Have you ever visited or thought of living in Istanbul?
Ever considered visiting this incredible city?
Do you wonder if Istanbul is safe after the coup in 2016?
What makes Istanbul so exotic and inviting?
I lived in Istanbul for 2 years and will share my upfront and personal experience living in this magical and ancient city.
Sometimes life calls out to you in a way that you don’t expect. Coming to Istanbul was one of those moments for me.
Living in Istanbul allowed me to experience an incredible city and country that is not only inviting and exotic but has also allowed me to reconnect with myself, tap into my passion for writing and re-establish my love for the arts.
Change Came Knocking
When you are faced with major life changes, it is futile to fight them! When doors open in one direction while other doors close in other directions, you have to lift your own navigation system, your anchors and go with the flow. That is what I did. I let go and went with the flow, and the flow brought me to Istanbul.
After arriving, I knuckled down for the next 2 weeks and focused on settling into this new country and starting a new job. I came to terms with leaving my home, family and Canadian life behind for a couple of years.
9 Months After Arriving…
Turkey is buzzing with Ramadan and upcoming elections. One more week of fasting left before it was all over for another year, and elections took place on June 24th, 2018. The election was a very sudden decision made last month.
The Turkish Lira was plummeting but has now stabilized somewhat. Young boys walk the streets at 2 am, banging on drums to wake people to eat before the sun rises. The cool spring weather is turned over to sweltering summer days. Cats and kittens scurry under cars everywhere, and street dogs with transient names and borrowed owners lazily sleep off the hot summer days. Living in Istanbul is vibrant, changes with the seasons, heartwarming, personal and real.
The sun is hot and high during the day, eluding to much hotter days to come. It is, after all, only early June, and already it is hot as Haddies. Jasmine trees and bushes abound, sharing their fragrance with all who pass by. Oleander trees tower over ancient roads, heavy with bright pink flowers that defy the poison that flows inside. For such a busy built-up city, Istanbul is quite green with old mature trees gracing some of the quaintest and most beautiful streets.
Istanbul is ready to move forward into the future, yet it can never forget its colourful past. History sits on almost every corner, in every neighbourhood and every city, town and village across Turkey.
I am amazed at how many neighbourhoods are hiding around almost every corner of the city. Each neighbourhood has its own energy, its own vibe, sleepy yet real and alive.
Living in Istanbul is Surprisingly Peaceful
It is peaceful here, though I never thought that a city of over 15 million people could be described as peaceful. Yet it is! Peaceful and so alive. Even when the streets are full of people, even when hundreds of families bring their food to the grounds around the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia for Iftar, it is calm and peaceful even though there are people everywhere.
While living in Istanbul, you can’t help but admire the Turkish people, who are all incredibly accepting. Many foreigners are working here, and even though there are so many different cultures and a mix of people, all with their own idiosyncrasies, Turks smile and graciously accept and let be.
Location, Location, Location
Istanbul is the only city in the world that straddles two continents. It is separated by the mightly Bosphorus, the lifeline waterway between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. This country also lies at the Balkans, Caucasus, Middle East, and eastern Mediterranean crossroads. Positioned strategically between many worlds and many different worldviews.
Turkey has been described as the centre of the Islamic world… the navel of the world… the crossroads between the east and the west. No matter how you choose to describe Turkey, it clearly straddles many worldviews and handles it all so gracefully.
Of course, I am generalising, there are always exceptions, but overall all is calm and friendly in this beautiful country.
However, I must not lose myself as I often do in this city… it is so addictive to stay happily nostalgic. These are interesting times for Turkey. Just as it’s past has redefined this city over the centuries, politics and circumstances surrounding Turkey are shaping and transforming its course into the future.
Nine months in I am just starting to really appreciate where I am and the many layers that define this fascinating country.
Istanbul was originally called Byzantium and became part of the Roman Empire in the 300’s. The Roman Emperor Constantine the Great declared the city the capital of the entire Roman Empire in 330 and renamed Constantinople. The city prospered and grew but also experienced great upheavals over the following centuries.
