I haven’t been back in Istanbul since I was 16 years old and I was amazed by how much the city has changed. Even 25 years ago, I can remember the city being a vibrant and colourful place but this time the sights and sounds of the city were overwhelming.
We stayed in a hotel right at Taksim Square close to Taksim Gezi Park, a place where only a few months ago, police brutally removed demonstrators, who protested against its demolition. Since those demonstrations a heavy police presence is noticeable in Taksim and it seemed that around every corner a large police truck with police in riot gear was ready to move in. As soon as we entered Taksim Square we saw a young crowd of protesters with red flags from the Dev Lis movement. The police was close by with their tear gas guns and the riot truck moved into position.
This illustration of the Dev Lis demonstration was difficult to produce. So much happened at the same time. I took some snapshots of the police, buildings as well as people and pieced it all together in my sketchbook. A significant part of the illustration is based on a energetic young woman who lead the chants of the demonstrators. Unfortunately I couldn’t understand what it meant but a friend explained that it was in connection with tuition fees, police and the death of a protestor during the Gezi Park riots.
Walking down towards the Karaköy quarter I came across Galata Tower (The Tower of Christ). Its a medieval stone tower built by the Genoese in 1348. The large crowds of tourists lining up to get to the top was immense so I decided not to waste my time queuing in line.
Outside Galata Tower, a young guy with massive curly hair, was trying to sell me a flying machine which was based on Leonardo Da Vinci’s human powered Ornithopter. I first didn’t believe this thing could fly but he threw this flying bird shaped device up in the air and it started flying for about a minute in large circles over the heads of the people queuing. I got a good deal and bought three for the price of two. Needless to say that none of them flew after I put them together. He must have owned the only flying piece.
I can only recommend to grab a cup of Chai at Konak Cafe in Istanbul where you get a fantastic panoramic view of the old city, the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. I’m a big coffee drinker but didn’t have much luck getting a good Filter or Americano in Istanbul except from Starbuck but for obvious reasons I gave it a miss. I’d suggest you stick to Turkish Mocha or Chai (Tea).
A few days later we took the bus from Taksim square towards Ortaköy where we visited a small but architecturally stunning mosque. Close to the Bosphorus bridge we jumped on a boat and did a quick tour when we came across MV Savarona, a pretty impressive luxury yacht formerly owned by Atatürk. Its 136m in length and I had a blast sketching it. As we drove past pretty quickly I just sketched out the basic shapes and outlines. Later when we sat down for some Turkish tea, I started filling in the details. This was a drawing where I got completely lost in detail. I usually use a pen with indian ink, but when illustrating while travelling I use Staedtler pigment liners (0,05-0.3mm) which do a pretty good job. They are also waterproof and don’t smudge when I add some ink washes for shading.
When we got back we went for some Kumpir, a traditional dish from Turkey, which is a large jacket potato stuffed with various fillings. First the hot potato is sliced open and butter and cheese is added. Then its mashed together into a cheesy mash potato mix while keeping the outer skin solid. Then you have the choice of adding your fillings which could be olives, sliced vegetables, meats etc. A big meal! Don’t plan much activity after eating Kumpir as all you want to do afterwards is sleep a hundred years.
On our last day we took the cable car up to Pierre Loti cafe in the Eyüp district of Istanbul. Pierre Loti was a French novelist, naval officer and in Love with Istanbul. I really think that the Turkish public transport services are well organised, clean and safe. You can buy a Metro card from an Kiosk which you can charge with credit at every bus, metro and tram station. A single journey costs 2 Turkish Lira and you can share the card with friends and simply swipe them when entering the station. The cable care was also part of the public transport service and it allows you to get a great view over the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. The Pierre Loti Cafe at the top is a traditional styled but nothing overly exciting. I sat down and did my own illustration of Pierre Loti, looking at the old photographs on the wall. Caricatures are not my specialism but it was easy as he had such prominent features. I didn’t do a pencil sketch this time and started straight with my ink liners.
On our way home to the Hotel I alway grabbed a Smit and a cup of black tea from one of the many mobile shops gathered in Taksim square.
Good-bye Istanbul, I shall return!