I’m at 30,000 feet and the rising sun is casting lines of red, orange and yellow on the world below.
In between the billowing clouds that look remarkably like cotton candy I can see the mountains of Bulgaria.
The butterflies fluttering in my stomach are joined by a few Mexican jumping beans; I will soon be in Istanbul, the exotic and mysterious city that has entranced people and empires for millenia,
As the plane begins to circle this massive city of seventeen million souls, sunlight is glittering off the waters of the Black Sea, its artery the Bosphorus Strait — that separates Europe from Asia — and the Sea of Marmara.
The thick brown line of pollution framing the horizon is making me very nervous and I’m already missing the clean air of the North Island.
I wonder: will I be able to live in this vast, polluted city?
Istanbul will be my home for an undetermined period of time; an unknown and unpredictable life lies before me.
On the bus ride to the city centre my eyes defy all attempts to keep them open and though they fall shut in sleep I’m able to force them open enough to catch glimpses of the ancient 1000 year old Byzantine walls that surround parts of the old city.
Istanbul overwhelms the senses: I’m bombarded by the mixture of sights and sounds coming from the hordes of people in all styles of dress and colours on the move, stray dogs waiting at street lights to cross, a cacophony of sound coming from drivers leaning on their horns in what seems to be some bizarre conversation between anything with four wheels.
The chaos seems oddly organized as I watch what should be three lanes of traffic becoming five, cars and buses moving like a choreographed ballet, never touching but seeming to miss each other by centimetres.
It doesn’t take long to understand that organized chaos is what describes this city best.
Life in all it’s human glory, and it’s wonderful!
Day 1: The Misir Pasar, called the Egyptian Spice Bazaar in tourist guide books, is a nondescript 16th century brick and stone Ottoman building in Eminonu.
But when you walk inside you’re swept into an aroma filled, colourful and vibrant world where vendors hawk their wares to the crowds of potential customers: canvas bags hold the bright yellows and reds of tumeric and chilis, the earthy colours of henna and cinnamon, and there are containers with every herb you can think of and teas that make you feel healthy just by looking at them; shops with glass vials of various sizes holding liquids in various shades of amber and honey containing the perfumes of Arabia and the middle east; bags holding every kind of nut and dried fruit, even raisins that were sundried in the bunch.
Behind the spice bazaar I’m drawn to the aroma of freshly roasted and ground turkish coffee and discover a maze of cobblestone streets full of small shops selling, well, everything.
It’s a shoppers paradise of hand-pounded copper, handmade hammocks, textiles, cheap jeans, and so much more. I discover hidden 400-year-old courtyards where long ago traders coming from or going to the Silk Road spent the night.
There are so many nooks and crannies in the streets and courtyards that lead up the hill to the Grand Bazaar, the possibilities for exploration seem endless.
Istanbul is my kind of city.
Stephanie Coe is a former North Island reporter and a former employee of the Ministry of Forests in Port McNeill. She is teaching English as a second language in Istanbul. She will be writing dispatches from Turkey and thereabouts.