As a person who loves to travel, I am always reading up on new and different places to go, both here in the States and abroad. As of late, a few new places are showing up in the magazines and Yahoo! travel articles, etc-and one of these “new, up and coming travel destinations”-is Istanbul (not Constantinople).
This provides a small source of irritation for me. What I gather from many of these articles is that there are tons of new (read: chi-chi poo-poo) restaurants and boutiques. And treated as a side note, there is also a little thing called history, some beaches, and the fact that Istanbul can be used as a jumping off point to see many of the archeological wonders that the coasts of Turkey hold.
With the exception of having a bevy of new restaurants, boutiques, and clubs that cater to a more “hip and upscale” kind of traveller, everything else these articles are touting are cool and spot on and don’t sound the least bit shallow. Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople, and then known as Byzantium prior to that, is one of the worlds oldest melting pots and continuously inhabited major cities. Why is it suddenly cool to go there now that the travel press is extolling virtues that it long had? I like to think of myself as being the ugly girl’s friend BEFORE she got the Extreme Makeover (does that sad train wreck of a show still come on? I don’t watch much television anymore). Now everyone is her friend because she is beautiful and has been on t.v. Istanbul, you were never an ugly city, but I like to think that I fell in love with you before the masses (masses in the Western world, anyways) did.
End rant. The following is why anyone who loves to travel needs to go to Istanbul. RIGHT NOW:
1. The weather should be perfect RIGHT. NOW. The picture I took in front of the Blue Mosque was taken in the middle of July. It was hot, and worst of all, VERY humid. As you can see by my sweaty forehead, I was a sweaty, sweaty mess the whole time I was there. Shopkeepers were giving me rags to wipe my brow. “Barack Obama, why are you so wet? Come buy some Turkish Delight!” Go now before it gets too hot.
2. Mosques galor. A little history-Istanbul was the Eastern capital for the Holy Roman Empire (Rome of course being the other one). It was a Christian city until the Ottomans, a Muslim group, conquered the city in the 15th century. Some churches were turned into mosques, and some were built from scratch. Imagine San Francisco and it’s hills, but then set mosques with towering minarets on those hills, and you get a pretty good visual what the cityscape looks like. See as many as you can, and marvel at them at night when the minarets are under-lit on each one. Simply amazing.
3. Turkish baths. Get one after a long day of sightseeing. It’s an age old tradition, so one must partake. Also a good way to cleanse yourself of all the sweating you will do if you don’t heed my advice and decide to visit in the summer months.
4. If you like to shop, this is your town. And I’m not talking shopping like going to the mall and just looking at The Gap or The Nike Store or anything else you can find in America, showcasing stuff you really can get anywhere. I’m talking about Turkish lamps, Kurdish rugs, and little exotic crystally-looking doodads. There are also these little dancing figurines that are quite prominent in the tchotchke stores. It’s all other-worldly and awesome.
5. Negotiating. If you not only like to shop, but like to get bargains when you shop, the Turks are all about it. Never have I seen so much haggling. I actually got hemmed up in a back alley carpet shop (a good rule to follow is to NOT do this, clearly explained as to why in my travel ebook, “Get Lost”-available on Amazon-www.amazon.com/dp/B00EK7K5HM). After 30 minutes of sometimes tense negotiations, I talked the guy down from $600 to $150 for a rug. Do that a couple of times and you will come back to the U.S. ready to tackle 10 car salesmen….at ONCE.
6. It’s cheap. Turkey uses the Turkish Lira and the Euro interchangeably. No matter, because everything is still way cheaper than most other European tourist powerhouses (sorry Paris and London-love ya, but my wallet hates you). Food is cheap. Lodging is cheap. Partying is cheap. Hopefully Istanbul will remain inexpensive as it becomes the new travel darling.
7. Food. Donar kebabs and Ottoman dishes and fresh fish sammiches caught right behind the vendor stands that line the waterways (the Golden Horn-Galata Bridge area in particular). ALL the food is good, and without being fried. They sell roasted corn as street food. How healthy is that?! And Turkish Delights-don’t get me started. Baclava and all sorts of semi-sweet goodies that you can gorge yourself on since all the other food you are likely to gorge yourself on is so healthy. And roaming through the spice markets; ingredients used to flavor all this wonderful food…let me stop now. A foodie’s nirvana, this place.
8. This is one that the travel guides and magazines won’t tell you-the people. SMELL. AMAZING. I don’t know what it is; if its a cologne or perfume, or a type of detergent that they use. Another factoid-Istanbul proper has over 13 million people, so it’s one of the top ten largest cities on Earth. It’s crowded, but catching whiffs of sandalwood or whatever it is they use when you are crowded up in public areas or in public transport makes it that much more bearable.
9. Lots of old stuff. This really should be the #1 reason, but then again, I am not putting these in any particular order-but the preserved history of this city is absolutely stunning. I have been to Rome and I would say that Istanbul is a not so distant second in terms of antiquities on display and preserved ruins and such. The archeological museums are a nerd’s dream. In fact, last time I was there, the museum had so many artifacts that many of them had to be housed outside. Even driving into the old quarter from the airport, you are met with centuries-old crumbling city walls to your left hand side as you (or your cabbie) drive down Kennedy Caddesi. There is even a huge Roman-era aqueduct off the beaten bath. Everywhere you look there are traces of history. It’s almost overwhelming, but in a good way. See as much of it as you can.
10. Nightlife. I am a big believer in partying with the locals as much as I am in learning about their culture. Turkish pop music is really fun to dance to as well, and like a lot of Spanish cities (and Berlin), the party doesn’t really get jumping until midnight or so. And I must say, these are a styling’ bunch of folks.
So there you have it-there are many more reasons but these ten are the ones that have me clamoring to go back. Please hurry before it gets overhyped and overpriced. Unfortunately good things can’t be kept under wraps forever.