The day after I post my jeans and jumpers home, the temperature in Istanbul drops from 35 to 20 degrees Celsius. But that is okay, the cool air has been a welcomed change and a popular topic of conversation between strangers on the street.
Today has been a day of welcomed surprises.
This morning I made my way to Taksim, the ‘modern’ business district of Istanbul on the Asian side of the city. As I walked down the now familiar cobbled streets outside my hostel, I encountered a man outside a carpet store. At first I thought he was reciting the usual hassle spiel: “Hello Lady, where are you from? Stop and talk to me. Hello Lady.”
Hearing this about one hundred times a day in Istanbul, I have developed an auto response: steady strides and determine deafness. But this man was different. For some reason, I stopped, turned and said hello. I am glad I did.
Turns out that this man (whose name, I am ashamed to say, I could not wrap my tongue around, let alone write) used to be the local representative of his home-town community (near the border of Iran), moved to Istanbul to open a carpet shop with one of his six brothers, has done Masters in international politics and is planning a trip to the US as part of a Istanbul community group. Needless to say, this was a very interesting person with who to strike up a conversation. He was also intrigued to hear about my travels and my impressions of Turkey, urging me to come live here and contribute to the ‘rapid progress that is coming in Istanbul’. After two cups of apple tea, a thirty minute chat and a hand shake, I walked away feeling pleased with the surprise encounter and a little more connected to the world.
A short intercontinental tram ride and a metro ride later, I found myself in the modern open space of Taksim Square. Unlike the monument-rich, touristy, colourful area of Sultanahmet, Taksim seemed like all suits, shiny buildings and western franchises on first impressions.
But then I began to wander aimlessly to find a cafe somewhere (my favourite way to induce joyful serendipity) and stumbled across a book festival. What a wondrous, stupendously happy thing! (Anyone reading this who knows me will know that, alongside travel, jazz and food, books are one of my favourite things). Within fifteen minutes flat I had bought myself a book of poetry by Turkish poet, Ozdemir Asaf, a 1950’s English translation of the Koran and a sketch from a local artist. Then, adding to my book high, I came across, a little jazz cafe and a vintage clothing store in one of the countless allies lined with alfresco dining. Heavenly Taksim!
I was also surprised to encounter a protest march in the main ‘mall’. Yellow flags, bold, united chants and heavy feet passed through the crowd, creating a mood of curiosity mixed with a hint of anxiety. Within minutes, swarms of heavily armed police arrived, barricading the mall. That was my cue to leave (not knowing the reason for protest and not risking being involved in any kind of crowd control activities). As far as I can tell, the event dispersed peacefully and hasn’t made major headlines in the news yet.
So now I am killing time before my shuttle to the airport. As always, the pre-flight anticipation has me a little on edge, and leaving Istanbul has me feeling a little nostalgic. Istanbul has definitely made an impression on me, with it’s happy, warm people, grand monuments, colourful weaves and tiles, interesting toilets, cheeky touts and busy streets.