To Istanbul, With Love

Dear Istanbul,

I have a confession to make. I think I’m in love with you…

See, I didn’t mean it to happen this way. I was just going to spend 3 days visiting you, the perfect introduction to my time in Turkeybefore setting off to explore the country which you used to rule over in significant glory.

But there was a problem. I didn’t plan on being taken in by your spell, with your pulsating energy and incredibly nice and generous people. I lay full blame for my feelings on that. That, and the first glimpse of your intense history I had when my bus from the airport took a duck under an old-fashioned aqueduct, just like those ones I’d seen in my history books in school.

Blue Mosque

The “Blue Mosque”

Yes, you’ve got some pretty awesome history. Like some truly eye-popping mosques and even a 500-year-old one that you’ve dubbed “New.” I didn’t have to wonder how a something quite so old could be called the “New Mosque” because history pulsates through your very veins and under your very streets. From a palace that the Ottoman sultans called home to a little place I’d heard of before called Hagia Sophia, what’s not to like?

Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sofia

How about the truly unexpected Basilica Cistern, an underground reservoir that stole my heart? If not the endless rows of columns there, perhaps it was the sculptures of Medusa’s head supporting a few of said columns that made me fall head over heels? I gazed into her stone cold eyes thinking back to the days we used to watch the original “Clash of the Titans” to learn about ancient Greek mythology in school.

Medusa's Head at the Basilica Cistern

The Basilica Cistern

Maybe that was it. Silly history. But wait, Istanbul, you have so much more! Like the comparatively new Beyoglu with Taksim Square at its heart and the pedestrianized Istiklal Street at its core, your 24-hour shopping and nightlife mecca. It’s a good meeting place that would become the site of many a night-out, where your denizens sip Raki, that star anise flavored liquor and Efes, the national beer, lines the walls.

Istiklal Street

Istiklal Street

Add to that your bi-continental vibe, for how many places is it so easy to dine in Asia and dessert in Europe? Here moving between the continents is nothing more than a ferry ride or a drive across a bridge, from more chill Asia with its houses and suburban malls to more intense Europe, with its go-go-go energy.

Bridge Across the Bosphorus

Driving between the continents…

How about your incredible diversity? In people and in food. Your open minded and friendly folks don’t hesitate to lend a helping hand or befriend a stranger to your territory and that is so very nice. You’ve got something for everyone and then some!

Grand Bazaar

The Grand Bazaar

And that includes awesome CouchSurfing hosts who will convince you to stay past those 3 days you planned and make it 7 days instead! Hosts who will show you what it’s like to really live in Istanbul. Who will take you to meet their friends, invite you to their birthday, take you on long walks along the Bosphorus and show you the time of your life.

Fishermen on the Bosphorous

Fishermen along the Bosphorous

You know what Istanbul? I think it’s a combination of all of these things that made me fall head over heels for you… It’s a good thing I keep my travel plans flexible because I would have been very sad if I only spent 3 days exploring your streets. But a week was just enough to give me a good fill and reason to come back!

Stay classy Istanbul!

Aaron

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26 Responses to To Istanbul, With Love

  1. Dani May 31, 2012 at 7:16 pm #

    Great post, Aaron! This makes me want to return to Istanbul so bad… one of my favorite cities in the world!

    • Aaron June 1, 2012 at 2:26 am #

      It quickly became one of mine too! And I just saw last night that NYC-IST nonstop flights are on sale in the fall… Hmmmmmmmm…. (wishful thinking)

  2. Natalie June 1, 2012 at 2:21 am #

    Love this post – makes me want to live in Istanbul!

    • Aaron June 1, 2012 at 2:27 am #

      I miss it too, though I couldn’t be happier being out in the country right now!

  3. Pauline June 1, 2012 at 9:32 am #

    That was beautifully written! I’ve always wanted to visit Istanbul and this post just pulls me even further into that fantasy! And when I go, I’ll know to spend more than 3 days there.

    • Aaron June 1, 2012 at 10:15 am #

      Thanks! I always knew 3 days was too short but my original plans would only allow that. Thankfully they went right out the window pretty quickly…

  4. Ele June 1, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    Did you go to the spice market? I suppose that’s something of a landmark.

