Istanbul, Cross, Crescent and Spires w/Video
Istanbul is twice the size of New York city, and is remarkably free of crime – safer, perhaps, than most major American cities.
And if you’ve never been to a Middle Eastern metropolis, this may be the one to visit first.
Hopefully, your first glimpse will be the skyline at dusk, and you may never forget it.
Slender, illuminated minarets pierce the sky, and the domes of the Hagia Sophia, once Christianity’s most revered site, shimmer in the glow of the city’s lights.
Yes, the streets wind and twist and sometimes the din of traffic is maddening, but there’s little or no rudeness, very few belligerent voices and enough English spoken to make the city’s cafés, fruit peddlers and savory restaurants accessible and fun.
The Tourist Police go out of their way to accommodate travelers, and taxi drivers are unfailingly proud of their city and eager to please.
What makes Istanbul unique is the mix of styles.
The stalls and shops of the huge Grand Bazaar and Egyptian Market are exciting kaleidoscopes of colors.
Beautiful hand-woven carpets, bags of spices, song birds, inlaid furniture, mounds of multi-colored Turkish sweets, gold and silver wares and jewelry are laid out for sale in the jostling but never threatening market.
But there’s also a strong sense of the “West” or Europe in the dress and discos and general ambiance.
Mobile phones, for example, are of course ubiquitous. Faxes go through as easily as they do in the States, and clean, public toilets are more readily available than in most U.S. cities.
The museums, especially the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, are oases usually set in palaces or exquisite homes from the Ottoman Empire.
Remarkably, the Blue Mosque (named for the lovely, cool blue tiles that ring the light and airy interior) with its six slender minarets wasn’t harmed in the various earthquakes.
Neither was the Hagia Sophia, the Byzantine wonder that became a mosque after the Ottoman conquest.
Today, it’s a museum, and very impressive. Some say it rivals St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
The call to prayer drifts over the city five times a day because Turkey is an Islamic country.
But unlike many Muslim countries, it’s a successful blend of religion, democracy and secularism co-existing, if not always easily, always hopefully.
Four days in Istanbul will give you a real sense of this city astride Bosphorus.
• The Topkapi Palace, is the greatest Ottoman museum in the world and was the nerve center of the empire's administrative, military, educational and domestic activity. The place sprawls as befits the locus of a nearly four hundred year empire. Lots of palace intrigues here.Continued on the next page