Istanbul – My Favorite Port City
Written by: Kuki
Istanbul is my own personal favorite city in the world.
To be frank, prior to my first visit to Istanbul it wasn’t high on my list of cities to visit. I hadn’t studied it much; knew only a little about its history, and even less about its society.
It is the only city in the world that sits on two continents; Europe and Asia, with a population of around 20 Million, and on that basis alone it was intriguing.
Our first visit to the city was because it was the embarkation city for a cruise. Particularly for a cruise in Europe, or the Mediterranean, or any distant port, Mrs. Kuki and I plan for arrival a few days early; both to explore a bit, and rid ourselves of the jet lag from long flights, prior to beginning the cruise. As well, it gives luggage a chance to catch up to you if it’s lost during in transport, which is also not all that uncommon on overseas flights, which require change of airplanes to make connections.
The neighborhood of Sultanahmet hosts many of the top historical sites of the city that you’re going to want to see, so I recommend a hotel in this area. In this area you’re within easy walking distance of a number of major sites, as well as many options for local dining.
What was important to the experience was as Mrs. Kuki and I walked everywhere we wanted to go in the day, as well as in the evenings, we never felt fear, or threatened, or any discomfort at all in our travels through the neighborhood. We felt welcome by the community life we enjoyed and participated inwhile there. We had little difficulty finding English speakers when we asked for suggestions, or directions.
Within the area of the Sultanahmet neighborhood there are three major historical sites to visit, each within walking distance of each other. I highly recommend hiring a knowledgeable tour guide for the day, who can take you through all three in a day, and give you a fascinating guide through the centuries.
One of the most visually impressive, and historically pertinent is Topkapi Palace, which was the home of the Ottoman Sultans beginning in 1478. Audio guide rentals are available to guide you through the various structures and rooms, with thousands of artificats on display, if you tour on your own. Though I believe a living personal guide will make the experience more impactful.
Another incredible structure is the Hagia Sophia; originally built as the Church Of Holy Wisdom, with majestic Roman architecture, it was later used as a Mosque, and today serves as museum.
Also, along this stretch is the magnificent Blue Mosque. It garnered the widespread use of the nickname Blue Mosque due to the dominating use of the color blue in it’s interior. It is an incredible structure easily spotted if you are entering the port of Istanbul from the sea. To enter you’ll be required to remove your shoes, and bare legs for either men or women is not allowed, however blue sheets are handed out to tie around your waist during your visit, in the event you are wearing shorts, or skirts and dresses deemed too short to be respectful of the Mosque.
Even those with minimal knowledge of the city will most likely have heard about the legendary Grand Bazaar, the first “souk” (essentially shopping mall) in the world. Even if you’re not looking to buy, the experience of simply wandering through this ancient mall, with over 4000 stores is an incredible experience. If you’re shopping, you’ll find everything from Turkish Delight, to an amazing selection of leather goods, to simple sovenirs, to the famed Turkish rugs.
If you’re buying you must understand bargaining for price is a significant part of the buying experience. Regardless of it’s Turkish Delight or expensive jewelry be brazen with your bargaining position. Make it fun and you’ll long remember the experience, and have wonderful memories later when looking at whatever it is you purchased.
Also within walking distance is the famous Spice Market. Not near the size of the maze like Grand Bazaar, the wonderful odors of the spices, herbs, and vegetables sold here give the senses an aromatic feel and taste of the history of Istanbul.
For a step outside of history, and a sampling of more modern Istanbul, I recommend an evening taxi ride to take you Taksim Square; a large pedestrian mall area, with no shortage of upscale shopping, street hawkers, bars, clubs, cafes, and restaurants.
While there are many cities I’ve been fortunate enough to visit over the years, there are many more that I haven’t yet visited, and I suppose I’ll always hope that the next one will supplant Istanbul as my new favorite. But for now I’m satisfied with Istanbul topping my list, and look forward to being able to return to enjoy and experience much more of the city, that I’ve missed on previous visits.
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Posted: December 4th, 2012 under Kuki.