5 Reasons to Love Istanbul

by kangcuzzi

So this is what they call jet lag, I think. Of being stuck,
in a limbo, where you are neither here nor there,
not missing one, or the other, but both.

After having spent six days in the inexplicably beautiful city of Istanbul, Turkey, I am finally back in Hong Kong – but not without the obligatory sense of jet lag. The thing is, it’s not as if the time difference is that bad: 6 hours, give or take a few. What I like to deem as ‘jet lag’, however, is not restricted to that mind-numbing, eye-hazing sensation you get when the hands of the clock seem to trip you up at every step, leaving you half-dead for half-days on end, but more to do with the feeling that I’ve lagged on the plane ride home, leaving me left split apart between two very distant continents. While one side of me (unfortunately, the dismal one) has acknowledged the fact that I am now in a position closer to the sky than I’ve ever been over the past six days (sans the plane rides, of course), the other side is still meandering across the streets of Ortaköy, absorbing the smorgasbord scents of Turkish kumpir as the venders clap their wind-worn hands for tourists’ attention, feeling the marble poles of the Hagia Sofia or savouring the taste of Turkish delight as it melts in the mouth like the sugary, nutty gift bestowed upon us by God it is.

I am in love with Istanbul, no doubt. And no matter how long I sleep, nor how familiar I get to the banal circumstances of my real home here in Hong Kong, I don’t think I’ll get over my jet lag for Turkey.

So as I lie here in bed, dreaming of all the things that could be going on in 5 o’clock Istanbul, I’ve decided to devise an elegy for my sorrows and compose a list of 5 things I absolutely adored about modern-day Constantinople:

  1. The duality. As I was walking through the cold-seeped interior of the Hagia Sophia, what used to be both a church AND a mosque during different times of history, I couldn’t help but feel awed by how Istanbul seems to represent everything at the same time. So you’ve got this piece of grandiose architecture sporting mosaics of the angel Gabriel and Jesus, to name a few biblical individuals, across the ceilings. Meanwhile, you’ve got the mihrab (a component of a Mosque that faces the Mecca; in other words, a shrine-looking niche that denotes the direction Muslims face when in prayer) right below the aforementioned set of tiles, creating a stark yet harmonious comparison between the two religions. Beautiful, isn’t it?
  2. The people. Ahh, the people. The street vendors are the absolute best – not only are they constantly smiling and laughing, they also somehow make you feel as if every lira you part with was 150% worth it. When I bought some kumpir from a street in Ortaköy famous for its line of kumpir vendors occupying the same 10m stretch, the vendor actually kissed my hand as a sign of thanks (what?!). Wonderfully, I have a billion more stories to tell about how hilarious the vendors can be – especially in the Grand Bazaar, where one particular spice vendor claimed he was Shahrukh Khan (one of the most famous actors in Bollywood) to humour my Indian debate coach – but I guess you’ll have to find your way to Istanbul yourself if you truly want to emulate the experience. 😉
  3. The language. So elegant and unique. To pronounce the name of the station Eminönü is my next biggest challenge in life.
  4. The food. With so many different flavours being merged into one dish, from a nutty one to a yoghurt-y one to a spicy one all placed within a 10cm radius, it’s hard not to find something you like (and will crave, once you get back to your place of origin). I was never a fan of cheese before I got to Istanbul, but now I consider feta cheese to be an absolute godsend. I could literally have it everyday. Oh, and not to mention, they sell 2 LIRA Nutella spread simit (otherwise known as Turkish bagels) on the streets, literally everywhere. You. Go. What a bargain! Tell me: is this perfect or perfect?!
  5. The experiences you can make there. No matter who you are or where you are from, I guarantee that you’ll have a swell time in Istanbul. I was there for a debate competition right in the heart of Istanbul (in which our team did very well – we ended up being Quarter-Finalists!), and although we spent the majority of our time debating within the confines of a university, the majority of memories that I have were made along the streets of the city as I laughed with my teammates or walked with them, arm in arm, as we tried to battle the winter chill.

So there you have it – 5 reasons why anybody would love Istanbul! I hope I’ve somehow gotten you to fall in love with the city as well, or evoked those lingering pangs of memory that lurk around in every weather-worn traveler’s heart. Because, after all, that’s what travel is all about isn’t it? Falling in love with the people, the food, the places, the architecture… ahh.

And now, with reveries and memories oozing through my head, I guess I’ll call it a night; until next time, Turkey, İyi uykular.