Having just spent a week in my beloved Istanbul, I can reassure you that it’s definitely worth visiting even right now.
Tourism in Turkey seems to have declined sharply, especially in Istanbul, since the events revolving around the Gezi Park protests started in late May. I saw signs of this stillness nearly everywhere I went on the European side. (For another first-hand account, please see this July 18 blog post by Turkish travel writer Pat Yale: Silence Falls on Sultanahmet.)
Istiklal Street at night was eerily quiet. Usually packed cafés and restaurants were half filled (if they were so lucky) with hungry people. My six girlfriends and I had the normally-packed, reservation-only Sensus Wine Bar near Galata Tower practically to ourselves.
|A very quiet Istiklal Street in Istanbul.|
I hung out in Taksim on last Monday afternoon and evening and for about five hours on Tuesday afternoon. No problems. I will mention there was more police presence up by the square, but that’s all I saw both days. However, on Saturday nights, Taksim is best avoided as the Turkish police still get tear gas happy.
|Here's an afternoon view of Taksim Square taken near Gezi Park, overlooking the construction.|
One of my girlfriends stayed six nights at a boutique hotel near Galatasaray for only 35 euros per night compared to the normal 129 euros per night. She was told she could stay as late as she wanted when she requested a late check-out as the hotel was dead. Because there are fewer tourists, you may get an unheard of hotel rate like my friend!
Even if it is summertime and Ramazan, I have never seen Istanbul this quiet in the three years that I lived here!
An afternoon visit to the Grand Bazaar yielded the same results. My kebab guy was ecstatic to see me. “Where have you been abla?” He served us delicious portions of patlıcan soslu and aclılı ezme on the house.
Later on, I got a steal of deal on a beautiful Kurdish kilim. His friends wished him well on his sale. “Inshallah” my girlfriend heard the Turkish rug dealer say as we returned to his third-generation family store. I hadn’t planned to buy a kilim, but I couldn’t resist the deal.
|I loved both of these kilims, but I chose and purchased the one on the right.|
I’m saddened to see Istanbul in this state. These small shopkeepers don’t deserve this treatment that has befallen them as a result of the actions by the Turkish government. Less adventurous tourists are afraid to travel here as they see images of the Turkish police reacting haphazardly with water cannons and tear gas in the Taksim area.
I’m certainly not happy with the Turkish government and their ridiculous responses to the protesters. However, I won’t get into that rant right now.
But I do want to remind you why you should visit and love Istanbul as much as I do!
7 Reasons to Love Istanbul
The changing colors of the Bosphorus is one of the many things I miss about Istanbul. The early mornings can turn the waters a hard, steel gray and then a sparkling, brilliant shade of blue or turquoise in the afternoon and even a murky black as the day wears on. Find a café and enjoy the cool sea breeze, or take a vapur ride along the Bosphorus.
|A view of the Bosphorus from the Bostanci neighborhood on the Asian side of the city.|
Regular readers know how much I love visiting this bustling neighborhood. On my first full day in Istanbul, I paid a visit to Bilge, my favorite spice girl at Ucuzcular in the Mısır Çarşısı (Spice Bazaar). This is THE place to stock up on high quality Turkish spices. I spent 150 tl on my supplies because I’m not sure when I’ll be back again yet.
Every neighborhood in Istanbul hosts a pazar (outdoor market) on different days of the week. This visit, I stopped at the Tuesday 4Levent pazar (a 5-minute walk from the Yenilevent exit at the 4Levent metro stop). I enjoyed a cheese and spinach gözleme as a late breakfast. Going to a pazar gives you a chance to see the local color of the city.
I could go on and on about the Turkish food I ate on this trip in Istanbul. I’m pretty sure I gained another kilo. How could I turn down my favorite balkaymak or künefe? There were kebabs and mezes galore! I’ll tell you more in another post.
Even if you aren’t a regular customer, you’re bound to get offered çay as soon as you walk into a shop. From the Spice Bazaar to the Grand Bazaar to my shoe repair guy to my Turkish towel shop, I was offered copious amounts of çay. Even if my Turkish was a little rusty, I enjoyed having conversations here. I miss the welcoming Turkish hospitality.
I think one of the things that’s always fascinated me about Istanbul is its long, rich and colorful history. The city is ancient compared to America where I’m from. I still love seeing the city’s historic Byzantine walls, the minarets of the Blue Mosque, the Galata Tower and cobblestone streets. These are things that make Istanbul unique and why tourists come to visit.
Most importantly, I miss all my friends in Istanbul. I have cried, laughed, lamented over Turkish, traveled, confided in and celebrated with these friends. It’s been difficult moving to a new city and starting the process of making friends all over again. I have a feeling though many of my Istanbul friends will be friends for life. Even if you are a tourist in Istanbul, don’t be surprised if make a Turkish friend or two.
I could go on and on about why I love Istanbul, but you should really see this beautiful city for yourself. The city and its shopkeepers need your support!
(For additional reading, please see this July 20 article in The Guardian: The ongoing Turkish protests have left us enlightened and emboldened.)