It's a cliched statement, "where the East meets the West", but if you've ever been to Istanbul, you understand how true that description is. Not only does Istanbul straddle both Europe and Asia physically, with the Bosphorus Strait separating the two continents, it also straddles both cultures and lifestyles. Istanbul feels incredibly modern and innovative, yet it also maintains its very traditional feel. You see women in high heels and pencil skirts mixing among women fully covered in burqas, you see groups of teens walking while checking their phones dodging men carrying dozens of rugs on a hand-drawn trailer. While I know other cities also have this feel, such as Beirut or Amman, Istanbul does it in a very profound manner. 

Unfortunately, given recent events, Turkey has been rattled with terror in the past few weeks more so than it has ever experienced since the time of the Ottoman Empire. As I mentioned in my post about Paris, I believe continuing to live your life without fear is the best method of defeating the enemy, and I feel that way about continuing to travel to Turkey as well. Always exercise caution, be aware of your surroundings at all times and do create a higher sense of awareness. If something doesn't feel right, walk away, always follow your gut. I will say that there is currently a travel warning for Americans traveling to Turkey right now, but if you ever have the opportunity in your lifetime to travel to the country, I do recommend it, but remember that there is also a travel warning for all of Europe right now as well. 

But anyway, back to the magic of Istanbul. Istanbul is a huge city, with a population of over 14 million people, so there is lots and lots to go and see. I wrote this post a few days ago but then this article popped up on Buzzfeed that's 15 Ways To Enjoy Your Layover in Istanbul, which is perfect to take a look at as well if you do happen to have a layover in the city. If you only have a day or two to spend in Istanbul, these are the things and places that I believe you absolutely must do - 

Be Impressed by The Hagia Sophia

A former Greek Orthodox basilica transformed into an imperial mosque, Hagia Sophia will shock you just at its sheer splendor. The amount of intricate detail spread throughout the walls and ceiling is impressive and the overall size and grandeur of the main room is enough to leave your jaw at the bottom of the floor. Dedicate at least two hours to make it through the long line to enter and to make your way through the entire building, inside and outside.


Experience Cross-Cultures at The Blue Mosque

When I visited Istanbul, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or the Blue Mosque, was the number one place that I wanted to see. Similar to Hagia Sophia, the size alone of the Blue Mosque is enough to impress anyone, let alone the intricate details painted throughout. The ceiling inside the Mosque is worth hurting your neck to stare up at, and you'll finding that getting a picture good enough to capture the essence of it is simply impossible to do it justice.

This is a religious site that is still actively used for prayer, so be courteous of that when you visit. Women should be prepared to cover their hair, arms and legs to show the proper respect upon entering. If you're not wearing appropriate clothes, but still want to venture inside, the Mosque offers the correct clothing available to rent and return. Traditionally, those who enter the Mosque for prayer are expected to wash their feet upon entering, but you are not required to do so if you are visiting - you will have to take off your shoes though! Simply be respectful and understand that this is a holy place.  



Explore Through The Grand Bazaar

The grandest of grand bazaars! The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is the biggest souk, or market, that I've ever been to - it's awesome! The bazaar covers over 60 streets and has over 3,000 shops to choose from. Many of the shops are selling the same or similar items, but it's still fun to browse a lot of them. Generally, there are shops selling ceramics, spices, sweets, shoes, (fake) designer bags, jewelry, rugs, etc. - you get the idea. Take your time strolling through the bazaar and try not to get lost... it's very easy to do, seriously, stick close to the people you're traveling with.

As I mentioned in my post about Morocco, practice bargaining! Never, seriously never accept the first price as your final payment. Always bargain back and forth with the vendor to get your price down, or move to the stall next to him and try again! Bargaining is not as scary as it seems, and if you're interested in a more in-depth post regarding the "how-to's" of bargaining, let me know in the comments!





Visit Topkapi Palace

Slightly harder to get to than the other places I mentioned, Topkapi is a beautiful palace that is definitely worth the travel for! Again, with the intricate detail, Topkapi has countless walls and ceilings that are breathtaking. There are also beautiful courtyards and gardens surrounding the palace that are the perfect place for a relaxing stroll.




Indulge in a Cup of Turkish Coffee

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that will give you more of a caffeine boost than Turkish coffee, be prepared! I grew up with my parents and family always, and exclusively, drinking Turkish (or Armenian, or Greek, or Arabic) coffee. I threw in the other names because they're all essentially the same style of coffee, each just maybe throwing in their own unique touch. This tiny cup of coffee is enough to last you all day, and if you've never tried it, I highly recommend that you do while you're there! You can't go wrong with picking a café, just find one that seems charming, order yourself a cup of Turkish coffee and feel the buzz. 



Clad Yourself With Protection From an Evil Eye

Like the coffee, the evil eye is something that I grew up with. I was always finding an evil eye bead tucked into a blanket or one stuffed into my pocket by a relative. The evil eye is a symbol commonly found and used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures to bring good luck and to repel the "evil eye", or envious bad luck given to you from other people. One wears the eye to protect themselves, and I honestly never leave the house without one somewhere on me. Silly superstition or not, evil eye medallions are everywhere in Istanbul, and they make great souvenirs!


Overall, it's hard to go wrong in Istanbul. With such a rich culture and history, there are plenty of sites to visit and see before leaving the city where the East truly does meet the West.

