“Every week again I push my own borders”, says a lady who is cycling from Amsterdam to Abcoude, a tour of nearly 15 kilometer and who I just met. “Every week I change the route somewhat and I just try to cycle a bit more. Maybe one day I will go as far as you!”
The lady was impressed when I told her I came cycling from Huizen, my home-town, which is actually only twice as far as Abcoude. Even in Holland, where there are more bikes than people, you are apparantly looked upon when you travel ‘large distance’ by bike instead of by car or public transport.
In other words, traveling is so relative. I could have told her why I was here or about my travels in the past year, or about a friend who is touring the world on his bike, but the lady was more than impressed because of the small trip I made that day.
And similarly to traveling distance, will I be able to keep this way of searching and freshness as when traveling: to look in the same open way at those things that are familiar to me as towards what is new?
My Romanian bike-accident is already five weeks away and I am happy to be able to cycle longer distances again, and to discover new things in old places.
Seven in the morning and a loudspeaker wakes me up. I look outside and I see a blond woman, high heels and a miniskirt. This time the loudspeaker does not call me for prayer – as during the past three months in Turkey – but it tells me where I’ve arrived.
But where am I? Sure you have miniskirst too in Istanbul but not this early, ready for work, waiting for a train.Â I try reading the sign of the station, it is written in a alphabet that I don’t understand. I rub my eyes and I look again. I see the platform full with women.
Forget it. I close my eyes and fall back asleep. Eight hours later, and yet after another passport-check (“Do you smoke anything special?”), I leave for the final destination and walk around a new town.
The following four days I learn how many women are in fact working in jobs here and how much they dominate the sights of public life. Quite a cultural shock after Turkey and it really was the first thing that got my eye.
Believe me – Istanbul is not that bad – but what I saw in Bucharest was against all odds. The contrast is just enormous! Women are present just everywhere – more so than what I am also used to from Spain or Holland. They fill the museums we visit, the post-offices, the restaurants, trains and a lot more.
Bucharest is also full with new construction. And hopefully one day this will lead a city build less from a male perspective but more with a female eye. As such, this city has a huge potential – though currently it is still full in transition and not as full of life as in most Balkan counter-cities.
It would be impossible to summarise Istanbul. There are only impressions, feelings and thoughts. No matter how many different perspectives you would acquire, there are simply too many different paths and lives here, to give a conclusion so sound that its people find their own stories back in it.
A city this huge just makes you realise there is yet more to explore. Never enough, there is always another corner and another road, another family and another party. Life of the Istanbul wo/man seems never-ending and no words can really grasp what this city is about.
Highlights, this is one of the few things what you might be able to offer. I recently made one small effort for this purpose. With the photo-essay “Live it and you will love it” I offer a viewpoint of what Istanbul-life for me is about, how I perceived the city, and how I see the people and culture here. I hope it offers you a good snapshot of Istanbul.
I find this country and this city one of the most social I have been so far. People meet each other everywhere and nobody seems lonely. True, there is a lot of poverty and people who just try to survive but somehow they always receive a lot of support from each other. Here I see people interacting with each other continuously. Meeting on the street, a random passer-by, somebody who waits for a bus or sits next to you on the boat, they are all excuses for a conversation.
And when they find out you are not from here, they become very curious and want to know where you are from, what you are doing here and how you like it. Imagine that in a city such as London, Amsterdam, Paris or Barcelona. No way that someone would even show the slightest interest in your life or imagine people talking in the bus or whilst queuing!
Here, though, the person you start talking to will respond with genuine interest, without hesitation. Imagine how it feels to have the freedom just to talk to anyone you like. What therefore might be one of the biggest paradoxes of this massive town with more than fifteen million people: there are no strangers here, only people you still have to meet.