Istanbul is [Insert east-meets-west cliche here]

I decided on the one-hour flight to Istanbul from Selcuk rather quickly.  The alternative was a 12-hour (probably overnight) bus ride in which I would have arrived too early at a hostel to check in forcing me (and my need-to-wash-everyday hair) onto the streets too tired to appreciate any thing.  So, even though the flight was 4 times the cost of the bus I still consider it a good choice.  (And big thumbs up to Turkish Airlines for serving a snack and drink on the 50 minute flight – take that any airline in the US.)

The airport is conveniently connected by public transportation to the main center of town.  The metro train connected with the tram which was eventually packed to the brim.  Luckily, I boarded the tram at the beginning of the line and was able to snag a seat.  The fun part was shoving myself and my luggage out at my stop.  When I finally looked up after playing with my bag that first view of the Blue Mosque literally took the air out of me.  That doesn’t happen often.

I found my hostel easily by myself even though a couple people asked me where I was going and if they can help me find my hostel.  Those people were carpet shop owners and were perhaps buttering me up for a possible future sale.  Istanbul is notorious for its’ carpet sellers and their polite tactics in which you feel bad for shrugging them off.  Every time I left or returned to the hostel it was like running the gauntlet.  One man asked if my dad owned a candy shop because I was “sweet”.  Gag me!!  He was trying to get me in his carpet shop and when I said no he insisted I have one of his business cards.  “Come in and I’ll get you a business card.”  It is never just a business card.

I hit all the major tourist sites in the area over two days- the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, and the Grand Bazaar.  The Blue Mosque is one of the few mosques in the world that allow non-Muslims in.  The day I visited there were cruise ship passengers galore and most of them did not respect the customs of a mosque by remaining quiet and for women to cover their heads.  There were also people blatantly taking photos of the men performing their prayers.  Signs posted at the entrance negate any “I didn’t know” claims.  The sad part was that most of the accents were American.

The Hagia Sofia faces the Blue Mosque almost like they are in competition with each other.  Originally built as a Christian church, the Hagia Sofia, also known as Aya Sofia, was converted to a mosque centuries ago.  Today, the Hagia Sofia is not used as a practicing mosque.  Recent renovations have uncovered Christian mosaics.  Imagine that… two major religions side-by-side in one building – Arabic script next to images of Christ.  The juxtapositions is endless.

The Grand Bazaar is a great respite during hot days because it is covered.  Here’s a tip: go during peak times because there will be a greater ratio of shoppers to sellers which means less of a hassle.  It’s unfortunate that I visited the Grand Bazaar last because at that point I was just tired of complete strangers wanting to talk to me.  It’s never genuine.  They want something from you.  One man asked if he could ask me one question.  I continued to walk by and said no.  He then said, “Really?” like he was shocked that someone would say no.  I didn’t turn around, waved my hand, and said “yup.”  I then heard him say something about being rude.  It is never one question and if I stopped and talked to everyone that approached me I would still be in Istanbul today!

I also rode the “Hop-on, Hop-off” bus one afternoon.  So, I did get to go to the Asian-side of Istanbul which is no different than the European-side of Istanbul.  (FYI, Istanbul is the only city on two continents.  Hey, you might need that on Jeopardy one day!)

Istanbul is a great city and one of my favorites so far.  The sights are amazing and it’s easy for English-only tourists.  Just try not to get sucked in by the charms of shop and restaurant owners and above all keep your sense of humor when dealing with them.  My little taste of Turkey left a good impression and I will get back there someday.


2 Responses to “Istanbul is [Insert east-meets-west cliche here]”

  1. 1 Malena June 15, 2008 at 4:40 am

    Ha this really brought back memories of my trip to Turkey. I found that after leaving Istanbul things looked up. Also Taxim Square (spelling?) was very nice without all the touts. I loved Turkey but hated the hassle… I’ve heard Egypt is even worse which really worries me! At the time I could laugh off the annoying carpet sellers because I was with a friend, but being by myself… well, I guess I’ll see.

    Anyways sorry for the long digressive me-first comment, have fun relaxing at home! And enjoy some good Mexican food… you can’t find it anywhere outside of North America.

  2. 2 mandy July 11, 2008 at 9:54 pm

    Istanbul was Constantinople, now it’s Istanbul not Constantinople, been a long time gone Constantinople, why did Constantinople get the works? That’s nobody’s business but the Turks! ahhhhhh

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