There are so many horrible and indescribable things happening all over the world at the moment, events that have shocked the entire planet or smaller catastrophes that don’t even make it onto the news. It is a shame because our world is so extremely beautiful and we should be able to accept and respect all the different cultures and histories, otherwise we will never truly be able to appreciate our world. The incidences that have unfortunately occurred in Turkey over the past few months have been disastrous and scary, yes, but you cannot predict where or when anything could happen. Countries all over the world are continuously having problems with their governments or faced with the threat of a lone person acting out, the point is there is no way to know, you can’t give into the fear of the unknown. Turkey is an absolutely incredible country, there are few places in the world that can offer so much differing history, beauty, and culture in the one country, I mean it sits on two separate continents, how many other countries can claim that? Now I am by no means advocating for you to travel to somewhere where you are uncomfortable or do not feel safe, you should always be diligent and aware of yourself when exploring somewhere new, but I just feel like if you are wanting to go to a place badly enough you shouldn’t be put off by what might happen, and believe me when I say that Turkey deserves to be seen, and the best place to start is Istanbul.
Istanbul is often thought to be the capital of Turkey due to its overwhelming popularity with visitors, and of course because it actually was the capital up until the 1920s, then referred to as Constantinople. Throughout history it has been an important gateway from the west to the east and still represents that perfect blend. Important sites like the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque), the Topkapi Palace, and possibly most important of all the Hagia Sophia, or Aya Sofia, all lie close together within the old section Sultanahmet, and the more business side of the city with modern architecture and malls sitting appropriately within the New City, all of which are worthy of a visit. However, I cannot stress enough that you really, really, really need to visit the Hagia Sophia, it cannot be denied that it is the most incredible building in all of Turkey. Dating from 537 AD the Hagia Sophia is shrouded in history, originally built as a church before a fire consumed it, then rebuilt as a mosque in the 15th century, it now stands as a museum dedicated to the religions that it has served, showcasing some of the only inter-religious artefacts in the world.
Istanbul is just a maze of hidden treasures, cobbled stoned streets that take you from one lively street down to a small lane with just one cade on it offering what could possibly be the best Turkish tea in the city (not to be confused with the popular apple tea, which is mostly only drunk by tourists), or another street that is lined with some of the most magnificent traditional Turkish carpets. It’s like an entirely different world, the faint smells of flavoursome shishas drifting throughout the alleyways and the taste of Turkish delight never quite disappearing from your mouth, because you haven’t been able to stop trying all the weird and wonderful flavours that they have on offer. Oh and the spice markets, overflowing with beautiful bright scents and colours that have the ability to transport you to a whole other world entirely with just a small sniff of cumin or cloves.
The grand bazaar will fill you with a sense of excitement and adrenaline as you wander the aisles haggling with shop keepers that are always willing to give you a good deal so long as you’re up for a little game of back and forth, which is all in good fun. Gazing through the many shops, you’ll stumble upon the tacky gifts, but underneath you’ll find some of the most beautiful of gems from the smoothest silk scarves to the cutest little traditional tea sets. But the real treasures to be found are of course those lovely extravagant lamps and lanterns that seem to glitter and reflect the yellowish light, dazzling like a thousand diamonds getting hit by the sun and shimmering in a rainbow of colours. It is impossibly not to succumb into buying one, or many. A lot of the time there will be signs displaying taking photos is not allowed, but all you need to do is ask the shop attendant and they will most often than not allow you to take as many pictures as you want. Really the Turkish people are some of the friendliest people, if you can get past the up-front approaches to sales and have conversations with the locals you will be amongst some really great company.
It is hard to put into words the exquisiteness of this ancient city. I find myself completely and utterly in love with this town, I have as of yet to find a city that has been able to capture my heart in such a short amount of time, and I hope that more people will be willing to experience Istanbul, shrouded in history and beauty there is no way that anyone can be disappointed by it. So please try not to be too hyper aware of what the media is portraying because it is over dramatised as every Turk will tell you, which will only become apparent to you once you are there. But always remember to be cautious and wise whenever exploring a new place, and to never go anywhere that you do not feel safe or comfortable.