I never made it inside the Blue Mosque or Hagia Sofia – too crowded for me. I did go to the Archaeology Museum, which was fantastic even though much of it was closed due to construction. There aren’t many other places where you can see a 4,000 year old Sumerian shopping list written on a stone tablet. The collection is vast, with artifacts from the beginning of western civilization through the Roman and Byzantine periods. Just the junk in the hallway to the men’s room would make a pretty good museum.
One day I took a boat up the Bosporus to the Black Sea, and another day I took a ferry to Buyukada Island in the Marmara Sea and rode a bike around the island (a popular pastime – it was crowded even on a weekday). I got up early one morning (jet lag) and ran a few miles along the Bosporus as the sun came up and the city was still quiet. Without the traffic and crowds you can really appreciate the amazing views. Unfortunately the city is so large and spread out that it is impossible to take a photograph that shows its beauty.
For me the best days were spent wandering around the different parts of the city. Like most European cities Istanbul has areas dedicated to certain commodities – a shoe district, a hardware district, and so on. But because Istanbul is so large (about 20 million people) the areas are huge. Instead of a street dedicated to shoe stores, there are several blocks of shoe stores – hundreds if not thousands of shoe stores with every imaginable type of shoe.
There is also more specialization. There is one street of stores that sell nothing but springs, and another that has nothing but belt buckles. You can buy raw materials for making belt buckles, machinery for making belt buckles, and any style of belt buckle, but if you want a belt you have to go somewhere else – this street only has buckles (I’m sure there is another street somewhere that only has belts).
Like everywhere, prices are proportional to how close you are to a tourist attraction. A leather jacket might be $100 at the Grand Bazaar, which seems like a pretty good deal. Walk a couple of miles down the street to a market with fewer tourists, however, and the same jacket will be $10. No, I didn’t buy anything.
Another thing that seems universal is the idea that all problems are caused by foreigners, usually illegal immigrants. In Turkey that means Syrians. There really aren’t that many homeless people here, but several people told me the Syrian beggars are ruining the place. And apparently Istanbul was virtually crime free until Syrians showed up a couple of years ago. When I get to Italy the sentiment will be the same, but it will be Libyans instead of Syrians. And at home of course it’s those damned Canadians.
I also am amazed at how hard people outside the U.S. work. The man at the front desk of my hotel has been there every day for about 12 hours a day. I asked when is his day off and he said when business is slow. When is that? November.
Istanbul is a great city for those of us who prefer tea to coffee. One is offered tea everywhere, usually free. If you are looking in a shop window the proprietor will often invite you in for tea. At breakfast You get tea unless you ask for coffee, and after dinner they bring you tea. It is usually chai ( much milder and better tasting than our chai) served in a small glass beaker.
All in all it’s been a nice visit. The weather has been very nice. The tulips are in bloom. The people are hospitable. The sights are fine. The food is good. What’s not to like?
In the morning I leave for the Dolomites.