This is my fake smile of fear because I hate pigeons. While in Taksim Square, a sweet old man thrust a plastic cup of bird seed into my hand. I resisted…because I hate being mobbed by a gazillion pigeons, nightmare scenario, but he was relentless. I said no at least four times, but eventually gave in because I was starting to get uncomfortable with his persistence and became flustered. He then grabbed my phone and after a brief moment where I thought he was going to run off with my new iPhone whose insurance contract I couldn’t afford to buy out, he snapped a bunch of pictures of me and the pigeons, and then naturally demanded money for the experience. I was kicking myself because I have experienced similar types of sellers in dozens of other cities and managed to avoid them, but I got stuck into it this time. The old man was harmless albeit annoying in the end, but future travelers, know what you are getting into when someone offers you bird feed in Taksim Square!
My experience of the Square itself was slightly tainted by having to fend off the pigeon man, and once I finally thrust 10 lira note into his hand I high tailed it out of there as fast as I could because he kept harassing me for more money (beyond the fact that he was asking me for money for something I didn’t want him to do to begin with, it was my last day and I didn’t have enough money for the metro after I gave him the note and had to extract money from a Turkish ATM for an EXHORBITANT price), so to be honest, I found it a little lackluster compared to some of the other places I’d been in the city. I feel that way about a lot of squares I visit though, if I’m being fair. Squares are a funny thing. They’re often famous and important because of something that happened there maybe a few years ago, maybe a few centuries ago, but once that time has passed, what remains is a traffic intersection, that if you’re lucky, centers on a statue or fountain. Don’t get me wrong, I still go anyways, and I adore squares that have bustling open air markets, like the Piazza Navona and its art market in Rome, for instance. But an empty square with a statue in the middle can only be so exciting, no matter how monumental the stories of its past. Taksim Square is the site of some of Turkey’s most impactful protest movements, including protests in 2013 that caught the world’s attention. At the center of the square stands a bronze cast statue, which portray the founders of the Turkish Republic. When I visited early on a sleepy Sunday morning in Istanbul, I had the square nearly to myself (plus a few more tourists and the pesky pigeon man). Perhaps the tourist in Istanbul is spoiled by the beauty and scale of the city’s other monuments- the Hagia Sophia, Sultanahmet Mosque, the Topkapi Palace. Compared to those, a humble square struggles to compete.