We decided to stop for 3 days in Istanbul mostly because someone at Cameron’s work said that it had been one of his favorites among places he had visited. We signed up for just a two day tour of the main tourist attractions with Credo Tours who handled everything very professionally. Our guide was a young lady named Yazemin who was terrific in all respects. We saw the usual fare in Istanbul: the Topkapi Palace – seat of the Sultans, the Hagia Sophia – a huge cathedral later converted to a mosque, the so-called Blue Mosque, the Suleiman Mosque built by Suleiman the Great, a cruise up the Bosporus Strait, and the Grand Bazaar – once the market of the city and now an enormous tourist shopping center.I won’t give a recap of the history – you can find a better synopsis elsewhere – but I will give the biggest impressions we took away from our visit:

  1. Istanbul is way bigger than we had imagined.The city has more than 12 million people with considerably more in the greater metro area – not far from the size of New York. We were advised that the tap water isn’t potable, but in all other respects it appeared to be a very modern city.
  2. Istanbul is also a much bigger tourist site than we imagined.Our tour guide told us that Istanbul gets about half the number of visitors that Paris does, or about 22 million a year! I believe it from the number of visitors we saw at the major tourist sites.
  3. Turkey is predominantly Muslim (over 90%), but has a history of secular government. Although it’s clear to any visitor that it’s a Muslim city from the 2000 mosques in the city, the prayer calls from the mosques, the Ramadan banners, and the hijabs and occasional burkas, it’s not a place where a westerner would feel out of place at all. Everything is very modern, the men dress in western style as do most women with the exception of the hijab, and we were not able to detect anything that would disrupt the life of the average western person living here. I wish this kind of Islam got more media attention.

We would have liked to have had more time here. We realized after 2 days of tours that we had only just scratched the surface of Turkey. The food was pretty much fantastic across the board, the hotels were very modern and comfortable, and there’s an unbelievable amount of interesting history here. I’ll be looking for a way to return someday.

One Response to “Istanbul”
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