Back in March 2016, the very heart of Istanbul was bombed by terrorists. The following day after those horrific attacks, I was due to go visit Istanbul. Of course, I was re-considering my trip… Should I stay or should I go? I was carefully following news every hour and asking Turkish friends about the situation. They were honest with me and even told me not go… But at the end, I decided to not let fear overtake. So for the love of travel and (somehow) by solidarity with the Turkish nation, I went to Istanbul.
Istanbul is a global city with so many picturesque monuments but unfortunately due to political instability in Turkey, the city has been targeted many times by terrorists. On 19th March, Istiklal Avenue was hit by a bomb. On 20th March, my flight was landing in Istanbul. So how did I handle the situation within all the panic on the media?
As I said on my introduction, I went to Istanbul. But it was really tense. At the airport, many people were arriving, it seemed normal. But once I was on the bus towards the centre, it was all empty. It was a Sunday I must say, it’s usually a quieter day but it shouldn’t be so empty for Istanbul. All the Turkish nation was saddened by what’s happening and I was getting messages from Turkish friends saying that I was crazy to be there!
My first reaction was to stay away from the centre. So I did that and stayed in Besiktas area instead of Taksim where I usually stay. It was a great opportunity to discover another neighbourhood of the city. I was staying there mainly, just enjoying the nice food and the great vibes of local people. But the tension was actually felt coming from people… they were scared to the point that most restaurants and bars were empty. I was the only one eating sometimes and I was observing people taking food away to enjoy at home, safely.
Meanwhile, over the news, it has been announced that Nowruz (Persian festival observed by many Kurds) would be an occasion for disruption and violence. That festival was happening the day after the attacks and on the same day I arrived to Istanbul. Normally, I would have enjoyed watching celebrations but I did go straight to my Airbnb studio.
Later that night, I met Moroccan bloggers Khawla and Mehdi from Asfarwithus living in Istanbul. They were kind to take me out for tea. We talk for a while and we all witnessed how empty Istanbul was during the high alert. They lived there far long ago so they really felt that the city was awkward. Furthermore, I could see big banners on the streets which say in Turkish: “we will fight terror” and “let’s stay united against terror”. Of course, the Turkish flag was flying high in very corner and every balcony.
Sometimes I was feeling like the only tourist in the city as I was going on a ferry to the Asian side. I captured an amazing sunset while listening to the sound of silence. An awkward silence. The look on people’s face was sad and at the same time hopeful Turkey will get away victorious. Last point I want to add, is about the presence of police. In every traffic light, in front of every metro station, every ferry dock and every square, I saw policemen. They were dozens of them well equipped for any danger at any time. I must admit that I felt scared when I saw that many policemen… because it did confirm that Istanbul is becoming a danger zone during those two days follow the attacks. At the ferry port, I ask a policeman to help me buy a ticket. He was really kind to show me how but also to ask me questions on where I am from. He was very happy to see that I was brave to come visit. And so, my trip has taken another shift.
Instead of going to touristic hotspots, I spent most of my time observing locals on how they deal with this high terror alert. I was confronted to a situation anybody can live but sadly it is a habit for Turkey to experience that. All I have to say, is to not let fear control our lives. We are all living the same situation no matter where. So #jesuisIstanbul!