best to transition away from Matt’s deconstruction of my lack of confidence, “I meant that I think I’m falling in love with this city.” There’s a spark in Matt’s eyes and we’re on the same page. He turns back to the river.
“Yeah, I could sit here and watch the tankers all day.”
“I might be able to too, if there weren’t so many other things to see,” I reply. Now it’s Matt’s turn to scowl.
“Of course. That’s what I meant.”
In the last three days, we’ve walked the length and breadth of Anatolia, the European side of Istanbul, and taken a three hour jaunt to Asia and back. We’ve climbed to the top of the Galata Tower and delved into the deep wells of the Basilica Cistern. We’ve wandered the cobbled streets of Sultanahmet, Eminönü, Karaköy, and Taksin Square, and still we’ve only just begun to explore the grand cosmopolitan center that is Istanbul.
I have to admit, I’m overwhelmed. I didn’t think I would gush about any destination, but Istanbul demands it.
I want to cry to the heavens how amazing its palaces are, from Topkapi palace, the seat of the Ottoman Empire, to the Aya Sofya (Hagia Sofia), which has stood as a monument to the faithful from the Roman Empire when Emperor Constantine commissioned it, through the Byzantine Empire when Emperor Justinian rebuilt it, through the invasion of Mehmed II when it was converted into a mosque, and on through the modern era, where it’s become a site of pilgrimage for classicists and historians as well as the average Joe (and Mustafa, if you’re Turkish).
Last night, as I sat lazing about on a divan, playing backgammon, drinking Turkish coffee, and smoking sweetly flavored tobacco from a silver tipped hookah, I was lulled into a sense of belonging. Despite the outrageous prices of our accommodations and despite the hectic pace we’ve set on our journeys around the city, I’ve never felt as at home anywhere in my travels as I do here.
I’ve fallen in love with cities before. When I left San Francisco, the city of my birth, it took me several years before I stopped introducing myself as “Ben from San Francisco.” After I finally embraced Boston as my home, I found myself running from one end of the city to the other as if I owned it, exploring every nook and cranny I could find my way into. My visits to my Grandparents in Geneva only began my love affair with one of the sweetest and most beautiful cities in Europe. And despite a year of angry turmoil upon my arrival in Boulder, I eventually came to love its beautiful vistas and relaxed pace.
Still, never have I so quickly swooned as I have with Istanbul. From the first night we were here, dining on kebabs and baklava, I knew I was someplace special. Our evenings by the water of the Bosphorus, the wide shipping channel that divides Europe from Asia and links the Black Sea to the Mediterranean via the Sea of Marmar, left me relaxed and taken aback at the joy of the sea. And the clear visage of the towering spires of the Blue Mosque, the Galata Tower, the Aya Sofya, and all the other minarets that punctuate the skyline simply add to the attraction. This is someplace I can live. This is someplace I can be happy.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Really, I should start from the beginning, but it’s too much to put into words; there have been too many grand sites and enjoyable adventures to do justice to the greatest destination of my trip so far. With that in mind, I can only think to offer the following conciliatory gallery of the best Istanbul has to offer, sadly missing a picture of Balik Ekmek (literally translated as Fish Bread), the greatest delicacy found in the city.