In 1453 Constantinople was named the capital of the Ottoman Empire, and its name then changed to Istanbul. Sultan Mehmed controlled the city, and he sought to rejuvenate Istanbul after years of neglect, bankruptcy and isolation from its neighbours. Sultan Mehmed created the Grand Bazaar and brought in Muslim, Christian and Jewish families. Architectural monuments were built, including public baths, schools, hospitals and grand imperial mosques. The cities population grew to 1 million in the 1500s. The Ottoman Empire ruled Istanbul until it was defeated and occupied by the allies in WW1.
Then the Republic of Turkey was established in 1923 which continues to this day.
The city is dripping in history. Old bathhouses called Hammans still exist in all their ancient glory, and the mosques, many built by Mimar Sinan, are exquisite in design. The city is beautiful, ancient, old, new, modern, alive and always thriving, just like the people who live here.
Oh, how I have come to Love Istanbul and the people who live here!
Living in Istanbul
Even after being in Istanbul for a year, there was still so much to explore in this amazing city.
I honestly think that Istanbul has the BEST restaurants, and they are all affordable by Western standards. You can have drinks and a gourmet dinner on the Bosporus, and it will cost you approximately 200 Turkish Lira, which is about 32.00 Canadian dollars. Or go for a kebab with rice, salad and Turkish tea for 30- 40 Turkish Lira ( $10-$12.00 Canadian). That is an incredible deal!
Bars and Night Clubs
The bars and night clubs are equally amazing. Here is a picture inside a boutique bar called Alexandra Bar with pink flamingoes on the walls and a teal green velvet sofa wrapped around the entire sitting area. Spectacular doesn’t even describe it. This place is right out of a David Lynch movie.
Travel on public transport is also cheap as well as safe. You can get around easily, to almost all the places you need to go. Taxis are also reliable and very reasonable.
Safety is not an issue. As a single woman in Istanbul, I have never felt unsafe or threatened. Like any big city anywhere else in the world, you must take care, don’t walk alone at night, mind your belongings in a busy area and respect local customs. Nothing you would not be mindful of in your own country.
The airport attack in June 2016 and then the coup shortly thereafter has kept many tourists away from Turkey, and many foreigners left. However, it is never a better time to come to Turkey because prices are reduced to encourage tourists back. Avoid travelling to Turkey’s borders to the east, which it shares with Syria and avoid some south areas. Turkey is much safer than many other countries globally, and as long as you don’t participate in public protests when and if they occur, you will be fine.
One massive plus about Turkey is the people; they are so kind and friendly. IF all hell broke out in Turkey, I would still feel relatively safe compared to other counties like the USA. In times of crisis, citizens either group together and help each other, or they can potentially go wild and turn on each other. I feel in Turkey that people band together and help each other. The Turks are very family-oriented; they adore their children and extend great respect for the elderly.
If something terrible were to happen here, I know I would be relatively safe, at least more reliable than I would be in many other countries.
I love to travel and fortunately, I have been able to see much of the world through my work as an educator and writer.
When you live in a country for a year or more, you really get to know the country and its people on a deeper more intimate level.
You eat their food, live in their neighbourhoods, make friends with the locals, work with the locals, pay your bills like the locals, deal with the infrastructure and learn the language even if it is just essential – survival words. Your life is impacted by living in a foreign country for any length of time. I have never lived in a country and have not been influenced by the culture and the relationships you establish with the people.
Coming to Istanbul has brought a lot of change in my life. Changes that have brought me into congruency with who I am and what I want to do with the next chapter of my life.
Istanbul will always have a special place in my heart as the place that helped me through a pivotal turning point in my life.
Living here has given me so much insight into a rich world that once was, and an even more vibrant world into what is and what might be.
Check out this youtube of the Whirling Dervishes.
These are the beautiful and hypnotic dance of a Whirling Dervish. They perform once a month in the heart of Istanbul in the old city.
(Cover Photo by Fatih Yürür on Unsplash)