After three months in Italy connecting with one part of my family history, it was always going to be difficult for any place to match. Coupled with the most chill month, in my personal version of paradise, and it was almost impossible to imagine being hyped for a new location.
I cannot overstate how sad I was to be leaving Puglia. The struggle was real. Emotions ran high. Tears were shed. In the last days, I found myself sadder about leaving than excited for the new adventure.
But the sun always rises on a new day. By the time I was boarding the plane bound for Istanbul, I was bursting with that wonderful mixture of anxiety and excitement only a new adventure provides.
Istanbul does not disappoint. The “east meets west” ethos is prevalent in everything here. It’s a meeting of people, religions, cultures and cuisines. This melting pot gives me crazy NYC vibes, or rather, maybe NYC gives me Istanbul vibes.
This is a city that is alive and vibrant. It's hustle and bustle, controlled chaos. Up close, none of it makes sense, there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason. Narrow streets meander and collide with no warning. But zoom out and you see the symbiosis. Everything in its place, all working as one.
It’s a place at once a magnificent sum of its parts while having tremendous diversity in those parts. Multi-layered. Neighborhoods within neighborhoods, each unique and dazzling. Asia and Europe engaged in an infinite staring contest, peering at each other from across the massive Bosporus.
The air is filled with fragrance, of shisha and of food. So much food. Street vendors are plentiful and varied. Corn on the cob, roasted chestnuts, simit, grilled fish, fresh-squeezed fruit juice and, of course, döner kebap. You’re never more than a few steps away from a delicious meal.
And many steps you will take. The city is massive and has excellent public transportation options, from buses and metro to trams and the iconic ferries. But this is a walker’s dream city. Easily traversed on foot, it's full of walking avenues, cobbled side streets and bustling markets.
The markets are an intense maze full of sensory overload. Vibrant colors, pungent smells and a cacophony of vendors enticing you to enter their shops, free samples at the ready. Spices heaped mountain high, Turkish delight stacked taller than the pyramids, glittering jewelry and an overwhelming variety of teas.
Like much of the rest of Europe, this is a 360º city. There is no dedicated skyline to orient yourself by. Look in any direction it’s layer upon layer of colorful buildings. The skyscrapers that do exists dot the skyline, acting as exclamation points.
But the real gems of the skyline are the mosques and minarets. There are nearly 3,000 mosques in Istanbul and the most prominent ones act as your navigational reference points. Their minarets, pencil-thin, reaching for the heavens.
I found their beauty most profound at sunset when they retreated into shadow and silhouette the pinks and purples in the evening sky. Istanbul is by far the best city I’ve ever visited for sunsets. Each night seemed to be trying to outdo the night before.
The beauty and serenity of the mosques are not limited to the outside from far away. Istanbul provided me with my first opportunity to enter a mosque. I was mesmerized by their understated elegance and opulence. The antithesis of the gaudy and indulgent churches of Western Europe, they were refined and graceful.
Istanbul, with all its charms and endless variety, wasted no time in enchanting me and rising up the ranks as one of my favorite cities.
While my final moments in the city may haunt me forever, they will always be eclipsed by my admiration for this magnificent place and its people.
On the heels of a prolonged and relaxing stay in Puglia, Istanbul has stoked the embers of my wanderlust. I am again excited and ready to choose new adventures. I can't wait to see what the rest of Türkiye has to show me.