Jul 13, 2014 | Wandering Istanbul

I hear the muezzin’s call and make my way towards the Kizilkayalar Hamburger stand in Taksim square, where I’d been wandering about as the clock ticked 8:36pm on my phone. Nearby, several women were debating between which ring of flowers to buy — the kind you put on your head — and a young man behind a roasted chestnut stall was giving directions to a beautiful Turkish woman. The police were trying to make a small scene, but they were probably more interested in dinner than disruption. It is Ramazan, after all.

With my hamburger and lemon tea in hand (6 TRL), I headed back to the hotel. Men were setting up popup dinner tables in the middle of the road, eyed cautiously by some beggars on the street who, too, were eating something. The stray dog, however, was completely uninterested and the hotel owners were playing around with their phones, waiting for the football game to come on.

I feel as though the quote that “this is a city of contrasts” is overused and accurate in many places, but Istanbul manifests those contrasts in very tangible ways. Consider its many beautiful monuments, churches and mosques, whose religious identities switched between Christian and Muslim under different ideologues. Or the geography, with each side of the landmass separated by the Bosphorous strait.

Inside the Hagia Sofia, handheld 17mm f/7.1 ISO 2000 1/20 seconds. Angled as such because there’s construction and you’re pretty much restricted from going further left.

The Blue Mosque is a quiet sanctuary, permeated by the smell of feet liberated from their shoes, while the Hagia Sofia fills with crowds of many nationalities. Still more crowds wander through the slightly schizophrenic structures of the Topkapi Palace, oggling Moses’ staff and Abraham’s turban. The Chora church displays breathtaking mosaics on its interior walls, though the minaret that juts above its small dome is a gentle reminder of its past. The Sultans must have been fairly practical-minded, though – it probably would have been easy to flatten the building too. As I make my way through town I think about how it is slightly ironic that the efforts on the part of the Sultans to suppress Christian icons by covering them with plaster may have actually contributed to the preservation of the frescoes, mosaics and structure.

The Turks are too busy to pay attention, though, it seems. The hustle and bustle of the street, late into the evening, mothers with their baby strollers along Istikal road, betrays very little of the amazing history this city has hidden beneath. The neon and the Samsung phones make their presence well known.

Chora church ceiling, ISO 250, 24mm at f/2.8, 1/20 seconds

On day 2 we manage to get some time with the founder and some marketing folks from the startup Lidyana, which bills itself as the online marketplace for fashion. While the founder was slightly bored with our presence and questions, I enjoyed learning about:

View from the Basilica Cistern, 17mm f/4 at ISO 1000, 1/30 second shot balanced on the top of a railing

After being thoroughly “palace/mosque/church-ed-out”, we change pace and take a boat ride to the largest of the Prince’s Islands, Büyükada island, an hour away. The detour is worth it if only to understand the proclivities of the well-heeled Turkish tourist. A ban on motor vehicles on the island means the only means of transport is by bike or horse carriage, and I can’t help but notice the occasional Starbucks coffee cup in the hands of a carefully manicured passenger. For my part, I still have to sneeze my way through town, as the hay and horses kick up a veritable cocktail of allergen-invoking dust.

Infrastructure in Istanbul is not great – Internet data is not cheap (though no tangible evidence of censorship), the subway is expanding faster than the maps in its stations, and the city moves in the unpredictable rhythm of its buses. To resolve that, however, would take away from the charm of the city. There’s lots that one cannot witness and understand in 3 days, but it’s been a memorable adventure so far.

This entry was posted on Sunday, July 13th, 2014 at 1:24 pm, EST under the category of Photography. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.