ISTANBUL, TURKEY — Two thousands years ago, Constantinople was the center of the Western world and, as such, ground zero for everything cultural — from music to art to fashion and beyond.
There’s a contant buzz in this city: people moving with purpose everywhere; sights, smells, sounds that simply overwhelm. Streetcars, ferry boats, hawkers, couriers — everyone seems to be on their way somewhere or on their way back.
There’s no better place to witness this unending momentum than in the original mega mall: the bazaar.
The two most famous are the Spice Bazaar — a regal old building on the shore of the Golden Horn — and the Grand Bazaar — a seemingly endless labyrinth of shops, touts, cafes and restaurants built atop one of the city’s seven hills.
Wandering through its ancient halls is truly sensation overload — you can find anything here, from the ubiquitous rugs to knock-off clothing to high-quality leather and more — it’s almost impossible not to leave with an armload of goods. But the real pleasure is simply getting lost along the maze of stalls, sitting down for tea and baklahava before winding your way back out.
Despite this almost constant motion, there are two places in Istanbul where time seems to slow: the Mosque and the cafe.
And for their love of motion, Istanbullis sure know how to relax right; after a long day of walking, it’s easy to sink into large overstuffed pillows on the floor, puff on a nargileh (water pipe), sip on a tea or raki and feel the hours and miles just melt away.
One of the truly magical parts of a city that has been constantly adapting, evolving and living for millennia, is that the city itself gives you a glimpse into how the culture has changed over these years. In the morning you can visit a bathhouse built in the Roman period, spend the afternoon wandering a 700-year-old bazaar and then relax the evening away in a Victorian hotel lobby.
The Kybele Hotel is a glimpse into the time when the Oriental Express reunited Istanbul with the rest of Europe. This eclectic, eccentric boutique hotel is loaded with Victorian furniture, old cameras, typewriters, rugs, art deco lamps and more. Wandering its rickety old hallways with a glass of wine in hand, it’s easy to imagine yourself stepping off the train in the 1800s and feeling both at home and a world away.
But the most defining feature in the hotel is the collection of over 4,000 Turkish lamps hanging from the ceiling of every room, every hallway, every nook. I hate to think of the electricity bill — or simply how they wire the damn place — but the glowing atmosphere these unique lamps create is truly magical.
True to its nature, Istanbul culture defies any single definition. One moment you’re being swept along with the tide of humanity in the bazaar; a moment later and you find yourself in a quiet eddy of a back-alley cafe, with nothing but the bubbling of a nargileh to interrupt your thoughts.
Everything at once and a time for anything. This is life in Istanbul and, to be honest, I wouldn’t want to experience it any other way.