IstanbulMarch 21 2016
My family and I just got back from a 3 day jaunt to Istanbul before leaving for Haifa and I thought I would record some thoughts about the city, especially in light of the recent terrorism they experienced.
Istanbul is a very beautiful city. It's situated on the Black Sea on the mouth of a straight called the Bosphorous which separates Europe from Asia. Like Haifa, it's got a big shipping port and many ships can be seen waiting to be received in the bay visible from most places in the city.
The city has some awesome ancient architecture and a rich history of old is intermingled with newer urban development (less awesome). The city is hilly and filled with long, winding staircases taking pedestrians from one neighbourhood to the next. The city was once extremely prosperous and had many palaces and mosques which are popular destinations for tourists.
The culture of the city was the most challenging for me to understand of all my travels (Japan would be a close second). There is a very palpable war going on between the traditional Islamic culture of Turkey and it's more modern, reformist culture in it's cities. The architecture, art and attitudes of the people all reflect this clash. In our neighbourhood of Galatasaray, people were very progressive. We felt welcome there and people were kind to us. Outside of our neighbourhood it was more of a mixed bag. When we would go for runs, as conservatively dressed as we could be, the men would whistle at my wife and sister (they were both wearing pants and sweaters) and would glare at me (I guess for wearing shorts). Another backwards thing is everyone in Istanbul smokes cigarettes and smoking is still legal in-doors. I found myself wishing for a mask at times.
We stayed for three nights at the House Hotel in Galatasaray. The hotel is a converted apartment building that's been refinished to be a very functional and beautifully designed hotel. The surrounding neighbourhood was the nicest and most walkable we saw in the city. Breakfast was provided every day and the views from the roof-top restaurant were the best we experienced. Monica and I really enjoyed our stay here.
Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı
This Hamam was incredible. The day we got in from our flight we went to the local Hamam in the evening, which ended up being one of the best in Istanbul. It's a beautiful example of refurbished architecture. The original building dates back to the 1400's when it was a mosque, but the interiors have all been completely refinished. The experience of the Hamam was something I had never thought I would enjoy. Heaps of dead skin was removed from my entire body and I felt reborn afterwards. We finished the experience with tea in the beautiful atrium of the building. The entire bath experience costs around $100 CAD and is completely worth it. It's a once-in-a-lifetime-experience that I wouldn't do again, but would recommend to everyone who's visiting Istanbul.
Istanbul Modern Art Museum
It's definitely modern! This wasn't my favourite part of the trip. To start, the walk up to the museum was bizarre. You have to get there by going through a construction site parking lot. Then you're greeted by having to pass all your belongings (and yourself) through a metal detector and x-ray. Once you've passed these hurdles you can now pay to see some very flashy, immature modern art. That's the best way I can describe what I saw there. Lots of installations hurriedly arranged, paintings with half-thoughts on feminism and religion and many "because we can!" mixed media pieces. That being said, there were some redeeming pieces to see and I took some nice shots of Monica using some of the crappy art as a backdrop 🙃.
That's it for my thoughts on Istanbul. In summary, I don't have a lot to say. It's a beautiful, slightly repressive, city with lots to see and do. I would recommend going for a little longer than we did, but not much more.