Istanbul: Easy on the (evil) eyes

In case you’ve ever read another little blog of mine called Cafe & Mate, which chronicles my time working as an ESL teacher in Buenos Aires, you know that I’m a travel junkie. If you also happened to notice the archive dates, you’ll realize that I’m overdue for a hit of overseas adventure.

In lieu of spending my March rent, calling in sick to work, and hopping the next plane outa here, I’m going to start mentally (and kinetically, I guess) planning a trip on the horizon.

In a nutshell

Istanbul — which, as the song goes, was once Constantinople and before that Byzantium — is the only city in the world to straddle two continents. Connecting Europe and Asia, it’s not surprising that Istanbul was a vital port property through its various incarnations under the Roman and Ottoman empires and eventually Turkey. New York City might get the reputation as a melting pot, but I would imagine a place that mingles Middle Eastern traditions with European suavity and nearly two millenia of history in a vibrant cityscape, is entitled to such a claim as well.

Hagia Sophia

Sites to see

  • Hagia Sofia was original a massive Cathedral before being converted to a mosque and finally a museum.
  • The Grand Bazaar is, I imagine, the world’s best flea market with vendors selling everything from elaborate carpets and rainbows of spices to kitschy souvenirs and piles of pashminas.
  • The Blue Mosque is perhaps even more breathtaking than Hagia Sofia with its lustrous azure tiles.
  • The Bosphorus  Strait, which divides the eastern and western sides of the city, beckons you to cruise across. Lonely Planet might recommend a nighttime cruise, but I’d also like the lounge deck-side on a warm summer day.

Why?

Several years ago, I read a novel called The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which mixes history with adventure à la Dan Brown — think of it as the Da Vinci Code with Dracula. Long before the Twilight/True Blood vampire ad nauseam, this intriguing book explored the history of Vlad the Impaler, who happened to be a ruler in the Ottoman Empire. While Kostova’s tome took me quite a while to finish, I learned so much about Eastern  (and even Western) Europe in the process: Budapest, Prague, the Pyrenees, and others.

I instantly became obsessed with Istanbul, and even bought an evil eye bracelet — a symbol believed to ward off curses and bad wishes — from a Turkish vendor at the Raleigh Flea Market. People familiar with the symbol, started assuming that I had visited Turkey, to which I answered, “Not yet.” I almost chose to teach overseas in Istanbul instead of Buenos Aires.

As you can infer, it’s high up on that bucket list.

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