Over the past few years, I’ve become preeeetty awesome at hacking flights. When a friend of mine mentioned how cheap flights to Turkey were, I quickly realized I could save $700 by flying to Croatia through Istanbul.
It’s worth noting that flights to Turkey during the summer of 2016 were cheap for a reason. The sharp increase of terrorist activity in the middle east had scared off many travelers from a country that borders SYRIA. Just weeks after I returned from this trip, the airport was attacked. Factor in that I would be forced to spend at least one night in the city as a petite white girl. My aunt made it very clear that she did not support my budget-friendly idea, but I was unemployed at this point and desperate to make this trip happen without putting myself in debt. I went for it.
Looking back, my only regret is that I didn’t stay longer. Istanbul was exquisite. I’ve wandered markets in Asia, Europe, and South America… but nothing can compare to the Grand Bazaar, air filled with spice and shops laden with rich fabrics and artwork, men soliciting their hand in marriage….
I truly never felt unsafe in Istanbul, although there were moments of mild discomfort. The men I encountered in Istanbul were by far the most aggressive of any other place I’ve been, frequently inviting themselves to accompany me or to be “my friend.” Although I tried to politely decline at first, I quickly realized the only way to get rid of unwanted men following you down the street is to get a bit salty.
Even a couple over-friendly Turkish men weren’t enough to taint my amazement of the city. As I checked off some of the obvious tourist stops, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Spice Market… I grew more and more impressed with the intricacies of the architecture and culture. I’ve always felt there’s something special about ancient cities, and Istanbul certainly had a lot of history. Hagia Sophia, for example, has been both a Christian temple and a Muslim mosque. Now, as a museum, it offers a unique look into both religious traditions.
The integration of Islam into the city makes for some surreal experiences. There is something profoundly eerie about walking through the streets of a market when the mosques begin their call to prayer.
Over the last year, I have watched Islamophobia grow in my own country. Visiting Turkey during such a sensitive period offered a unique look into the facts about Islam. One of the most moving moments of my trip was when I visited the Blue Mosque and saw multiple brochures and signs inviting visitors to learn more about Islam from the Islamic people their selves. It struck me as a genuine and peaceful effort to combat some of the misinformation surrounding violent narratives in the west. Islam is built on a foundation of peace and kindness. However, like ALL major religions, extremists have used the messaging of their beliefs to excuse violent acts.
Last detail, but certainly not least… the food. Oh-my-god. So good. My sweet tooth was in HEAVEN as I snacked on Turkish delight and baklava throughout the day. I spoiled myself with tea on coffee. I feasted on a fancy dinner with my hostel roommate while watching the sunset light up the blue mosque. It’s tragically unfair that I couldn’t bring home leftovers.
Never in my travels has one 48-hour experience changed me so profoundly. I mean, usually I am not so rushed. However, this city is one that I plan to return to, without a doubt.
Why visit Istanbul?
If you love learning about the ancient history of two major world religions, visit Istanbul. If you’re looking to invest in some exquisite artwork, china, or fabric, visit Istanbul. If you want to challenge your culinary palate and your preconceived notions of Islam, visit Istanbul. You won’t regret it.