There is only one city in the whole world which can boast the title of sitting on two continents. It’s a pretty impressive title, you have to admit, and when you’re driving over a bridge, literally with one half of your car in Asia and the other half in Europe, you could be forgiven for feeling a little special, even for a second.
I am of course talking about Istanbul, Turkey’s huge city, with the enviable title its own.
Before we go any further, let’s clear up something – Istanbul is not the Turkish capital, Ankara is, so don’t be mistaken. Istanbul is however one of the largest cities in the whole of Europe, let alone Turkey, so it certainly begs to be explored. One tip – wear comfortable shoes, you’re really going to need them.
I wasn’t so sure about visiting Istanbul at first, because my experiences of Turkey have always been on the south coast, where the beach resorts are, but I wanted to explore the ‘real’ Turkey, so I was advised to head there by a Turkish friend of mine. What greeted me was a) freezing cold temperatures, but that’s my own fault for travelling in January, and b) something really rather special.
The moment you arrive there is a hustle and bustle about the place, but it’s all so laid back at the same time. The locals are friendly, even though the feel of the most popular parts of the city, such as Sultanahmet and Taksim, is frenetic at best
I didn’t find getting around the city particularly hard, and I made great use of the Metro system, once I figured it out. It’s like anything really, if you get stuck, ask someone, and once you’ve done it, you’re good to go for the rest of your trip.
There are definite must visit places in Istanbul, and if you miss them, you really do miss out. My one stand out attraction blew my socks off – Hagia Sofia. This is basically where Christianity and Islam come together, and the result is something so beautiful and peaceful, it has to be seen to be believed. There is a feeling of calm once you walk into the building, and the huge hallway with lights that seem to hang in mid air. Sitting across from Hagia Sofia, and simply stunning from the outside, is the famous Blue Mosque, which should be on everyone’s must visit list. You will need to adhere to mosque etiquette, such as women covering their heads etc, and shoes removed for all, but the staff at the door will help you.
These two iconic attractions are in the Sultanahmet region of the city, which is the most historic part. Close by is the Grand Bazaar. Now, first things first, make peace with the fact that you’re going to get lost, even the locals do, and once I got in, I was a little concerned about how I was going to get out, but I soon lost myself again – in the sights, sounds and scents around me. It was truly intoxicating.
I can’t possibly list everything there is to see and do in Istanbul, there is simply too much, but what I can say is this – go, explore, and breathe it all in, because there truly is nowhere else on earth quite like it.