Featured writer: chrispresso
Stop reading this and go to Istanbul.
Wait, not so quick. Maybe you should read this first. But seriously, open up a new tab and start a search for airline tickets to Ataturk Airport (IST) on kayak, then flip back to me and let me tell you why you’re going to Turkey.
First of all, it’s probably not high on your bucket list.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, you need to fix that right now. If there’s one place I failed to consider in my bucket-list travel destinations, it was Istanbul, so don’t feel too bad about overlooking it. Trouble is, with all the chaos in the Middle East, you’re likely not looking in that part of the world for a vacation getaway. Worry not, my weary traveler, because Istanbul is not anywhere near the places you ought to be concerned about. It’s a modern, historic destination that has grown at a rapid, exciting pace. The people are proud of its old-world charm and its quietly powerful role in today’s global community.
So, have you bought your ticket yet?
No? Well allow me to persuade you further…
Istanbul is beyond gorgeous. It’s built on seven hills and straddling two continents, split down the middle by the beautiful (and busy) Bosphorus Strait. Locals call this city the “center of the cosmos,” and you truly do feel its gravitational pull when you see all the mixing cultures, foods, languages, and passions uniting here in this city of 15 million. You will learn as much about yourself in this city as you will about the Turkish locals who will welcome you with open arms and freshly brewed tea at any time of the day.
Did I mention it was beautiful? The rolling hills are covered in ancient architecture alongside evidence of its bustling metropolitan growth. Skyscrapers line the skyline alongside the minarets of mosques built as early as the year 600. That’s old. You will be surrounded by history. You will walk on crumbling city walls, visit historic underground cisterns, and gawk at enormous monuments of breathtaking grandeur. If you’ve ever wanted to have your mind blown, then walk into the Hagia Sophia and look up.
Do you like food? Afraid you’ll have a tough time if you’re a strict vegetarian, but for the rest of us there’s plenty to choose from. Try the local ravioli (mantı) or the simple delectable dish called iskender, which is lamb, potato, bread, and yogurt covered in sweet sheep butter and tomato sauce. I’m drooling just thinking about it. Speaking of yogurt, you’ll eat a lot of it, and it’s the thick and tasty kind that goes well with every meal. They even have a drink called ayran that’s made of yogurt, salt, and water, and it’s somewhat of an acquired taste but you’ll soon find it goes perfectly with the spicier meals. Have some meat-stuffed börek for breakfast. Careful, it’s addictive. Be sure to try a fish sandwich by the Galata Bridge, where they’re grilled right on the boat at the shore. For the adventurous, try the surprisingly delicious kokoreç sandwich, made with sheep or goat intestines, grilled fresh to order and spiced perfectly every time.
If you like to dance and stay out late, you’ll love Taksim Square. If you like sunsets, you’ll love Kadıköy’s shoreline. If you love ancient ruins, you’ll love taking the Bosphorus Tour north to the Yoros Castle. If you love beaches, check out Kilyos on the coast of the Black Sea. If you like old palaces, you’ll be drooling at the mouth during your tour of the Dolmabahçe Palace. If you like bikes, I recommend a 45 minute boat ride to one of the Princes’ Islands for a ride where no cars (only horse carriages) are allowed. Like nature? There’s an enormous forest about an hour north of the heart of the city, just take bus 42T along the coast to the Belgrade Forest. Want to go shopping? Some of the biggest malls in the world are in Istanbul (one of them, in Şişli, even has a roller-coaster inside). If you just like walking around aimlessly, then step outside of your hotel and pick any direction, because no matter where you wander the city will amaze you.
So since I know you’re about to book your flights now, I should give you some travel tips:
Learn some Turkish, it’s a beautiful language. Go to the Grand Bazaar once, but don’t buy anything. Try MADO ice cream, it’s made of goat’s milk and it’s absolutely fantastic. Wear your wallet in your front pocket, just in case. Regardless of your stance on the corporation, visit the Starbucks in Bebek and admire the best view from a Starbucks you’ll ever see. Try Turkish Coffee. Try not to eat too many Turkish delights. Expect the weather to be a bit unpredictable, especially around Spring. Don’t expect anything more than bumper-to-bumper traffic between 5 and 8 PM every day, so plan accordingly. Most of all, you will walk more than you’ve ever walked before, so invest in comfortable shoes, but you will love every second of it.
Have fun and tell Istanbul that Chris says, “Merhaba!”
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