Istanbul is one of those cities recognized by its numerous, almost glamorous like mosques that are a permanent fixture in the landscape. The streets are packed with cultural identity, heritage and life. Shops boasts fresh kebab meat on a spindle turning slowly around the flame in a methodical, circular motion as the meat juices fall to the pan to join the french fries and vegetables at the bottom. Street sellers are cracking and roasting chestnuts that fill the air with an aroma distinguishable during the holidays–tempting every pedestrian to buy a bag for 10 TL. Istanbul is a tourist friendly city in the sense that one is always surrounded by a tourist or expat. Public transportation is available in all forms: train, metro, bus and ferry, which are all affordable and practical ways of seeing the city. Unlike Lebanon, English is not widely spoken, but the locals are more than happy to help when they can.
The city has an abundance of entertainment to offer the curious, not afraid to wander off the main streets sort of traveller. In many neighborhoods around the city, whole streets are dedicated to antique and vintage stores that possess everything from old photographs and jewelry to clothes and furniture. Around every corner, you can guarantee sweets shops and other small Turkish fast food shops. In every sweets store, everything from Turkish delights to a dozen varieties of baklava and chocolate covered nuts, are displayed decoratively with a purpose. Turkish delights or lokum are kept in their long, cylindrical form to be stacked in a pyramid form. Like apple pie is to the Americans or Cannolis are to the Italians, Turkish Delights are a must taste when in Istanbul. They are based on a gel of starch and sugars. Premium varieties include pistachios, chopped dates, and walnuts. The square of soft, gooey confection is rolled in powered sugar or cocoa powder to prevent clinging and to provide that extra sweetness.
Even if you don’t consider yourself religious or identify with a particular god, churches, synagogues and mosques are man-made wonders left from Roman, Byzantium and Ottoman eras that are must go to places for anyone who appreciates architecture, design and history. The mosques, churches and museums are scattered throughout the city, so if you want to take your time and view them in their entirety, you will need more than a day. Most notably, across the Galata Bridge and past the Grand Bazaar, is home to the most well-known mosques in Turkey: Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) and Rüstem Pasha Mosque. Sultanahmet Mosque, also referred as the Blue Mosque, is Istanbul’s only mosque with six minarets and was built-in the early 17th century. It is referred to as the Blue Mosque due to the color of the light reflected by the cobalt tiles. When inside the mosque, one wouldn’t believe this was built-in a time without advanced equipment and technology. The craftsmanship and attention to details should not be overlooked.
Istanbul is a city that appreciates its history, language and culture. It respects tradition, while maintaining a level of modernity in its city scape and transportation sector. Graffiti artists are appreciated for their detailed, creative wall art that decorate bland buildings, and street musicians are valued entertainment during one’s daily commute. Foreigners are welcome with open arms and minds. Istanbul is a city with something for everyone.