October 21, 2011
Istanbul - A City on Two Continents East (kind of) meets West Story by Mary Craft
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I had not planned on going to Turkey, in fact, I have never considered it. I just did not think of it as a place to vacation but how wrong did that turn out to be. My brother Carl and sister Lana spent four days there and claimed it was the most beautiful city on the planet and that they wish they had made their stay longer. They flew from there to meet my brother Steve and I in Belgrade, Serbia to spend a week in my parents’ homeland. I decided to take the 1 1/2 hour flight to Istanbul on the extra two days of travel I had after they left for home. Istanbul is a place like no other and an absolute jewel. I could just spend days walking the cobblestone streets of the “old city” full of color from its food vendors, to pastry shops, to street vendors to cafes with bright tablecloths. The people are attractive, charming and more than glad to help you.
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The Republic of Turkey replaces the sultans’ rule It is a Muslim country but one I would describe as a “to each his own” rather than a radical one. Turkey became a democratic, secular republic ending the rule of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire in the early 1920s so this has been the lifestyle for most citizens their lifetime. I would say 2/3 of the women wore stylish Western garb and the other third were a mix. The mix portion all wore scarves and a fitted trench coat with straight legged pants or full length dress. I probably saw a dozen in the full black robe with just their eyes showing. Of course, I can only speak for Istanbul which is a metropolitan city of 13 million. The geography of this city is interesting in that it is divided by a waterway, the Bosphorous Strait, with Europe on one side and Asia on the other. The small northern European portion borders Greece and Bulgaria. Turkey is considered part of the Middle East and this population of 80 million are neighbors to Iran, Iraq and Syria. Istanbul, the former Constantinople, has a rich history that is thousands of years old. The area was ruled by the Hungarian Empire, Roman Empire and since the 1400s the Ottoman Empire. Amongst the many museums to visit there are some must-see sites in the Sultanahmet district which has a large main square once host to chariot races. There are many quaint hotels within walking distance some with roof top restaurants with a view of busy Bosphorus and the beautifully lit up mosques. Be prepared to be awaken at dawn by the call to prayer coming from the loud speakers at the mosques which is a reminder you are in a unique place indeed. Massive, intricately designed temples of worship There are two spectacular mosques on the square, the Sophia Hagia is a museum and the Blue Mosque still holds prayers but is open to the public when it does not. The Blue Mosque is called that because the tiles are mostly in this favorite Turkish color. In fact, that is where the word turquoise came from. President Obama visited this enormous, intricately detailed temple of worship in 2009. He, as everyone else, had to remove his shoes to enter as is the custom in all mosques. Women without shawls are given a blue shawl to enter. Mosque interiors are decorated with geometric designs and not holy people because they feel those images would be distracting to prayer. The main square has many cafes, pubs and restaurants along it and surrounding it. The outdoor seating is ideal for people
watching.There is a wide variety of Turkish meals to choose from and they are all quite tasty. It is like no other food I have eaten and I already miss it. There are pastry shops with baklava but also so much more. Some of the cafes have decorative water pipes on tables to be used for your smoking pleasure, tobacco that is. And for the shopaholics...... The first shopping mall on earth is walking distance from here. The Grand Bazaar was built in the 1400s and has 4000 shops under one roof with 21 gates to enter. This was built as a trading center as this city was the central hub. There are high end jewelry stores, many carpet vendors, shops with crates of spices, ceramics, leather goods and much more. The more affordable shops are located outside on the surrounding streets with no traffic allowed. Plan on doing alot of walking. Do not even think about renting a car. The streets of the old city were not built for car traffic. Most streets can only accommodate one vehicle one way. If you try to turn onto a street with another car approaching you must wait for it to go by first. Taxis are everywhere and there are also trams and the second oldest underground train system built in the 1800s that is clean and updated. If you are out and about and need to use the restroom look for a “WC” (water closet) sign. You normally need to go downstairs to it and pay one lira. The stalls just have a hole in the ground. Look for “Modern WC” if you want the luxury of sitting not squatting.
Enjoy a cruise with a view of two continents A Boshporous cruise is a nice relief because you can cruise and sightsee instead of walk. There is a 4 hour tour that takes you to the Black Sea. Along the way are beautiful waterfront homes, palaces, mosques and fortresses. The boat anchors for 30 minutes for those who want to partake in a refreshing swim. There is also a short stop at a coastal village with pubs, cafes, ice cream shops and souvenirs. Food is included in the $60 tour and is made on board and includes an appetizer, lunch and a sliced banana with honey and crushed walnuts for dessert. The boat is not that big so it is conducive to conversation with
others on board who are from all over the world but not many Americans. This city has recently become a popular cruise ship stop and I heard there are Americans that come off the ships for day excursions. For nightlife Taksim Square is a pedestrian only place to go with trendy shops on the main drag and pubs with live music on the offshoot streets. I enjoyed the Turkish folk music and their modern music and their Efes beer was not bad either. Plan a trip to this Middle East treasure and you will return with memories of many unforgettable sights, sounds and smells.