Urban sprawl is something I’m used to, having come from North America, where cities were built for cars. European cities on the other hand were structured around walking, wagons, trams, etc… Istanbul, as I approached it’s outskirts from the West, was the very definition of that sprawl.
Seaside cities merging into one another on the right turned into long stretching suburban neighborhoods dragging off into the hills on the left. Soon appeared towering apartment buildings, one after the other after the other…Then came the huge malls, four Lane highways, perfectly trimmed little parks to “escape” to, and soon enough, almost purely concrete surrounding me. The sidewalks were flooded with people, with an interesting number of young boys dragging around massive loads of various products on tiny little carts (narrow streets + congestion = these guys zipping around?).
My priest buddy, with the quick hands, drove casually through it all, getting lost in the process. At one point going within a minutes walk of the hostel I had planned on staying at… But hell, this is a free tour of the city, so why not check things out?
We drove over one bridge, turned around, came back over, and somehow we stumbled upon his hotel. Luckily he had given up on romancing me by this point, and we parted with a decent handshake and a smile.
Anyone who knows me, knows I’m no city person. I like forests, beaches, little towns that take five minutes to walk across… But I try and give everywhere a Chance. Here in Istanbul, in all its glory of 18 or so million people, just never grabbed me. Surprising, I know.
The mosques are beautiful, no doubt. I love the minarets, and that refreshing design of the East. I walked along the old walls of Constantinople, where zero other foreigners were (yay), and found the various and obvious design differences of various empires fascinating, especially that they all just built over one another. I strolled through the “grand bazaar” and noticed how everyone was essentially selling the same mass produced things meant for tourists… I then focused on people watching.
Am I sounding cynical yet? I’m not sure. But I might now… Because, selfie sticks. Dear God, those things. Everywhere I went I saw people holding these things out, spinning in circles or simply walking with them stretched in front of them like a mechanical, waist-level dog…. All to take a picture of themselves. It could be in the blue mosque, where a child shouted at his mother for forgetting the stick, by some beggars, or maybe front of a stray dog – selfie stickers will be there. I had never seen so many in my life.
I watched one girl who must have taken around twenty pictures of herself, in slightly different positions, while her mother sat and patiently waited for her shoot to finish. It boggled my mind. I’m sure many would disagree with me, but it just seems like such narcissism. It’s not about capturing a place, it’s about proving (to whoever cares) that they were there, or maybe just that they were looking good while they were there? Point is, their big ol face Is everywhere for the Facebook or Instagram world to see. I like taking pictures… But this is a distant world to me.
I was in Istanbul just over a week. It was alright overall. I met some interesting travelers, some of which really made me want to go to Iran (it’s becoming increasingly intriguing), and it was interesting to be in my first absolutely massive city. I went to a pretty decent (though expensive) music festival… But overall, this city didn’t grab me. I tried to find a little nook or cranny to fit into, but it just wasn’t there, or I didn’t look hard enough. Oh well, I didn’t really come with expectations, so I wasn’t disappointed either.
From Istanbul my aim was Canakkale, near the famous battlefields of Gallipoli. I had my fill of the most famous city in this area of the world. It was time to hit the road again.