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Must Do's in The City Where The East Meets The West: Istanbul

It's a cliched statement, "where the East meets the West", but if you've ever been to Istanbul, you understand how true that description is. Not only does Istanbul straddle both Europe and Asia physically, with the Bosphorus Strait separating the two continents, it also straddles both cultures and lifestyles. Istanbul feels incredibly modern and innovative, yet it also maintains its very traditional feel. You see women in high heels and pencil skirts mixing among women fully covered in burqas, you see groups of teens walking while checking their phones dodging men carrying dozens of rugs on a hand-drawn trailer. While I know other cities also have this feel, such as Beirut or Amman, Istanbul does it in a very profound manner. 

Unfortunately, given recent events, Turkey has been rattled with terror in the past few weeks more so than it has ever experienced since the time of the Ottoman Empire. As I mentioned in my post about Paris, I believe continuing to live your life without fear is the best method of defeating the enemy, and I feel that way about continuing to travel to Turkey as well. Always exercise caution, be aware of your surroundings at all times and do create a higher sense of awareness. If something doesn't feel right, walk away, always follow your gut. I will say that there is currently a travel warning for Americans traveling to Turkey right now, but if you ever have the opportunity in your lifetime to travel to the country, I do recommend it, but remember that there is also a travel warning for all of Europe right now as well. 

But anyway, back to the magic of Istanbul. Istanbul is a huge city, with a population of over 14 million people, so there is lots and lots to go and see. I wrote this post a few days ago but then this article popped up on Buzzfeed that's 15 Ways To Enjoy Your Layover in Istanbul, which is perfect to take a look at as well if you do happen to have a layover in the city. If you only have a day or two to spend in Istanbul, these are the things and places that I believe you absolutely must do - 

Be Impressed by The Hagia Sophia

A former Greek Orthodox basilica transformed into an imperial mosque, Hagia Sophia will shock you just at its sheer splendor. The amount of intricate detail spread throughout the walls and ceiling is impressive and the overall size and grandeur of the main room is enough to leave your jaw at the bottom of the floor. Dedicate at least two hours to make it through the long line to enter and to make your way through the entire building, inside and outside.


Experience Cross-Cultures at The Blue Mosque

When I visited Istanbul, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, or the Blue Mosque, was the number one place that I wanted to see. Similar to Hagia Sophia, the size alone of the Blue Mosque is enough to impress anyone, let alone the intricate details painted throughout. The ceiling inside the Mosque is worth hurting your neck to stare up at, and you'll finding that getting a picture good enough to capture the essence of it is simply impossible to do it justice.

This is a religious site that is still actively used for prayer, so be courteous of that when you visit. Women should be prepared to cover their hair, arms and legs to show the proper respect upon entering. If you're not wearing appropriate clothes, but still want to venture inside, the Mosque offers the correct clothing available to rent and return. Traditionally, those who enter the Mosque for prayer are expected to wash their feet upon entering, but you are not required to do so if you are visiting - you will have to take off your shoes though! Simply be respectful and understand that this is a holy place.  



Explore Through The Grand Bazaar

The grandest of grand bazaars! The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul is the biggest souk, or market, that I've ever been to - it's awesome! The bazaar covers over 60 streets and has over 3,000 shops to choose from. Many of the shops are selling the same or similar items, but it's still fun to browse a lot of them. Generally, there are shops selling ceramics, spices, sweets, shoes, (fake) designer bags, jewelry, rugs, etc. - you get the idea. Take your time strolling through the bazaar and try not to get lost... it's very easy to do, seriously, stick close to the people you're traveling with.

As I mentioned in my post about Morocco, practice bargaining! Never, seriously never accept the first price as your final payment. Always bargain back and forth with the vendor to get your price down, or move to the stall next to him and try again! Bargaining is not as scary as it seems, and if you're interested in a more in-depth post regarding the "how-to's" of bargaining, let me know in the comments!





Visit Topkapi Palace

Slightly harder to get to than the other places I mentioned, Topkapi is a beautiful palace that is definitely worth the travel for! Again, with the intricate detail, Topkapi has countless walls and ceilings that are breathtaking. There are also beautiful courtyards and gardens surrounding the palace that are the perfect place for a relaxing stroll.




Indulge in a Cup of Turkish Coffee

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, that will give you more of a caffeine boost than Turkish coffee, be prepared! I grew up with my parents and family always, and exclusively, drinking Turkish (or Armenian, or Greek, or Arabic) coffee. I threw in the other names because they're all essentially the same style of coffee, each just maybe throwing in their own unique touch. This tiny cup of coffee is enough to last you all day, and if you've never tried it, I highly recommend that you do while you're there! You can't go wrong with picking a café, just find one that seems charming, order yourself a cup of Turkish coffee and feel the buzz. 



Clad Yourself With Protection From an Evil Eye

Like the coffee, the evil eye is something that I grew up with. I was always finding an evil eye bead tucked into a blanket or one stuffed into my pocket by a relative. The evil eye is a symbol commonly found and used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cultures to bring good luck and to repel the "evil eye", or envious bad luck given to you from other people. One wears the eye to protect themselves, and I honestly never leave the house without one somewhere on me. Silly superstition or not, evil eye medallions are everywhere in Istanbul, and they make great souvenirs!


Overall, it's hard to go wrong in Istanbul. With such a rich culture and history, there are plenty of sites to visit and see before leaving the city where the East truly does meet the West.

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