January 23, 2011

Turkish Delight [Travel Notes]

Istanbul is a huge noisy, interesting city, positioned a little in Europe and a lot in Asia. This important spot was known throughout history, and various nations have ruled from this city. Whoever ruled Constantinople, controlled the Bosphorus, the Black Sea and the Dardanelles opening into the Aegean Sea but also the vast lands to the south and east and the lands north, towards Europe.

King Constantine, a cruel and powerful Roman ruler, brought fame and fortune to this city, the Eastern part of the Roman Empire. He also became the first Roman ruler to become Christian – no doubt for political reasons. There is plenty of information available on his dubious influences on Christianity and the Bible, but he ordered the building of the beautiful St Sophia Basilica in Istanbul. Also known as Haga Sophia today, it is being restored to its past beauty after being used as a mosque and museum after the Ottomans took power.

Istanbul is filled with a cosmopolitan group of people; shops filled to the brim. It has colourful and disorganised streets, and has plenty of museums and places to eat, relax and chat. It is crowded yet one feels quite safe.

There are a range of food outlets available, from sit-down restaurants to “lie and chill” cafés, and even “instant” donor stands. Mielies are a favourite, served hot from push-carts positioned in the main thoroughfares.

The night-life is plentiful – catering for the international mix of this city, also called “European Capital of Culture for 2010” with Pecs in Hungary and Essen in Germany.

Shopping is one of the main reasons for visiting Turkey and the upmarket Taksim Square, the old city of Sultahnamet, the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaar (Egyptian Bazaar) are favourites in the capital. At the same time I would recommend visiting some websites such as TripAdvisor for some advice from other travellers. I found that prices (of Turkish carpets for instance) were not necessarily cheaper in Turkey.

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