Eight days in Istanbul was the perfect amount of time to explore the bustling city whilst also taking everything in slowly and getting a good feel for it. By the end of my stay in the largest city in Turkey, I felt like a local and had really immersed myself into the culture and lifestyle that is experienced by the 13 million that inhabit it.
Istanbul is a city that has everything. The architecture is not only from yesteryears but also modern times, with both mosques and skyscrapers towering the city. There are also certain areas that could be termed slums. I didn’t expect the city to be as modern as it was, but it still has old-world charm and it’s easy to imagine it from years gone by.
Marco and I visited most of the attractions within a couple of days of arriving in Istanbul like the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque (amongst many other mosques), shopping in the Grand Bazaar, a Galatasaray football match (yes, I’ve started calling it football instead of soccer), Taksim Square and Istiklal Street. The highlights for me were the trips to the Asian side of Istanbul which I did on two separate occasions; the first a day trip down the Bosphorus, which is the body of water that divides Istanbul into Europe and Asia and the second, a short ferry ride across to Üsküda. I also enjoyed getting lost whilst walking around the city with my headphones in listening to music.
The Five Senses of Istanbul
Istanbul looks like scams. Thankfully, we didn’t fall for this scam and picked up on it. Essentially, men walk around the city carrying a stool and boot polish equipment and ‘drop’ a brush in front of unsuspecting tourists, who always stop to pick it up and give it back. The man then makes small talk before pressuring the tourist into a boot polish and charges extortionate rates, and if not paid, will cause a scene which ends only when the money is paid. I must have witnessed this at least 10 times!
Istanbul smells like smoke. Whether it’s the smell of smoke arising from the street food being cooked, the smell of the cigarettes or the smell of shisha, Istanbul has a distinct smoky smell about it.
Istanbul feels like sunshine. For the first time in three months I was able to wear shorts outside! Hooray! It might have only been 13 degrees, but the sun was shining and I jumped at the chance to air my legs and capitalize on the vitamin D on offer.
Istanbul tastes like kebabs. I can’t even recall the number of kebabs I ate during my time in Istanbul, but if I were to hazard a guess, it would definitely be more than 20! They are cheap at about $3AUD each, but are very dry (no sauce at all) and not the kebabs I’m used to. Give me a kebab with garlic and chili sauce from Perth any day!
Istanbul sounds like prayer time. All over the city are the sounds of men chanting and saying prayers that are piercing to the ears and blare over loud speakers outside each mosque. It lasts about 10 minutes and occurs five times a day. Fun.
Istanbul was my final destination in Europe and I also ticked over three months since my trip began in November! Asia and Europe were amazing, but now it’s onto South America!
Country number 40 – Turkey… Check!