    • Aaron June 1, 2012 at 11:08 am #

      Nope didn’t make it there. Didn’t make it to the archaeology museum either, which I was quite interested in. Gives me a good reason to go back! 🙂

  5. Waegook Tom June 1, 2012 at 11:21 am #

    I fell totally in love with Istanbul when I went – and I stayed longer than planned thanks to my CS host, too! The city has such an amazing energy. I loved the Spice Bazaar and all its potions, and the Asian side where I stayed…and the nightlife…and…everything! Can’t wait to go back there next year 😀

    • Aaron June 1, 2012 at 3:06 pm #

      Such an amazing energy! Didn’t make it to the Spice Bazaar, though I saw similar stuff in Jerusalem (or so I assume) and Amman. Yes…and the nightlife… well…you know! I stayed near Taksim so I didn’t have far to go… 😀

  6. Jeremy Branham June 1, 2012 at 1:46 pm #

    That’s awesome to hear! This is the second thing I’ve read on Istanbul today. So glad to see favorable impressions of the city. I would definitely love to visit. Not just for the sights but because you make it seem like a friendly, welcoming place. Glad you had an awesome time there!

    • Aaron June 1, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

      The Turkish people in general are insanely friendly and welcoming so add that to Istanbul’s sites and energy and you’ve got a winning combination! You’ll get there some day. It’s quite the place!

  7. Joy (My Turkish Joys) June 2, 2012 at 12:01 am #

    Excellent post recommended to me by Turkish Travel! You summed up all the reasons why I love living in Istanbul too. Don’t forget the incredible fruits and veggies found at the pazars or the amazing vibrancy surrounding the Spice Bazaar.

    • Aaron June 7, 2012 at 4:18 am #

      You know, I didn’t actually make it to the Spice Bazaar! Next time…next time…

  8. Gail June 6, 2012 at 8:47 am #

    Wow, I was already fascinated by Istanbul you have definitely fueled my curiosity. I guess it is a wonderful city, I can’t wait to be able to organize a trip to visit it.

    • Aaron June 7, 2012 at 4:27 am #

      It really is a fantastic place! Enjoy when you finally do get to visit!

  9. Roving Jay June 30, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    You can’t have her — I fell in love first – and she’s already promised to me! She’s the total package. I met her last year, and we spent 5 glorious days and nights together. She should be pining for me, waiting for me to return!

    One thing that struck me about Istanbul, was the importance of the relationship between her and the water. It pulsated around her, and was so much part of what gives Istanbul it’s special allure. You just have to stand on the Galata bridge, where you can watch every conceivable size and shape of boat do their merry dances in the water as they jockey for position to head to their destination. It’s a full-on navigation production, and should be set to music.

    We hopped on a ferry to the “other side”, we took a day trip up the Bosphorus, and also visited Princes Islands. These trips were a great respite for the miles of walking we did, to discover the sights and backstreets of Istanbul.

    After 5 days – we parted ways – I knew nothing could come between Istanbul and the water that means so much to her. Looks like she turned your head, just like she turned mine…. what a jezebel!

    • Aaron July 1, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

      You’re so right about the strong relationship between the water and the city! Boats aside, I was so enamored with all the people fishing everywhere they could!

      As for the Princess Islands, I didn’t make it there, though I would have loved to. It gives me a good reason to come back, for even a week is barely enough to scratch the surface in such a fantastic city!

  10. Ali July 2, 2012 at 9:57 am #

    AH don’t get me started on this! I am so in love with Istanbul! I totally expected to be disappointed as I usually am when people rave about something too much, but I loved it. I can’t wait to get back there one of these days, it’s such a wonderful city. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    • Aaron July 3, 2012 at 2:09 pm #

      Likewise! I never try and work up my expectations as it usually ends up with disappointment, but I was pleasantly surprised with Istanbul. Definitely one of my top 3 cities now next to NYC and Hong Kong!

