Every once in a while, one has the opportunity to live something, or somewhere, just incredible. The "awesomeness" of this experience might not strike you at first but slowly get into your skin, pore by pore, until it becomes the certainty that you have had one of those "times of your live". For me, fortunately, I've had quite a few of those in my life until now.
But this one, oh boy, this one has been different. Maybe it is the sole presence of the Bosphorus itself (as I always say, even if you put a hot dog stand, you have a hot dog stand with a Bosphorus view), or perhaps that mixture of thousands of years and people leaving each of them a bit of history behind. It might be the collage between the east and the west, or the future and the past, or just having kahvaltı -breakfast- on a Sunday morning in Örtaköy looking to the water.
Or maybe is everything at the same time, but the fact is that there are not so many places in the world where everything falls in the right place to create a city such as Istanbul. You just can't stop looking at it, observing, marveled every time, its thousand different colors and flavours. And no, it's not just me that thinks like this: every single person I've known, whether expat or local, ends up falling in love with this city.
The first time you come to the city, normally as a tourist, you are definitely shocked. Nobody I've ever met here expected this when they first came. Maybe Hollywood or our silly stereotype of Turkey have worked a really bad role in the knowledge of the place, the country in general, but the truth is almost everyone that first arrives here is expecting women in burkas, people on camels in the streets, a dirty city and a lot of yelling taxi drivers (well, maybe the last one is not so far away from the truth :). So when they get here, usually to the touristic European side, nothing prepares you for the weird mix of grandiosity, the strange feeling of being in the exact spot where a huge part of the History has taken place and the modern look of the city's life. And, let me tell you, you have just scratched the surface.
Because coming to Istanbul and visiting only the European touristy area would be like getting up in the movies and leaving a great film in the middle of the story. You need to see the rest and savor every moment in order to understand how beautiful it can be. And this is especially applicable to Istanbul, a city where a thousand small cities live within.
Of course, you could say, the fact that I got to live here has made me know the city much better than in a five days trip. But I have had the opportunity to live in a lot of different places, and no one was quite like this. The rare mix of the Turkish identity, where half of them think like Europeans and the other half are quite traditionalists, gives this town a distinct flavour and creates a combination of weird ingredients that would normally not go together. Whether you go to Sultanahmet square, and walk down to Çemberlitaş or Topkapı, to catch up with the historical part of the area, or you get lost in the small streets of the bazar behind the Grand Bazar (don't mix the two of them: the first one is the real thing, where crowds of eager Turkish buyers get their stuff, the second is the touristic version where sellers speak 5 languages and prices are 5 time higher); whether you spend a morning in Beşiktaş Balık pazarı (fish market), or you stroll the "new" posh streets of Nişantaşı, or if you like the more bohemian ambient of Karaköy; whether you prefer the more traditional atmosphere of Fatih, with its orthodox churches and lots of mosques, or the avant-garde feeling of Ulus or Bebek, where la créme de la créme shows off their Ferraris and gets quite expensive brunches. Maybe you'll love, like me, the more local and quite residential feel of the Asian side (that huge unknown for tourists), with the heart of Bağdat Caddesi beating every single day whether it rains or snows; or the unique underground movement in Kadıköy streets.
It doesn't matter, you can prefer whichever you want. All of them are incredible, all of them are different and, at the same time, form part of the same culture, the same mentality, the same way of living the life that this incredible country has. But this is a city like no other, believe me; and its people knows it, and live it that way. It is amazing to see how every single Istanbul citizen squeezes out up to the last drop of life of this incredible town: all of them, in their particular way, love their city and takes advantage of every single good and bad thing about it. And it is a contagious thing.
There are some times, of course, when you want to kill everybody (especially after having spent four hours in traffic when coming back from the airport). But, let me tell you, there's something above all these sensations that reaffirms my love for this city every single time: whenever I cross the bridge (THE bridge, that is, Boğaziçi Köprüsü) and can't avoid looking at both sides; not even one time. And every single time I do, every-single-freaking-time, I can't help but say: "Damn, what an incredible place to be".