Finding oneself caught in the haze of fear and destruction, or worse, part of the body count, no longer seems like a distant concern. If feels like an ever-present possibility.
The reality: the likelihood that any one person will be a victim of such horror is still statistically very small. You’re more likely to get hit by a car or fall off a ladder in your own backyard (assuming you have one, of course).
Everyone has their own threshold for risk and that’s fair. But if you’ve already made reservations, or were considering a trip to Turkey but now you’re on the fence, my two cents: go.
Not only will you have an amazing adventure, your patronage will help a country that’s in need. The attacks, besides the havoc they wreaked on the victims and their families, have effected thousands in Turkey as tourism collapses. Businesses and families have already been devastated and it will only get worse. So consider a visit as far more than just your own enjoyment, think of it as a way to help those in need and a F-U to those who would have it otherwise.
As a traveler, you couldn’t ask for a better time to visit Turkey. Sights that were often glutted with tourists are now wide open. You can drink in the Hagia Sofia or the Grand Bazaar as if they were there just for you.
In honor of Istanbul, one of the coolest cities I’ve ever been to, I thought I would repost a little ditty (with some new pics) I wrote a couple of years ago after a wonderful stay. Hopefully it will inspire you to move forward with any travel plans you’ve made or perhaps inspire you to go.
At least think about it.
Istanbul is a visceral mix of history, religion and modernity that demands exploration. While there are many reasons to love Istanbul, the following are at the top of my list.
1. It’s the home of the magnificent Hagia Sophia
Imagine walking into a building that is so beyond your expectations that it takes you a minute to comprehend. That is the experience I had with the Hagia Sophia. It is without a doubt one of the most spectacular places I have ever been. In the 6th century A.D., the Hagia Sophia was built as a cathedral and remained so for 900 years until 1453 when the Ottoman empire seized the church, transforming it into a mosque. Five hundred years later in 1935, the Turkish government turned it into a museum. It has survived earthquakes and partial collapse, war and politics, and hopefully it will stand for another 1400 years.
When you first enter the main area through its large metal doors, the sheer size of the Hagia Sophia is overwhelming—it seems built for giants not humans. Throughout the building’s massive gold and blue interior, Christian icons formed by elaborate mosaics are combined with Arabic symbols. According to my guide, when the Hagia Sophia became a mosque everything Christian was hidden under plaster. Later when the government turned it into a museum the relics were uncovered and restored and left juxtaposed to the existing Muslim decor. It’s and odd but wonderful religious jumble that does justice to the many layers Hagia Sophia’s rich history.
2. The Galata Bridge’s sweeping views of Istanbul and its famed fishermen
In addition to the wonderful views of Istanbul and the Golden Horn over which it spans, the Galata bridge is like Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, it’s equal parts native hangout slash tourist attraction. While typically anything touristy gives me pause, the bridge is worth a visit. It’s a fantastic place to people watch, and though I was unable to go myself I hear it’s especially nice at sunset.
The bridge is also famous for the local fishermen it attracts. Some sell their catch at a nearby market but many line up eagerly along the edge, rods in hands and fish in tow, to indulge in a beloved hobby, chat, and a smoke with friends. Don’t forget your camera, there are a zillion opportunities here you won’t want to miss. When you get hungry there are many yummy food carts and cafés to choose from. If you’re obliged to bring back a few knickknacks to the folks at home, this is one of the many places you’ll find them.
3. If you love street food and green markets you may never leave
Throughout the city you’ll find a tasty array of food carts, green markets and shops worthy of the pounds you’ll undoubtedly gain during your visit. I certainly did. Nibbles that contributed to my expanding waistline included roasted chestnuts, fried baked goods that resembled donuts, corn on the cob, lamb sandwiches, baklava and dondurma (a.k.a. Turkish ice cream). Side note: Listen up parents, if you travel with the kiddies, you’ll love dondurma. It tastes like regular ice cream but it has a slightly chewy texture that resists melting. No more sticky messes that run down your kids’ hands, all over their clothes, and all over you. It’s genius!
4. Interiors that will take your breath away
Exquisite mosaics, tiles, stain glass windows and chandeliers are commonplace in the many mosques in Istanbul such as the Blue Mosque, Bayezid II Mosque, Rüstem Pasha Mosque and the Süleymaniye Mosque, among others. Just when you think you’ve seen the most dazzling display, another shines brighter. Not to be outdone, the Topkapi Palace, home of the sultans, isn’t too shabby either. The Chora Museum, once The Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, and now a museum, is also worth a spot on your itinerary. It’s one of the finest examples of a Byzantine Church and adorned with some divine mosaics and frescoes.