In our most recent adventure, Daniel and I found ourselves spending a long weekend with my parents in Istanbul. I left that trip with a new favorite city. “İstanbul, seni seviyorum.”
Funny enough, our decision to visit was made purely on logistics. My parents wanted to visit us in Moldova, and there are simply no direct flights from anywhere in the US to Chișinău. Knowing that they would have to layover, we thought of building in a few days in the layover city. They could recover from jet lag, and together we could all experience something a little touristy before heading to Moldova. Stopping in Istanbul was by far the simplest and cheapest. So there you have it – a practical decision.
But are practical decisions really the best ones when it comes to travel?? In this case – yes. A resounding, 100% yes. Would I recommend a trip to Istanbul even if it wasn’t convenient? Also a 100% yes. So hurry up, find your reason (indulgent, practical, or otherwise), and get yourself over to Istanbul pronto. Still need more convincing? Then here are five reasons just for you.
1. The Zest – both flavors and culture
I think the vibrancy of life in Turkey was especially poignant to me after my time in Moldova. Moldovan culture is lovely, but as I have written before, it is often buried under a layer of concrete and resignation.
Turkey, on the other hand, feels electric. The colors are bright, the flavors are spiced, the historical building are gilded and ornate.
My eye caught something in every direction I looked. Which, in fact, felt a little dangerous on the bustling streets. And let me tell you – it seems like ALL the streets are bustling in Istanbul.
2. The Location
It’s no coincidence that a thriving city has existed in this location for millennia. The Bosphorus Strait is a natural waterway that connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara (which then eventually connects with the Mediterranean.) It functioned in the past, obviously, as a major trade route. But even today, the strait was jam packed with all types of cruise ships, private yachts, and enormous freighters.
But more than just a geographic aspect of Istanbul, the Bosphorus also holds this metaphorical significance that I find really cool. It literally divides Istanbul into its European and Asian sides.
As a tourist, I found the city anything but divided. In fact, I think my favorite aspect of Istanbul was the blending of “east” and “west” cultures. To be fair, our experience was certainly a touristic one, and all my impressions come from that viewpoint. But even so, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was somehow in Europe and somehow not.
Just as the physical geography of Istanbul speaks of it’s status as a crossroads between Europe and Asia, so does the architecture. I loved seeing minarets attached to buildings not originally built as mosques. Or even the strange blending of cultures within buildings themselves.
3. The History
The depth of history in this place is just overwhelming. Let’s be honest – London or Munich felt “old” per my American standards. But Istanbul? It’s in a league of its own.
Because I’m married to Daniel, we obviously visited at least one museum in addition to our guided tour. And yes, it was remarkable. (Just don’t tell Daniel. I have a pretentious museum reputation to upkeep.) The museum had dozens of pieces that would have been the centerpiece in many museums in America.
The amazing thing about Istanbul, though, is that you don’t have to visit a museum. Literally just go for a walk and you will inevitably pass things that are older than any building constructed in the United States.
But of course, you can also make planned stops. Below is the Tower of Constantine, which I would have thought was merely a pigeon nesting pillar if my Dad hadn’t told me otherwise. It turns out it’s quite old and still standing.
4. The Hospitality
Again, perhaps my view of hospitality has been colored by Moldova. I would rate Moldovan restaurants generally less than hospitable (though Moldovans in their homes embody the very word and then some.) In any case, I was a complete sucker for the warm reception everywhere we went in Istanbul.
Yes – I know this is part of the tourist economy, and yes – I know that it is part of a ploy to get you to eat more, do more, spend more, etc. But can’t a girl still be tickled with all the free tea and desserts? If you know the game, then I think it’s pretty fun to play along.
5. The beauty and character
Istanbul didn’t possess the fake, glossy charm of a Disney theme park. But somehow its authentic character still came across as charming.
Perhaps it was the cats and dogs all over the streets. They seemed well fed and satisfied, especially the cat sleeping on a car windshield.
But it was also the painted walls and tiled ceilings and colorful shops. Each were charming and beautiful in their own right, but together they were an absolute feast for the senses.
The three and a half days we spent in the city passed like the blink of an eye. I found myself thinking, “maybe we should have spent our year abroad in Istanbul instead of Chișinău?” (Though I hear Turkish is harder to learn than Romanian.)
With so much of this beautiful world left to see, I still hope that one day I will find myself back in Istanbul. And on that trip I will have to plan for 30 days instead of 3.