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Four Days in Istanbul

Honestly, if you had asked me about traveling to Turkey a few years ago, I would have had no interest. My thoughts on Turkey were mostly formed by the German thoughts of the late 80s. As a twelve year old living in the small town of Nußloch, Germany, I saw many immigrant Turks and heard the various complaints that conservatives generally have about immigrants – They take our jobs, they live off welfare, they are dirty, etc. I didn’t think much of Turkey or have any desire to go. We did not put it in our plans for our trip.

After many attempts to arrange a time and place to meet up with Kelly’s sister and her husband, it turned out that late October was the only possible date. We would be in Europe. Where should we meet? If Oktoberfest comes to your mind, then you don’t realize that Oktoberfest is mostly during September. We looked into a variety of options that would be both warm and interesting and because Emy and Charlie would be traveling on miles, available seats. Istanbul rose up and after asking around and hearing lots of good things, became our destination.

As you know, I’m back at work in London these days but because I came back earlier than expected, they decided to give me a couple days to see my family who were flying all the way out to see us. I couldn’t spend the entire 2 weeks with them as planned, but this was still a nice gesture and substitute. Kelly was in Germany still traveling and this would also be a time that we could meet up.

I flew into Istanbul’s new Sahiba Gocken Airport and quickly got into a giant queue to get a visa. It seemed that nobody on our flight was actually Turkish. Turkey must be betting on their entry into the EU because the visa office seemed like a complete afterthought. Ah. Back to the developing world where nothing works quite right.

Is Turkey a developing world? I think so. It is a member of the Developing 8 Group, an alliance of developing countries with large Muslim populations. Other countries include Egypt (home to the world’s poorest city), Iran and Indonesia among others.

I didn’t realize that Istanbul was this massive – 15 million people. And while housing and infrastructure are certainly nicer than Thailand, you can still see many similarities.

I arrived without any knowledge of Istanbul. I hadn’t even glanced at a guidebook. Traveling so much can make you a bit arrogant. I wrote down the name and address of the hotel and assumed I’d figure it out when I got there. I got a little nervous after the first taxi told me he did not know the address and my phone wasn’t working.

But it all worked out. the next taxi knew where to go and while I think he squeezed a couple extra lira out of me by going an indirect way, I made it to the hotel and met up with the group.

Istanbul has some really impressive architecture and history. Sitting on both continents of Asia and Europe, it was smack dab in the middle of the trading routes between the two. It also served as the capital of the Roman empire at one time or another and has buildings dating back to the BC times. And while some sites could use a bit of maintenance, others are in great shape. The Aya Sofia, built in the 530s is one of most impressive structures I’ve ever seen. While it was built as a Christian church and then converted into a Mosque 1000 years later, it doesn’t look like any other cathedral I’ve ever seen. A massive and open building that looks both Roman and Muslim. A picture could never do it justice and you’ll just have to go one day.

Aya Sofia

We also spent time walking through the various neighborhoods and street markets. Nothing impressive really in any of those, except maybe some spices. Maybe if you’re into gold or rugs or low quality clothing, but we weren’t.More interesting to just sit in a cafe and people watch.

Istanbul might rank up there as the pushiest city, right next to some places in Vietnam. All of our taxi drivers were trying to scam us out of money and restaurants and even the nice hotel that Charlie and EMy stayed in (we stayed in a budget hostel) were hassling us. It can be a bit overwhelming to hear somebody yell at you when you ignore their requests to eat at their place or shop in their store – in every other place, people would realize you weren’t interested but in Istanbul that get angry about it.

I don’t want to leave you with a bad impression. It would have been nice to stay and I would go back one day. Kelly is still there for the rest of the week, so we’ll have to see what she says when she returns.

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