Guest Contributor | October 8th, 2008
Istanbul in summer is a city teaming with both sensory delights and horrors. Humidity is high and walking through the streets on a hot summer’s day can be unbearable but as soon as you hit the coast the cool breezes off the Bosphorus are a sweet relief and sipping tea onboard a ferry is a pleasant experience.
Unfortunately the Turkish haven’t yet learnt the value of being environmentally friendly. The average citizen will drop rubbish anywhere. The street after a market is a sea of discarded crap, and the smell emanating from smaller waterways can make your eyes water. It’s a shame there isn’t more incentive to keep the city clean. Or at least the water since this is one of Istanbul’s greatest treasures.
The remains of a glorious past are visible everywhere, but sadly many are neglected and forgotten. Most of the original wooden houses have been burnt down and replaced by ugly, boxlike buildings whose cheapness adds to the melancholy air of this decaying city. The larger Island Büyükada still has some amazing examples of old Jewish and Ottoman mansions. Personally I prefer the more modest architecture on Heybeliada. Many of these houses are maintained just enough to stop them crumbling to the ground and a walk through the island gives you an idea of what the mainland could have looked like, many years ago.
Istanbul is an exciting city full of secrets and things to discover. I met a Turkish couple in Berlin during the biennale who run a small publishing house in Istanbul for art books, she is a well know contemporary artist, their studio is called BAS.
Most of my time was spent on the Asian side of the city, often said to be the sedate side of Istanbul. It is definitely less chaotic than the European side but it also feels more modern and far less touristy around the areas such as Kadiköy and Moda. The Kadiköy bazaar is a must. This is the place to find excellent Turkish Delight or Baklava and Turkish coffee. Ciya is a great place to have lunch just outside the bazaar and Moda is a nice place to take a walk and sip tea by the shore or in the park.
Istanbul feels like two worlds living side by side. The religious, conservative side is ever present but every now and then you will be reminded that it is also a modern European city. At the One Love Music Festival, held in the university grounds at the top of the Golden Horn, I was surprised to find myself surrounded by scantily clad Turkish hippies. I could have been in Byron Bay. Yet along the shore and on island beaches it is still rare to see women bathing. It is this duality of Istanbul that makes it so interesting and also so exciting when you find those gateways to the other world.