Journal - Napló

Days 37-48. Istanbul (Turkey 1.)

Posted on April 10, 2011 at 10:35 PM





   The Turkish cultural capital that connects Europe and Asia is home for both the Eastern and the Western worlds. A plate boundary, seemingly without earthquakes.



   We arrived from the direction of the Greek border via a hitch-hike to the city that is of enormous magnitude, even when you approach it by car. After the first houses we raced on the highway for ca. 1 hour towards the centre. This was followed by a one-hour bus trip and in the end we reached the centre via subway.


   Our couchsurfing ( host, Ibrahim lives in the Balat quarter of the city. He is Kurdish on the mother’s side, Turkish on the father’s and this, given the effect of the long-standing hostility between the two ethnic groups on the mentality of the people, poses a great deal of hardships for him but at the same time makes him think. We had several nightlong discussions where we were able to ascertain his extraordinary knowledge and, as he told us, that he believes that the solutions to several problems of less developed states is in the hands of the educated people of the West, but only the locals know about their real situation. Therefore, the most important is to build a bridge of communication that is devoid of lies between the educated West and the representatives of less developed countries.


   It is worthwhile to get lost a little in the district of Balat. All the little homes and blocks of flats, the house walls that are often decorated with mosaics, the steep, cobble-stone streets all create a homely chaos. Life is present all the time. Children play running around, women wash the carpets, older men sit with a cup of tea over the begemon. The windows also have their own life. If you look up on the narrow street you can see women, whose hair is treated as a private part of their body and hence under a veil, leaning out the windows and chatting with each other, while children sit on the cushions on the ground floor, behind the bars of the window and put their tongue out smilingly to the visitor.

   Some of the shoe shining men, when walking beside a tourist, drop their brush “by chance” and thus try to force their services on the guests building on human benevolence. You can see a lot of stray cats and dogs but they are all well-fed and tame. They have no owner, but the locals take care of them and the state provides for the vaccination of many.


   The larger streets are dominated by yellow cabs and the sound of horns. On the Galata bridge, towards the centre, fishermen offer their fresh catch for purchase, while the strings of the fishing rod are like curtains between the guests of the restaurants and bars on the lower floor of the bridge and the water world.

   On the pedestrian streets and larger squares the smell of raw or fried fish and grilled maize is in the air. The bazaar becomes even more colourful through the sight of spices and other delicatessen. The stores offering similar goods are located in the same street, which makes things easier for customers and also subordinates their prices to the rules of competition.


   Through the patchy rows of houses in the outskirts, but also the 100-120 year old buildings of the inner city, double towers of mosques go high up in the sky; they have speakers that form a ring and are used to call the people for prayer.


   Ramadan, which comes in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, has by today outgrown religion and lives on as a national tradition. Almost 80% of the population fights its passions during daytime while the fast is on. Before sunrise drummers go around in the streets, indicating the last opportunity to eat and drink. After that people do not only refrain from their extreme passions but from eating and drinking as well – up until the evening. 


   Similarly to Venice, also in Istanbul it is worth it to take detours from the tourist attractions, and discover the East beyond the neon commercials of the West and have a drink among locals in the jungle of tiny streets.


translated by Szegi

Categories: English, Turkey, by Peter

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