Rick Steves: Istanbul, an ancient city on its way to the future
While we wait for travel to Europe to become fully open, here’s a reminder of the fun that awaits us in Europe.
When I was 20, I completed eight European trips in a row to Turkey. I hadn’t planned it that way – but it became the natural finale, the unconscious icing on every year’s travel adventures. Realizing that I hadn’t set foot in Istanbul for almost a decade, I decided to return to the city where East meets West.
As I step off the plane, I remember how much I love this country. Amazed by the efficiency of Istanbul Atatürk Airport, I jump into the street and into a yellow taksi. Seeing the welcoming smile of the unshaven driver, who greets me with a “Merhaba” to the fullest, I let go: “Çok güzel! I am surprised to remember the sentence. It comes out of me like a baby crying for joy. I am back in Turkey, and it is really “very beautiful”.
As the taksi exits the highway and enters the tangled alleys of the tourist area – just below the Blue Mosque – all the tourist businesses line up, providing a backdrop to their barking choir screaming: “Yes , sir! “
I watch scruffy children in the streets and remember a more difficult time, when kids like these would earn small change by hanging the passenger doors of dilapidated minibuses. The name of these vehicles – a wild cross between a taxi and a bus – is dolmuş, literally and appropriately translated as “drunk”. The boys were shouting the name of the destination in a rush to pack more passengers. I always hear my favorite call, for the station district: “Sirkeci, Sirkeci, Sirkeci.
I pay my taksi driver and head out into the Sultanahmet district, stopping for a cup of tea to spot myself. From my tea room perch, I watch old men pass by, carrying nothing, but walking as if they were still hunched over under the towering loads they had carried all their life as a burden human. Istanbul, which today has more than 15 million inhabitants, is booming. The city is poignantly studded with both remnants of great empires and living, breathing reminders of the harsh reality of life in the developing world.
And yet, this ancient city is making great strides towards the future. Everyone is lingering over the new Bosphorus Tunnel, which gives a million commuters from the Asian suburbs of Istanbul easy access to their places of work in Europe. This tunnel is emblematic of modern Turkey’s commitment to connecting East and West, just as Istanbul connects Asia and Europe. I also see it as a concrete example of how parts of the developing world are becoming economic dynamos.
Descending towards the Golden Horn cove and Istanbul’s bustling waterfront, I cross the new Galata Bridge, which makes me nostalgic for the old – now dismantled – bridge that was crusty with life’s struggles. . I think about how all societies are transforming with the push and pull of the times. As the beloved old bridge disappeared, the new one was engulfed in the same bustling street life – boys throwing their lines, old men sucking on water pipes, and rings of steaming sesame seed bread misting them. windows of their glazed carts. . It reminds me of how stubborn cultural inertia can be.
On the dilapidated waterfront, the venerable “fish and bread boats” still sway in the constant choppy water of the bustling harbor. In more humble times, these were 20-foot-long open canoes – crude boats with dented car tires for the fenders – with open fires for grilling fish … fish that literally just came out of the boat . For a few coins, the fishermen would bury a large white net in a piece of soft bread, wrap it in newspaper, and send me off. In recent years, the fish and bread boats have been closed because they did not have a license. After a popular uproar, they’re back – a bit more hygienic, no longer using newspaper to wrap, but still swaying in the waves and slamming fresh fish.
Today in Turkey there is a place for everyone on the dolmuş, which is no longer so crowded. Sales from Fez to tourists are declining, but the use of headscarves worn by local women (a symbol of traditional Muslim identity) is on the rise. Turkish society faces powerful forces for change and progress while wanting to stay the same. And, as a traveler, it’s great to see this development with your own eyes.
– This article was adapted from Rick’s new book, For the Love of Europe.
Rick Steves (ricksteves.com) writes European guides, hosts travel programs on public television and radio and organizes European tours. You can email Rick at [email protected] and follow his blog on Facebook.
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