Hello, dear Reader! Today you and I – and my fiancé, William – are heading to Istanbul for a little jaunt. Turkey is getting some bad press these days, but Istanbul has an incredible history and is consistently rated among the top travel destinations in the world. Why? I’ll give you the CliffsNotes version (even though I totally judge people who use CliffsNotes):
One of the most widely known facts about Istanbul is that it is the world’s only transcontinental city. Straddling Europe and Asia, the city is surrounded by the Sea of Marmara and split by the mighty Bosphorous. Situated on seven hills, the landscape reminds me of San Francisco a bit.
Another interesting little nugget about this sprawling metropolis is the fact that Istanbul has served as the capital of three great empires: the Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire. It was given several names during these various reigns and the controversy over what to call the city was finally settled when Atatürk officially renamed the city Istanbul in the 1920s (previously it was called Constantinople). To ensure people used the new name, the Turkish post office refused to deliver any mail addressed to Constantinople. Alright, that’s enough history for now – let’s get moving!
Random (and Tasty) Asides
We settle into our seats on the plane and while my mind is racing with all of the exciting things to see in Istanbul, Billy is eagerly awaiting the in-flight meal. Having flown Turkish Airlines before, he assures me I am in for a real treat. I’m skeptical but the flight attendant soon hands me a menu and a small individually wrapped bite of pistachio Turkish delight. Normally, I don’t especially like Turkey’s signature gelatinous treat, but I figure anything with pistachio has to be good – and it is! Mint lemonade, a tasty bean salad, and almond cake…lunch is seriously good. I don’t mean to write a review of airplane food but you know, it’s the little things.
We are staying on the European side of the city in a neighborhood called Beyoğlu – a “happening” part of town. Our taxi driver, Şenol (pronounced Shen-all), is talkative as we make our way there. Not soon after we leave the airport, Şenol is waving and talking through the driver’s seat window to another taxi driver. He pulls over to the side of the road and the other taxi parks behind us. Oh great. This is it. This is the kidnapping or mugging everyone warned us would be inevitable if we visited Turkey. But Şenol comes back smiling and explains that was his friend. Onward we drive.
Şenol tells us about his many travels to the United States. He talks about New York, his family’s military history, and his penchant for Whitney Houston and Michael “Bubble” (Bublé). Throughout our drive he continues to beep and wave to other taxi drivers. I guess he’s not a killer after all; he’s just a taxi driver with a lot of friends who gets down to American pop on occasion.
It’s around 8PM by the time we settle into our cozy Airbnb apartment rental. (For those of you who don’t know about Airbnb, you really need to check it out). We walk over to the main thoroughfare, İstiklâl Caddesi, in search of dinner. Despite the fact that it is pedestrianized, this street certainly feels heavily trafficked. People are flooding out of cafes, restaurants, and nightclubs – I’m a bit overwhelmed by it all. Billy and I grab a quick dinner and scurry home. Suddenly I’m thankful we are staying a few blocks away from all of the excitement and bustle. We’ll conquer Istanbul tomorrow but for tonight, we enjoy tea and quiet reading time on our tiny couch.