Istanbul: Past, present, future

Sitting in the middle, somewhere in between:

  • Between a history of empires and a present booming growth,
  • Between traditional cultures and modern trends,
  • Between continents,
  • Between religions,
  • Between adherence to regimes and civil society movements,
  • Between the transitions of civilization.

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Perhaps this is the appeal of this magic city: the intrigue, the mystery, the perplexity it reflects, while alluding of a desire to connect. The very nature of man.

Caught in between. Each of us.

Sitting in our own lives, influenced by our pasts, but racing towards the future, sometimes with direction, sometimes without.

By cluttering our lives with agendas, stories, things… we forget the now. Breathe.

Istanbul lives in its past and its future – but equally, in its now:

  • In the sunshine at outdoor cafés, where patrons sip coffee and shisha smoke billows up to kiss the sky,
  • In the seagulls catching drifts off monuments, towers and ferryboats,
  • In the markets that sell carpets, spices, fish and pottery,
  • In stoic dogs with bedroom eyes protecting abandoned buildings, and in lazy carefree cats sleeping in the sun,
  • In the steamy waters and sweaty bodies at a Turkish bathhouse (hamam).

Istanbul lives in the flirtatious gestures of charming passionate men, and in the hearts of good-natured and curious women.

Istanbul lives in the sunsets that paint its mosques and palaces in gold; it lingers in the last bits of daylight, before embracing its evening splendor.

It teaches us that we must know where are coming from, before we can know where we are going. It reminds us that mistakes make life more colorful, like graffiti adorning its backstreets.

It whispers these secrets, on the wind blown through narrow alleys, on the waters of the Bosphorus or the Sea of Marmara; winds that waft past golden towers and through ruined mansions on the Princes’ Islands.

Its enchanted story is shared over coffee, a beer or shisha among friends or lovers…

Istanbul is a city, and it is a journey. I am happy my feet walked the same path, even if just for a moment.

**I recently returned to Istanbul, 9 years after my first visit. This is a (slightly updated) journal entry I wrote about the city in April 2006 when visiting a friend. I’m happy that 9 years on, the city offers the same sense of magic. The photos are reflective of both trips.

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Amsterdam: Good City, Good Nature

IMG_7118As much as I love Amsterdam city life, one of the things I value most is how easy it is to escape – and to escape by bike. I’m on a constant quest to find the perfect mix of city and nature, preferably in close proximity. After all, I’m a Seattle girl, and value easy access to both city and nature in close proximity. I believe the best cities are simultaneously rugged and sophisticated, with the chance to don IMG_7125hiking boots and high heels – preferably on the same day. Admittedly, Amsterdam lacks mountains and (in this rather urbanized country) wild nature. Nonetheless, I’m constantly amazed by the availability of green spaces in the city or in close proximity. Since moving to Amsterdam, I’ve learned how to forage for wild herbs, volunteered in several urban
IMG_7150agriculture gardens, and explored the forested landscape park, the Amsterdamse Bos. I’m happy that in 20 minutes (or less) I can completely transform the scenery with my own peddle power: cycling from the middle of the city, to the middle of a forest; from the canals of old town, to farms and villages surrounding the city… or a summer’s jump in a lake or the sea.

IMG_6964I recently had a friend visiting and we decided to take advantage of the sunshine to explore some of Amsterdam’s lesser-known corners. Heading south, we cycled past houseboats moored in Amsterdam’s southern canals, past garden houses, highland cattle (yes, highland cattle in Amsterdam) and blackberry vines, to the De Nieuwe Meer, a manmade lake that was IMG_6983dredged in the 1960s. Today this lake is a popular sailing and swimming spot. On one side of Nieuwe Meer is Schiphol Airport; on the other is Amsterdamse Bos. To cross the lake, we took a small ferry, large enough for 100 persons and roughly the same amount of bikes. And everyone had a bike. Crossing into the forest, we visited my beloved free-range biodynamic goat farm (Geitenboerderij) before cycling on through the forest to the Amstel River.

IMG_7087Cycling along the Amstel is one of my favorite routes, depicting the magic of Dutch planning. Old farmhouses stand peacefully, as they have for generations, unbeknownst of their positioning several meters below the Amstel River flowing constantly above, and protected from gravity by a series of ancient windmills, dykes and pumps which re-direct waterways, keeping these low-lying farm houses dry. Speed cyclists, pleasure boats and rowboats cruise by near or on the river above. Dutch topography, with its reference points concerning what is up and what is down (as usually dictated by gravity) is something that will never become normal for me.

IMG_7101We stopped in the small town of Ouderkerk aan de Amstel, exploring by foot and enjoying the sunshine at a riverside café. Cycling back towards Amsterdam, we passed several small farmhouses. Newborn sheep and their mothers cautiously eyed us, as I tried rather unsuccessfully to move in closer for a photo. But this simple, IMG_7117peaceful countryside scene is trumped, with a highway, skyscrapers and the Amsterdam football stadium (Bijlmer Arena) serving as a not-too-distant backdrop. This will also never become normal to me, no matter how long I live in the Netherlands. The feeling of how everything can seemingly (and effectively) coexist in such close proximity: the city and the countryside. And yet, despite this IMG_7126close proximity, each alludes to a feeling of just that. When we cycled by those farmhouses, I felt I was in the countryside, passing goats, chickens, windmills, apple trees and hay barrels. As we cycled back, it became clearly evident that we were again in the city. Amsterdam is easy to escape; and it’s easy to return – and best of all by bicycle. Indeed the perfect mix of the “good city, good nature” concept I so admire in a city.

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Moving forward in reflection: alumni speeches and MESPOM memories


This gallery contains 6 photos.

I rarely use my blog for personal stories, outside my interactions with cities. Still, I’m happy to report my PhD dissertation, entitled Urban Climate Governance: the Role of Local Authorities, was accepted for publication and public defense at Wageningen University! I’m excited … Continue reading

Amsterdam cool: the cyclists’ reign

Following on other cycling posts in my adopted city, here is one of my favorite video clips, entitled, The Cyclists, depicting the “Amsterdam cool…” 

By bike. In all seasons. And all forms of cyclists. Just can’t get enough…

Amsterdam: Family transport in Dutch minivans, also known as bicycles


This gallery contains 19 photos.

After 4.5 years living in Amsterdam, some things continue to fascinate me: dogs on bikes, moving by bike and kids on bikes to name but a few. Sensing a pattern? Indeed, my fascination concentrates on the bicycle lifestyle. No matter … Continue reading

Bangkok: hustle, bustle and unexpected secrets


This gallery contains 22 photos.

I was recently in Bangkok for a meeting of the Montreal Protocol (governing substances that deplete the ozone layer) held at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) campus. The weeklong event meant my … Continue reading

Hanoi: synergy in chaos


This gallery contains 31 photos.

In March I submitted my PhD, entitled, “Urban Climate Governance: The Role of Local Authorities” marking the start of the finish of my academic studies. (The start, because the next stages is a public defense in July.) To celebrate, I took … Continue reading