After a rather tedious visa process, I finally got to visit Turkey, which I have been meaning to for a few years now. Despite all the travel advisories that have been issued against Turkey, I found Istanbul safe,with heavy police presence in several areas.
Istanbul is an incredibly interesting, large city, with an endless array of restaurants, cafes, malls and art galleries to choose from. It also has a vibrant night life, that could rival that of London or New York.
It has a rich history, which spans several centuries and eras, including the Byzantium, Roman and Ottoman empires. Today, several of Istanbul’s historical sites are listed under the UNESCO World Heritage list.Furthermore, it is uniquely placed; on the Bosphorus Strait and extends into both the European and Asian continents.
Turkey is not only popular for its numerous tourist attractions but also for the delectable dishes found in each region. In Istanbul, you should definitely sample some authentic Turkish food such as a sumptuous Kebab (or Kebap as spelled out in Turkish). My favourite Kebaps were the Döner and Adana Kebaps.
Turkey is also known for its fresh black or green olives and its grapes, which are exported the world-over. Turkish meals referred to as a Mezze often include several small dishes to share among a group of people.
Old City Istanbul
The Old City of Istanbul is a pleasant area to walk through while exploring its historical sights. It is easy to get there via metro or the tram. The main sights found here include the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace and the Byzantine Hippodrome.
I managed to fit in a visit to three major sights in one busy day in the city. The first being the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, also known as the Sultan Ahmet Camii or the ‘Blue Mosque’ because of the lovely blue tiles lining its interior.
Sultan Ahmed Mosque
The magnificent Blue Mosque can easily be spotted, towering over the old city part of Istanbul. It is famous for the beautiful blue tiles found in the Mosque’s interior and its six minarets. Usually, mosques have up to 4 minarets.
The Blue Mosque was commissioned to be built in the 16th Century, by Sultan Ahmet 1, who was only 19 years old at the time. Once completed, it comprised several sections including a Madrasa (Theological school), large courtyards and a kitchen to feed the poor.
Once inside the awe-inspiring monument, you can spend ages admiring the patterns carved out on stained glass and the large, domineering archways found all over the Mosque.
A few things to consider while visiting the Blue Mosque are:
- It is important to dress modestly and cover up your arms and legs. Women are asked to wear head scarfs. But if you don’t have the right attire, there is no need to fret, as there is a collection point for a loose-fitting dress and head scarf that you return after your visit.
- You will be required to remove your shoes as you enter the Mosque
- The Mosque will be closed off to visitors during the five daily prayer times
Hagia Sophia, also known as Ayasofya was a Cathedral built in Constantinople (now Istanbul), under the Byzantine empire. Today it is seen as one of the World’s greatest architectural wonders and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The ‘Hagia Sophia’ means ‘holy wisdom’ and has been rebuilt three times over the centuries. It went from being a Cathedral under different empires and converted into a Mosque in 1453, by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmet II. It was later turned into a museum, in the 1930’s.
Unfortunately, I did not get the chance to check out the interior of the Hagia Sophia but it is definitely on my travel list.
The Hippodrome of Constantinople was a public arena for chariot races, in ancient Byzantion. It was a spot of entertainment, political protests and insurgency during the Byzantine and Ottoman empires.
Today, the square is a lovely spot to spend time in. It includes a serene park, where families and couples can be seen relaxing in; an Egyptian Obelisk located in the middle of the square; and several quaint restaurants and cafes, where you can enjoy a Turkish meal or coffee/tea.
This is a natural strait linking the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and is one of the largest tourist attractions in Istanbul. This is not a surprise considering how beautiful and captivating it is.
The strait separates the European side of the city from the Asian side. A trip to Turkey would not be complete without visiting it. You can also take a cruise across the waters or even have a dip in the water during the summer.
Bodrum lies on a peninsula and was home to the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, which was considered one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World. It was later destroyed by earthquakes in the Middle Ages (Retrieved from wikitravel.org/en/Bodrum).
The beach destination is very popular with both Turkish and European tourists, looking for a summer break or a retirement home. Luxury yachts in the Marinas, beach-front bars, night clubs and restaurants as well as shopping stalls can be found in most parts, to cater to a wide variety of tastes.
It’s pulsating night life usually attracts a majority of young groups of people ready to party. However, after the terrorist attacks that have rocked Turkey since 2015, the number of tourists flocking to Bodrum has drastically dropped.
Despite the affected business and quiet streets, the view of the Sea and surrounding nature was breath-taking and worth the flight I took from Istanbul. With temperatures rising to as high as 40 degrees Celsius, I couldn’t help jumping into the water, at ‘Happy Beach’ , to cool off every once in a while.
I noticed that the city has a large number of stray dogs roaming around. Referred to as ‘Sea Dogs’, they seem quite friendly and are sometimes fed by people passing by or curious tourists.
As my short trip to Turkey came to an end, I wished there was more time to explore its fantastic destinations. I’ll definitely need to return in the future.