Istanbul is perfect; Istanbul is inimitable and unforgettable and beguiling and transformative. A teaming mass of ever-moving life, Istanbul gets under your skin and nestles into your thoughts so that upon leaving there is a palpable sense of before Istanbul' and after'.

I had wanted to visit the city for as long as I can remember, transfixed as many are by this idea of traipsing between continents on wood-panelled ferries that cross the Bosphorus Strait, by the mosques, and minarets and the call to prayer that bounces across ancient buildings, and by the promise of a treasure - laden city with secrets hidden on every street. I had longed to bask in the ineluctable, romantic melancholy I had read so much about and to sit and drink bitter Turkish coffee in labyrinthine streets on the border of Europe and Asia, between the Marmara and the Black Sea.

Like anyone who has fallen head-over-heels for a place, I find it impossible that anyone could be disappointed by Istanbul, though I'm sure it happens. An intense and vast expanse of a city that's 14 million strong, the phenomenal rate of change and frantically volatile political situation can no doubt be over-whelming. But it's also impossible to escape from the sense that all of life is there. I stayed in a guesthouse at the top of a formerly derelict house reached by a grand marble staircase, in view of the Galata Tower. My host, a jewellery-maker whose parents came to Turkey from Jordan, had hitchhiked from Ankara at the age of 18; Istanbul is defined by the sense of people in perpetual motion. It is also a city of stark contrast and the duality of its almost dreamlike beauty and decay finds analogy everywhere.

The Irish poet Michael Longley wrote of Mayo, his favourite place: when I can't sleep I walk around it in my imagination'. When I return in my mind's eye to Istanbul I am wandering through ukurcuma,a district of the city traditionally populated by carpenters with workshops on the ground floor of many of the vernacular wooden houses that still line the streets. Previously down at heel and now considerably on the up, its solemn, faded glory houses pack rat bookshops, antique stores, bric-a-brac of every conceivable flavour, dive bars, jazz bars and tea houses, old Turkish grannies and exquisitely beautiful urbane youth in such close proximity, the combination of which creates so much delight that it almost seems a scene of fiction.

But that is the thing about Istanbul; once you depart it becomes almost unreal. And that is its magic.

Words by Jeanette Farrell

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