I Snap - Istanbul in Monochrome

The historic tram line in Taksim. I love taking public transport in any place I go to because it gives me a sense of everyday life. Istanbul is easily walkable but it is also well connected by trams and metros.

The historic tram line in Taksim. I love taking public transport in any place I go to because it gives me a sense of everyday life. Istanbul is easily walkable but it is also well connected by trams and metros.

Turkey is a fascinating country! 

After nearly two weeks in one of the most Westernized middle Eastern countries, I came away with a ton of impressions, insights and thoughts. As I traveled through the country, in big cities and small towns, I had a lot of opportunity to get close and personal with its culture.

My visit to Israel immediately before provided a rather interesting perspective on both countries, especially, against the backdrop of their respective religious proclivities. Talking about that in detail will be a whole other piece, so I am going to limit this one to the just energy in Istanbul.

Istanbul is loud (annoyingly so, often and especially, in the touristy areas and bazaars), vibrant, pulsating, capitalistic and almost schizophrenic. It was my last stop in the country and I had ample experience of the culture to compare and contrast with other parts of the region. As in every big city, there is a tradeoff between genuine warmth and profit making. For most visitors, every connection made here with a resident would be one with an undercurrent of a sale. 

Yet, if you only step a little away from the business and clutches of its enormous tourism, into the little alleys where real life exists, it breathes nearly the same as rest of Turkey does. Not only are you not waylaid every step of the way, you are also feel a lot less wary and more at ease. There is a lot more of the helpfulness, hospitality and welcome that this culture represents yet, far less of the engagement, genuineness and connection that I had come to expect from my stay in the smaller towns.

For a Westerner, the chaotic functionality of the city would come in amazement and its sheer vibrance compared to the quiet sophistication of the Western cities would be freeing. For an Easterner, it's westernization without loss of tradition will be revelatory. In short, Istanbul is a amazing place to experience whether you are from the West or East.

Nevertheless, wherever you come from, if Istanbul is the only place you travel to, you will indeed be missing out on Turkey. 

Today, I have a few photos shot on my phone in the city. Moments that I think captures the life here in its schizophrenic nature. I thought it was apt to portray it in monochrome, this time, to remove the distraction of color from the feel of the place.

Have you been to Istanbul and Turkey? How was your experience?

There are several mosques in the city and it is hard to walk more than a few minutes without spotting the distinctive dome and minaret architecture of one. Turks are both secular as well as devout. While I didn't see them breaking they daily business for prayer, I did see fair numbers of them in the mosques. The calls for prayer almost became my way of keeping time. This photo is from Sulaimaniye Mosque, which, despite being the second most known mosque in the city, was quieter with less tourist traffic affording for a real serene space of time.

There are several mosques in the city and it is hard to walk more than a few minutes without spotting the distinctive dome and minaret architecture of one. Turks are both secular as well as devout. While I didn't see them breaking they daily business for prayer, I did see fair numbers of them in the mosques. The calls for prayer almost became my way of keeping time. This photo is from Sulaimaniye Mosque, which, despite being the second most known mosque in the city, was quieter with less tourist traffic affording for a real serene space of time.

Chai is culture in Turkey. Tuekish tea is consumed in far more quantities than Turkish coffee. I was invited to chat over a cup of chai several times and it was a great way to connect and learn more about the culture, even though, in Istanbul, the opportunities for such tete-a-tetes were minimal and any offer of chai came only after or during a sale. The Turks drink copious amounts of tea during the day and in the city, I actually tea-men who did rounds to deliver tea and pick up the emptied glasses.

Chai is culture in Turkey. Tuekish tea is consumed in far more quantities than Turkish coffee. I was invited to chat over a cup of chai several times and it was a great way to connect and learn more about the culture, even though, in Istanbul, the opportunities for such tete-a-tetes were minimal and any offer of chai came only after or during a sale. The Turks drink copious amounts of tea during the day and in the city, I actually tea-men who did rounds to deliver tea and pick up the emptied glasses.

