As locals retreated into the warmth and safety of their homes, the snow began to fall more heavily with each passing hour. This was the perfect time to take a leisurely walk around Istanbul.
Experiencing my first Christmas and New Years in Istanbul this year was great, for many reasons. But one of the best things about the festive period here, for me, was the arrival of the snow season. While sitting snow levels rarely reach above a few inches in the inner city, the amount that did settle this week had a refreshingly tranquil effect on the usually restless urban landscape. After months of sunshine, late December and early January saw Istanbul temporarily transformed into a stunning winter wonderland. Well, as wonderland as it gets in Istanbul.
At this time, venturing outside unnecessarily is not advisable. Istanbul, like many other large cities, seems ill-equipped to cope with the chaos caused by the annual snow. Schools close, shops shut and people and street animals seem to all but vanish. The snow has a ghostly effect on the city’s appearance, which are usually bustling with life, each pavement and roadway consistently overflowing with busy traffic, noise and action.
But this week, the rhythm of the city changed into quite the opposite to that which it is famous for. Those few pedestrians and vehicles braving the outdoors could be seen slipping and sliding all over the un-salted and ice-covered roads, which being often steep and cobbled had become treacherous ice-slides; and with temperatures of -5 degrees walking outdoors becomes not only dangerous, but rather painful.
During this snowy period, Oli and I continued to venture into the icy streets to capture images of the beautiful and novel white city. As we walked through our neighbourhood of Galata one afternoon, shivering and skidding all the way, I began to regret my choice of socks and lack of ear-warmers. However, the glorious sunset views we discovered at the top of Galata Tower were certainly worth braving the freezing temperatures for.
The city view from the 63 meter height of one of the oldest towers in the world is at once spectacular and terrifying. While balancing along the narrow edge of the tower in the fierce icy wind, I felt as though Oli and I could too easily be lifted off, like the gusts of snow sporadically blustering about our ears.
As my fear grew, I seemed to suddenly take on Oli’s vertigo, having never been particularly bothered by heights before. Fortunately for me, it was far too cold to justify staying out on the ledge for any lengthy period of time. Due to the combination of altitude and Bosphorus wind currents at the top of the tower, the temperature that day was around -8/9 degrees. However, the views are equally stunning from the indoor restaurant at the top of the tower.
Gazing down from Galata Tower onto the usually bustling city, Istanbul suddenly felt peaceful and eerily still under the muffling effect of the snow storm. All the reality of city- life here seemed to slip away into a kind of dreamy nothingness — a picture perfect image of an enchanted ancient metropolis.
The snow-covered rooftops, cramped together, created a chalky patchwork blanket that made the vast city below feel smaller and somehow more intimate. Similarly, while walking in our newfound winter wonderland, time seemed to slow down; each satisfying crunch of the snow under foot, each careful movement, each breath seemed cushioned by the all-consuming, hypnotic whiteness of everything.
The dramatic way in which the snow changes the landscape in Istanbul is yet another reason why I love this city. Everywhere you glance there’s a picture worth taking — plus, the time off work is an added bonus. It gave me the time to appreciate the urban winterscape properly during this snowy period. If you know Istanbul, walking through the city in the snow will allow you to see the city in an entirely new way. The dirt and the noise fade away under the shower of white flakes that touch everything in their path. It is truly magical. And if you are lucky enough to encounter Istanbul for the first time during the snow season you will be enraptured by its snow coated wonderland charm.
The snow has stopped falling now and life in Istanbul is slowly returning to normal. Locals are relieved to resume there business, but I for one hope that the snow returns to transform the city again, soon.