My girlfriend, Sue, and I spent five days in the Big Stan during the Easter holidays, and had a great time. It's been four and a bit years since I was last there, but the changes have been really noticeable. Just thought I'd share what was most memorable:
..and a collage of the five hundred or so pics I took.
1) The Metro System
This was only really properly getting under way back in 2009, and I remember when I first boarded the original line from Atakoy to Aksaray back in the 90's. I have to say that, as far as the main centres are concerned, this is a really well-conceived and joined-up, something I never thought I would say about the state of Istanbul's traffic twenty years ago. I even risked the dodgy plumbing of the Mamaray, the line going under the sea between Sirkeci and Kadikoy, and was genuinely astonished by the speed of the service. The Istanbul travel card (similar to an Oyster Card in London) was also a definite plus.
Having said that, from the journeys I did, it seems that it is an effective service only for certain, wealthier parts of the city.
It's been absolutely yonks since I last went there, and I was pleasantly surprised by it - the Carsi is an excellent area of small lanes full of different types of food shops, and the restaurant and bar scene is much livelier than it once was.
Disappointing, with the exception of the live street music - I found the menus a bit uninspiring, and the food wasn't much cop, with the exception of some genuinely exquisite fresh mackerel fillets. The place hasn't aged well.
4) Wine prices
What the HELL is going on with the price of wine?? It's ridiculous: over 40 quid for a mediocre bottle! Just a few years ago, Turkey had a fledgling wine industry that was developing into something bold and interesting - now, the government seems determined to strangle it. Gone, it seems, are the days of buying a bottle of Dog Killer for about 50p.
5) The underground bins, and the relative cleanliness
Seems a bit dumb, but the underground bins in Sultanahmet are a huge improvement on the stinking cat-ridden skips that blocked every corner of a few years ago. The tourist areas are also definitely way cleaner than before.
6) The range of tourists
Again, this may seem odd, but back in the mid nineties, virtually all the tourists were Europeans, Americans, and Japanese: Now, just wandering around the main tourist drags is extraordinarily eclectic, with a significant number of visitors from all round the Middle East, possibly because of the Magnificent Century factor.
7) A different kind of edge
This is a bit hard to quantify, but it was something that I felt - Istanbul seemed to have a different atmosphere in the people on the street. It was as if its febrile air of hustle and trade had been subtly changed to have something else, a tension that was waiting to be released, a sensation of almost imperceptible fear. The only way I can express it is that it was as if the whole city was keeping one eye over its shoulder to check who could be listening.