Most of the slots on my list of destinations to travel to are occupied by European or Southeast Asian cities. But after visiting Istanbul, Turkey I understand why it is currently one of the top tourist destinations.
While I stayed in the modern part of town near Taksim Square, the funucular (or tram) into the historical area was cheap and convenient. The first stop I made was to Sultanahmet Square where the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Basilica Cistern are. Each site showed a kind of grandiose beauty and attention to detail that isn't as common anymore in modern day architecture:
|Sultan Ahmet Mosque|
|Medusa head in the Basilica Cistern|
Next up was the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market, and the shopaholic in me was expecting to have a culturally charged experience that would stimulate all five of my senses. Unfortunately, I was severely disappointed. Though each place did have a hint of local charm, nearly all the stalls sold the same souvenirs and same flavors of turkish delight. They seemed to cater only to the overwhelming mass of tourists that inundated the markets:
But that wasn't the most unsavory part. For thirty minutes I heard a nonstop chorus of, "Hey! Excuse me, where you from?" and "What you want? What you need?". I was even slightly offended when I was asked if I was "from Gangnam style?" and when someone said to me loudly, "Konichiwa!". Perhaps it was because I was a woman wandering around by myself in a place where males are socially dominant. Or perhaps it was because there is little racial diversity in Istanbul, and they were surprised to see an Asian person. Whatever the reason, the extra (and slightly aggressive) attention I received was off-putting and I couldn't wait to leave.
Luckily, the bustling streets of Istanbul were filled with a wider variety of stores with less assertive salespeople. I even found a little produce stand selling giant figs (my favorites!):
My next day in Istanbul was more restorative than it was active. After a day of cruising around the Bosphorus Sea, my friend Montana and I checked out Cemberlitas Hamami, a traditional Turkish bath house. We got traditional Turkish scrub downs and aromatherapy massages. The women who washed and massaged us had very playful "tough love" kind of attitudes. It was very different from the high class and posh massage experiences we have in the states:
|Yacht-ing with China, Victor, Montana, and Tamina|
|Enjoying the view with Montana and Sarah|
On my last day in Istanbul I took a stroll through Topkapi Palace, the primary residence of the Ottoman sultans during their time of power. The mosaics were beautiful and the views even more breathtaking:
Istanbul is a great example of how a city preserves its rich history without allowing modern infrastructure to overtake and overwhelm it. Granted, the area I stayed in was saturated with luxury brands like Ritz Carlton and high end shopping like Chanel. But the historic district had few displays of western influences (excluding the Burger Kings). I've never been in a place as culturally foreign as Istanbul (remember, I'm Taiwanese so Asia wasn't a big shock), and I really appreciated the challenge of navigating the city for a few days.
Will the next destination be more or less culturally familiar? I've never been to Greece before, so I guess I'll soon find out!