When the opportunity presented itself to visit Turkey, more specifically Istanbul enroute to a friend’s wedding in Greece, I was excited but also a little nervous. The political unrest and rumours about the lack of safety over the years, especially between 2016 and 2018 left me feeling very uneasy, but on the flip side, Turkey was the 6th most visited country in 2015, so there really must be something special about it right? Right. It really is truly unique.
Our hotel in the Old Town side was perfectly situated, and within walking distance from quite a few of the world’s wonders. Our morning runs took us past the Blue Mosque (which sadly was under renovation, The Hagia Sofia, which was also under renovation, but still accessible and a few other instagrammable locations.
Not only is Istanbul the country’s biggest city with approximately 15 million inhabitants, it is one of the largest cities in the world. Friends who have visited the city before claim the locals are friendly, I for one did not experience this. The only friendly people were the guys pretending to be your friend. The ones who start a conversation by flashing a R10 note to ‘prove’ they have been to South Africa, followed by helping you find the places you already knew where to find by pulling you by the arm, where you eventually end up at his shop where he tries to sell you all the handbags and rugs money can buy. No wait, was it his shop or his brother’s? Maybe It was his father’s or his uncles, regardless, it was definitely his uncle who owned the DHL next door to solve our problem of “not being able to travel with such large items in tow”
What I did find fascinating in this respect was this family dynamic. Every small clothing store would be run by about 5 men, always men. Inside by the younger generation, with the grandfather / father sitting on a chair outside. Everything is a family business – it’s actually something to admire.
Their largest trade is of course textiles and clothing, with automotive and other exports following very closely behind. Just by walking through the Grand Bazaar, the prior comment is imminent. I have never felt so overwhelmed with so much to see than in the Grand Bazaar. Also notably the place you want to go investigate purchasing ‘Louis Vuitton’s’ and ‘Rolex’s’.
We walked through the Spice Market enroute to Galata Bridge (stocking up on copious amounts of Turkish Delight, which I just managed to finish a month ago.) and proceeded to walk all the way over to visit the Galata Tower and the more ‘cosmopolitan’ side of Istanbul. The ‘New Town’ is somewhat intriguing as it is quite the juxtaposition between old and new, but that’s what makes it so attractive and charming to tourists. It is more evident to understand when taking a boat trip down the Bosphorous.
A surprise to me was the Basilica Cistern! Walking through the dark and dimly lit chamber, I knew I had seen this place before. I sat with this feeling of deje vu for minutes before it suddenly dawned on me, James Bond! And quite a few other movies have been filmed inside this landmark. Think Da Vinci Code etc.
Upon further exploration, we stumbled up a beautiful garden of tulips in full bloom. I developed a love for tulips at the age of 9 when I produced a project on Holland for a Std 1 assignment. So I was even more surprised to find upon further research that tulips are originally from Turkey, not Holland.
The food was absolutely amazing and we indulged in a few of the top restaurants, one of which was Seven Hills. We could not have asked for a better 360 degree view of the city, which is geographically breath taking.
The one thing that did stick out for me, and I still don’t know how to feel about it, was the massive display of Turkish flags strung from buildings, offices and homes. It reminded me of the Germans and the Swastika and it left me with an uneasy feeling. Not knowing if it was a sign of patriotism or a cross on your door to ensure the death angel passed you by, I’m still a bit uncertain. This sadly was how I left Istanbul, and with an uncomfortable incident with a Turkish lady in the airport bathroom, together with knowing the reason why they don’t have dustbins, I’m at a crossroad as to whether I would return for another visit.
Don’t get me wrong, I would highly recommend visiting this unique and cultural city for it’s iconic beauty and heritage, but I think I would rather go explore a new city than return.