  11. Neslihan Filiz September 27, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

    Hi Aaron and All,

    I am very happy to hear those words about my city and people. Yes, I understand what you feel, but you know what, I always say that Istanbul is a great city to be a tourist in:))). Living in this great is sometimes hard, because we had a lot of traffic problems in the rush hours, but it worths it…it is a big city, so I guess it is normal. Anyway, I went to Portugal (Lisbon & Porto) last month. I fell in love with Porto…and loved Portuguese people…treats like the people in my country. Frankly speaking, I miss my city even if I fell in love with Porto, because I couldn’t find anything to eat other than codfish…We have a lot of delicious foods. They are cheaper:). We have live streets, it doesn’t matter what time is it. You can’t have it in a lot of cities.
    I think people what creates the soul of the city. I think I am lucky to live here:)
    I am waiting everyone to see this fabulous city. We have a lot of sunny days even in the winter, but be away in february and march…it is really cold, but again you can have sunny cold days…I think the best months are September, October, April and May…because the summers are really really hot. Sure, you can go and swim in Prince Islands…need to go there in weekdays, because in the weekends, it is a bit crowded.

    So far so good:)…I hope everyone of you can find a chance to see it (or see it again)

    From Istanbul with love…

    • Aaron September 28, 2012 at 3:33 am #

      Hey there,

      Thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed the post! And I know how you feel. I live in New York City, which is a great tourist destination, but also a great city to live in. It probably helps that I don’t drive here (in fact, my CouchSurfing host in Istanbul also didn’t have a car and I found it to be a great city to explore by foot). While I haven’t been to Porto, I have been to many cities and there are few that I think really stand out in a league of their own. Hong Kong is one of them. Istanbul is another. It’s something about the vibe of a place that really makes it stand out to me. That and I have a thing for big cities! But trust me, not all big cities make the cut. Yes, you’re lucky to live there, just as I’m lucky to live here in New York! And I know someday I’ll be back in Istanbul! So much I didn’t see, like the Princess Islands! Next time!

      Cheers!
      Aaron

  12. Neslihan September 28, 2012 at 4:58 am #

    🙂 You are welcome…Yes I loved the post…You know, I ‘d like to see NY. I am very curious about Manhattan, Brooklyn Bridge and Time Square. I think I will love it. It is possible for me to go LA next year for a conference, but I am not sure if I can go and see NY. I hope I can:)))

    You are right. Living in a big and lovely cities has some difficulties…But as I said, it worths…

    Anyway…Have a nice weekend! I hope you can have more advantures to share with us and I hope we can have time to do the same:)

    Best wishes!

  13. Peter July 18, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    I spent 7 days in Istanbul this spring. All you say is true, but… it’s not the whole truth. Istanbul has its other face which might be visible if you stay there longer than couple of days. The city is overcrowded which is really tiring. Cars are litteraly everywhere, even in the narrow steep old town’s (Sultanahmet) streets. It’s so uncommon in Europe! Basically the Sultanahmet district besides its gorgeous mosques is like a slum: litter on the streets, so much noise, car fumes, homeless cats, shabby people sleeping in the shadow under the tree… For me Istanbul is much more like a Middle Eastern city rather than European one. But I guess the key is your attitude: I thought I was going to an European city with a little taste of Orient, instead I woke up in a Middle-Eastern city with a little taste of Europe.

    • Aaron July 23, 2013 at 2:06 am #

      The key is definitely your attitude. Having traveled extensively in the Middle East, I went to Istanbul expecting a great Middle Eastern city, and that’s exactly what I found (and then some). There was a touch of European class (though I’m not a great judge, having traveled very minimally in Europe). Turkey may be trying to join the European Union but its heart dates back to the heyday of the Ottoman Empire, which stretched far into the Middle East. I also would hardly describe Sultanahmet as a slum. Many cities tourist cores vary on a block by block basis. NYC is like that. So is San Francisco, where I currently find myself. You walk a few blocks from the cable cars and you find yourself in a very sketchy neighborhood! The things you list are all too common, not only for the developing world, but for lower class aspects of the developed world. It’s definitely good practice to approach every place with an open mind. If you go in with no expectations, you might just be surprised.

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