As we travel the world eastbound, Turkey was the first place where we saw signs of censorship. Wikipedia is blocked and in the back of our minds, we knew that Erdogan’s government was facing international criticism for falling off the democratic bandwagon. And of course, the country was still hanging in a fine balance after a long, unfortunate series of terrorist attacks last year…
According to locals, tourism in Istanbul has taken a big hit since last year – but still, the Istanbul skyline was as beautiful as I was promised it would be. Really, there’s nothing that can prepare you for the sight of minarets and palaces that are peppered along the Bosphorus! Newer residential and commercial buildings are spread like an intense game of tetris across the sprawling city, but somehow it all seems to fit perfectly. Surprisingly, the public transportation system is efficient and organized, which sends a clear message that there is order to the chaos of this beautiful city.
Istanbul’s culture is strong, but diverse at the same time. The Islamic call to prayer (the ‘adhan’) sounds loudly over the city, but bars and music are all over the streets. Turkish men belt out heartfelt love songs on the street, and then patiently go on interludes until the adhan passes. Women stand naturally side-by-side, some wearing full veils while others wear dresses.
In the neighbourhood of Sultanamet, you can visit the Blue Mosque (referred to by locals as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque), the Aya Sofya and the Topkapi Palace within walking distance. The Aya Sofya was a Roman Catholic church, then a mosque and now is a museum. What I liked most about visiting the Aya Sofya was that both Christianity and Islam were respected equally, and I both wondered and hoped that the same can be said of places outside of Istanbul.
Nowadays, even in Instabul, Turkish flags dominate the streets and there are some people that even speculate the call for prayer has been made intentionally louder today than it was a year ago. What’s so special about Istanbul is that cultures and religions seem to co-exist side by side, and I really hope that this spirit of tolerance is left unhindered in the future.
The Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque):
The Aya Sofya:
View from Topkapi Palace (main palace of the Ottoman Sultans):
Views from the beautiful Bosphorus:
Rooftop shisha is the perfect way to see the sunset:
Our lovely airbnb host and fellow interesting travelers filming a vlog:
The Grand Bazaar:
Moda (artsy neighbourhood on the Asian side of Istanbul):