I haven't said much about Istanbul here, or anywhere else, really. It's not that I didn't like it (I did - very much!); I think I was in a state of system overload by the time I arrived there. I think that maybe just observing and taking it all in was about all I could do. Plus, my cousin (who lives there), as well as an uncle and another aunt (who arranged to visit at the same time as us) were there and we were busy having a mini family reunion. Where I took 300-400 pictures a day in Italy, I probably took... 20 pictures in the four days in Istanbul.
My general impression of the city was good, but limited. It's a huge city, spanning two continents and housing 15 million people, so I only saw a very small portion of it.
From what I did see, I can tell you it's crowded. We went down a few streets that were so packed full, it was like being in an overcrowded subway car, only everybody was walking this way and that. And yet, at the same time, people were respectful. While we'd had to be extra diligent to avoid pick pockets in Italy, theft was not a concern in Istanbul. In fact, my uncle forgot his bag on a crowded boat, and when he went back later to get it, somebody was standing at the entrance, holding it and waiting for the owner to come back. Nothing was missing inside, and according to my cousin, that is the norm.
One morning, Ginny and I got up early and were window shopping on the street near our hotel while we waited for my cousin to join us. A shop keeper came outside and served us coffee. We explained that we had no plans to buy from him, but he didn't seem to care. Even then, when I said thank you but no (I don't drink coffee) he went to the back of the store and made me hot apple cider.
Food was delicious and fresh... and cheap. Five of us could have a good meal for 40 Turkish Euro (about $25). We frequently went somewhere to get a drink or snack and ended up eating a full meal. Many days, we ended up eating 4 or 5 meals. Most meals consisted of platters, with fresh cheese, eggs, tomatoes, cucumber and bread with fresh honey or homemade jam. Fish is pretty common in Turkey, but I am severely allergic to it (to the point that I can't be near it).... when we did have meat, it was usually in the form of meatballs or kabobs, and only a very small portion of the meal.
There are cats everywhere. So many, that after a while you barely notice them. Walking down a street, you'll likely pass at least 4 or 5. Turks don't have pet cats, but the community as a whole takes care of them. Bowls of food and water are left out in front of many homes and shops. The cats are stray, but most of them are very friendly. Cats approach tourists on the street to be pet. One cat, after getting a couple of scritches from us, jumped onto the table where we'd just been served breakfast on the patio. (We lifted him down before he was shooed away. Cats are tolerated there, but that may have been pushing his luck.)
The call to prayer is amazing to experience. Five time a day, it is piped out over the city through the loud systems at the various mosques. I was primarily in the tourist area of town, so I didn't see much of a reaction to it, but there was still something magical about hearing it overhead.
The weather is great. It was ~25C and clear every day that we were there, which is pretty much normal. As Canadians, we have a general expectation that when the weather is good, you have to go outside an enjoy it. My cousin, who has lived there for three years, said she still has to squash that urge, because it's pretty much nice out every day.
Some random pictures...
Birds on a Wire (made me smile)
The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque from another angle
These lights were everywhere. I so badly wanted to bring some home, but held my ground.
Now I'm glad I did - not so sure they'd have gone with my decor.
Just beautiful. The entire structure was tiled.