One evening this winter, during an anomalous snow storm, I was walking down the backstreets of my Istanbul neighborhood. The snow was falling thick and heavy, perfect for snowball fights and building snowmen. But instead typical snowmen, I kept passing snow SCULPTURES—creatures and monsters and animals carved out of the snow by people too excited and creative to settle for mere snowmen. I live in Kadikoy, a funky neighborhood on Istanbul’s Asian shore full of artists and students and families and retirees—a liberal, creative, colorful part of Istanbul that often gets left off the tourist map. It’s the kind of place where the street art is elaborate, the cafes are abundant, and the falling snow is quickly turned into art.
That’s the thing about Istanbul: it’s a city that will always exceed your expectations. There are the ancient wonders that the city is known for: the Ottoman intrigue of Topkapi Palace, the blue-domed mosques of Mimar Sinan, the breathtaking and majestic Hagia Sophia. But there are also the rainbow steps in Cihangir, the cool blue calm of the Moda seaside, the winding throwback streets of Balat. This is a city of old glories and new vibrancy. Istanbul is home to more than 15 million people; this is not a place that is stuck in the past. This is a place that never loses its ability to surprise.
Istanbul tends to be in the news these days for all the wrong reasons. I realized when I was home in the USA this summer that the only times I heard the word “Istanbul” on the evening news, it was usually part of a story about the conflict in Syria. I understand how this can give the false impression that Istanbul is swept up in a Middle East war. The truth is, the war in Syria has not crossed into Turkey, and Istanbul is 1500 km away from the border. (To compare, that’s almost the same distance between Istanbul and Budapest.) The news makes it seem like these distances are negligible.
However, in Istanbul, war feels very far away. The buzz of daily life continues on as ever. This isn’t a city on the brink of conflict; this is a city where you can spend hours eating Turkish breakfast, where you can sip tea on ferries that carry you across the Bosphorus, where ancient ruins are just around the corner. The Galata Tower, built by the Genoese in 1348, looms high over Beyoglu; just down the hill in Karakoy, trendy new cafés and stylish art galleries open nearly every week. Istanbul is never static. There’s an energy in this city that I’ve never encountered anywhere else. People live fully, fill the sidewalks on sunny days, create new things. I have lived here for more than two years and I have yet to be bored in Istanbul.
I have my own goals for 2015 in Istanbul. I want to eat breakfast overlooking the Bosphorus at Rumeli Hisari, I want to visit the flea market at Ferikoy, I want to bike around the island of Heybeliada in the summer sun, I want to visit the sweet shop in Karakoy that makes fresh made-to-order Turkish Delight. Every time I cross something off of my list, three more things replace it. Why not? Istanbul is a big, beautiful city. I will never run out of things to discover.