People line up all along the Galata bridge to fish in the waters. As brilliant a view into the life of people here as can be. These are not fishermen but just people eking out a living any way they can. They are not fishing for their own plates but to sell to the overprices fish restaurants below the bridge. Anyone can fish here as the water abound with fish. Yet, I am not sure I would want to eat them given the pollution into the water from the steamers and boats docked all along the edge. 

People line up all along the Galata bridge to fish in the waters. As brilliant a view into the life of people here as can be. These are not fishermen but just people eking out a living any way they can. They are not fishing for their own plates but to sell to the overprices fish restaurants below the bridge. Anyone can fish here as the water abound with fish. Yet, I am not sure I would want to eat them given the pollution into the water from the steamers and boats docked all along the edge. 

Some fish caught by the men above. Still alive and swimming about and some dead. This is a variety of small mackerel specific to the waters here.

Some fish caught by the men above. Still alive and swimming about and some dead. This is a variety of small mackerel specific to the waters here.

One of the many mosques. This one is Yeni Cami by the Spice Bazaar along the water and Galata Bridge.

One of the many mosques. This one is Yeni Cami by the Spice Bazaar along the water and Galata Bridge.

The grandest of all, the Grand Bazaar entrance. It goes through another mosque, Nurosmaniye Cami. A fascinating study of human character if only you are allowed the peace and time to do so amidst being constantly being accosted. It is a labyrinth inside with tunnels trailing away from main causeway. The ceiling is resplendent and richly painted in gorgeous Ottoman designs and it dates back to the original reliefs.

The grandest of all, the Grand Bazaar entrance. It goes through another mosque, Nurosmaniye Cami. A fascinating study of human character if only you are allowed the peace and time to do so amidst being constantly being accosted. It is a labyrinth inside with tunnels trailing away from main causeway. The ceiling is resplendent and richly painted in gorgeous Ottoman designs and it dates back to the original reliefs.

I was intrigued to find a visible and strong armed presence in the city. Ever more because I did not think the place was a bed for unrest. Contrastingly there were none visible in Tel-Aviv and even in Jerusalem only by the Western Wall security. In Istanbul there were all over the place, especially, in the Old city.

I was intrigued to find a visible and strong armed presence in the city. Ever more because I did not think the place was a bed for unrest. Contrastingly there were none visible in Tel-Aviv and even in Jerusalem only by the Western Wall security. In Istanbul there were all over the place, especially, in the Old city.

I loved the street food in Istanbul and it was both better value and tastier than most of the restaurants around. Here is a street vendor selling Simit, the traditional Turkish bread. They sell for 1 TL or little under 50 cents and make an excellent breakfast or snack. This being the season, you also get roasted chestnuts, kestane, and coal grilled corn. Both young and older run these little carts and prices are pretty much standardized.

I loved the street food in Istanbul and it was both better value and tastier than most of the restaurants around. Here is a street vendor selling Simit, the traditional Turkish bread. They sell for 1 TL or little under 50 cents and make an excellent breakfast or snack. This being the season, you also get roasted chestnuts, kestane, and coal grilled corn. Both young and older run these little carts and prices are pretty much standardized.

A lady making the thin crepe like bread for Gozleme in a window of a restaurant. I am not kidding. There are many establishments which display ladies making these fresh everyday much like the dumpling making women in Chinatown. Life is hard in the city, and, being an European one, expensive. It often shows in the expressions of people here, who are doing what they can to make ends meet.

A lady making the thin crepe like bread for Gozleme in a window of a restaurant. I am not kidding. There are many establishments which display ladies making these fresh everyday much like the dumpling making women in Chinatown. Life is hard in the city, and, being an European one, expensive. It often shows in the expressions of people here, who are doing what they can to make ends meet.

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For snapshots of Israel, read here.

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