Let’s take a journey to a place with one foot in Europe and the other in Asia. Let’s take a journey to a place with two names. Have you guessed where?
Istanbul (not Constantinople)!
Istanbul was the first place I studied abroad and it was quite the experience. It was, and still is, the largest city I’ve ever visited. Navigating your way through the streets of Istanbul is like trying to walk underwater while seaweed and kelp try to ensnare you. What do I mean by that? I mean that the sheer mass of people walking on the sidewalk, cars driving on the roads, metro line chugging through make getting from point A to point B an obstacle course. And, since I was staying in the historic section of the city, the vendors selling souvenirs to tourists were out in full force and their persistent attempts to call you over to check out their goods were further obstacles in getting around. I have to admit though that other parts of the city aren’t quite so overwhelming or filled with people but they are few and far between. Keep in mind Istanbul has the 6th largest population of any city in the world.
Despite any identity crisis Istanbul may have about its past or present history it is a sprawling and bustling modern metropolis home to about 14 million people from all walks of life. There are Muslims, Christians (Greek Orthodox, Armenian), Jews, and non-religious peoples. There are liberals and conservatives, Turks and foreigners.
The city dates back to 660 B.C.E. and has been a political, economic, and cultural hub for most of that time. To the south is the Sea of Marmara (passage to the Mediterranean) and to the north is the Black Sea. Two-thirds of the population live on the European side and the other third live on the Asian side.
It is a sensory overload. The smells of doner kebab and grilled corn, the sounds of honking horns and the call to prayer, the visual of a Roman aqueduct now being used as a lane divider on a highway make for an exhilarating experience.
A visit to the Grand Bazaar was an all day affair. The maze like corridors of the indoor and outdoor sections made the potential of getting lost more than likely. With my limited Turkish knowledge (the numbers 1-20) I tried my hand at haggling and came away with two sets of tea cups, multiple book marks, stationery sets, evil eye charms, apple tea, and spices. The exchange rate was in my favor when I visited and I took advantage of that!
The most amazing thing about the Grand Bazaar is that regular Istanbul citizens go there and shop. It isn’t a tourist trap masquerading as a market. Don’t get me wrong, there are absolutely stalls geared towards tourists. However, plenty of other stalls were selling children’s clothes, kitchen goods, and everything in between.
Can we talk tea? Everyone in Istanbul drinks tea. It comes before your meals, after your meals, random times throughout the day. If it weren’t for the tulip shaped glass cups I would have thought I was in England. The Turks drink so. much. tea. And it’s delicious!
I highly recommend you take a trip to Istanbul! I’m dying to go back and explore the rest of the country. Going for a hot air balloon ride over Cappadocia is on my to-do list the next time I’m in Turkey!
P.S. Check out this cheeky song by the band “They Might Be Giants”: