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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Travelling to Istanbul

Istanbul is Turkey's largest city, home to one of the world's busiest waterways, with links to the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. With an important position on the Silk Road and an advanced cultural history comparable to that of the Roman Empire, Istanbul is one the most historically rich cities in the world. 
However, what struck me first on arrival was not the history, but present atmosphere.  The streets of Istanbul are full of locals making a living by trying to convince you to buy products, consider menu's and enter stores.  This was only ever done with politeness, but as many unfamiliar with such trade (as I was) may find, it can be a gauntlet walking past shops until you've had some practice
I've been to a few countries, travelling as far as Iceland, but rarely to areas so focussed on the tourism industry.  Istanbul was declared a European 'City of Culture' in 2010, but visitors to the city come from everywhere, and all are catered for, which certainly makes Istanbul feel like a global city. 
The area has a multitude of famous landmarks, including the Topkapi Palace, residence of the Ottoman sultans for 400 years and home to priceless treasures and religious relics.  The Blue Mosque is also fascinating, built in the 1600's and still used as a site of worship.  Even below the city there are ancient cisterns, 9800 square metres in area, built in the 6th century during the Byzantine period.
Personally, I favour the bazaars; vibrant areas where the shops seem to spill on to the streets, although you may need some confidence to haggle proficiently.  If you succeed in this visitors can come away with spice, gold, handcrafted goods and exceptional watches which may or may not be genuine.
On the subject of religious requirements, it would always be polite to respect Islamic rules on clothing in the streets, but it is hardly necessary, adapted to guests as the city is.  However, it is necessary when visiting the mosques.  Men should wear trousers long enough to cover the knees and shirts which cover the shoulders.  Women will be asked to wear a headscarf which is often provided at mosques used to welcoming tourists.
However, the best advice is to go to the landmarks, try the famous Turkish coffee and sweet Baklava, get ready to haggle and maybe buy a tram card.  There is certainly no shortage of support for tourists

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