It was sunset, and there I was at the Ataturk airport, ready to find my way out and explore. Years have passed before my wife and I decided to give Istanbul a shot.
Not speaking the local language, I had to choose my options wisely at the airport. After a few negotiations, I accepted the offer a yellow-cab driver made. Twisted turns, abrupt stops, accelerating starts, fast change of lanes, repeated honking were just a few things I can still recall from the yellow cab experience. What was so remarkable was the people’s attitude: despite the hectic atmosphere, no body seemed to get mad.
In our way to the hotel, a feeling of déjà vu was steadily building. The cars, streets, buildings, bridges … it all looked familiar in a way with what I saw and lived in Morocco.
A few hours at the hotel were enough for us to recover from the long flight. Unfortunately, it was night time- a time of day where most tourist attractions were closed. But the view from an open-air terrace in the hotel giving on Istanbul’s skyline was spectacular. This view was one of the best things about the Bomonti area.
I woke up the next day to the spiritually soothing sound of azan. My first destination was the Sultanahmet district. Beneath a bright sun and inside grand, cavernous spaces, the first few days were spent delving as deeply into the district as possible. My curiosity was sparked repeatedly by relics at Topkapi Palace and decors at the blue mosque, and later by hills of colorful spice at the bazaars and disorienting calls from merchants of all ages. I can still recall the meals on Galata bridge during which we were able to survey east and west, savoring the 5-lira fresh fish sandwiches and enjoying the vibes of Turkish life.
Our most busy days ended with rewarding trips to a marble bathhouse (called “hamam”), followed by street-side refreshing tea and hookah cooldown. Every city has a different feel to it at night, but there was something singular about the way Istanbul glittered in the darkness. Golden-lit mosques with sky-scraping minarets and domed roofs ran uphill, and the Bosphorus twinkled beneath the Galata Bridge. I realize that, as I attempt to convey it, I’m not really sure what we were seeing exactly, but the feeling it inspired is still present with me now. The Blue Mosque showed a fittingly mesmerizing face high above in the hillside, and the Galata tower surveilled the Golden horn as though inspiring security.
For anyone who feasted on its kebabs, marveled at its narrow streets or found meaning at its mosques, Istanbul—as Byzantium and as Constantinople—has welcomed generations over the ages. In the way that the tiles in the Blue Mosque invoke reverence and the air in the Hagia Sofia’s stairwells feels dense, layers of historical depth underscore every experience I had in this city. In all of history, there is perhaps no greater union of two continents, no place from which more power has emanated, and there is an exquisite quality to modern Istanbul that goes in harmony with all that has preceded it. In my view, this is what sticks with you. This, and the nightly golden glow of streetlights in the Bosphorus, is what calls you back.