Facade of the Dolmabahce Palace
Istanbul or Constantinople? Ottoman or Byzantine? European or Asian? Indeed, the biggest question of all is whether the world possesses more of a city of 'two halves', as this city of several million inhabitants is, after all, the only city on earth which straddles 2 separate continents, and that factor alone is a unique status in the context of world geography. So finally, after 2 previous visits to Turkey a few years apart, a few more years elapse, and I finally make it to Turkey's largest metropolis, this being a city which feels very much like the nation's capital, despite that honour belonging to Ankara. Staying at a central location in Istanbul is a wise move for sure, and what better area to be based in than the modern district of Taksim, which throbs to the sound of an empire which has not only moved with the times, but has conserved its historical aspects along the way, for good measure.
The iconic Blue Mosque
The key tourist spots in Istanbul are almost too self-evident to mention, and it has to be said that the biggest cluster of them are located in the Sultanahmet area, which is convenient when it comes to getting around the tourist hotspots. The Blue Mosque, Topkapi palace, Agia Sophia, and the Basilica Cistern, to name but four, are points of interest which should be on any tourist's itinerary, and the relative proximity between one and another could easily ensure that the sightseer is indeed charmed by buildings of such renowned grandness and historical significance, that even a whirlwind tour of the city can provoke enough of a reaction within to win the tourist over in the context of a flash visit. Located further west is a building perhaps justifiably dubbed the world's oldest-established shopping mall, the heavily ('no tat') souvenir-laden shopping complex that is the Grand Bazaar, which has enough in terms of mystical atmosphere to appeal to perhaps even the most ardent would-rather-stay-at-home non-shopper.
Lighting the way in the Grand Bazaar
If that is insufficient, then be sure to try the city's Spice Bazaar for size, located slightly further north, but still enough of a sights, sounds and smells experience to captivate you for at least as long as your travel itinerary's schedule permits. Prime excursions from Istanbul, for my money, are the boat rides along the Bosphorus, and, providing even greater variety still, to the four main Princes islands, which if visited from west to east in sequence, are a treat, as each island has shades of its own individual character, and is marginally larger and more well-endowed than the previous. Seeing the whirling dervishes twirl around to a culturally-skewed musical accompaniment made it feel, in my case, as though the experiences to be had in Istanbul were churning around in my mind and soul, and galvanizing into a whole, through the medium of a spectacle which typifies the essence of traditional Turkish ceremonial rituals.
The approach to the last stop on the Bosphorus cruise
Despite the evident minuses of overcrowding, urban chaos here and there, and a few minor quibbles possibly even too slight to touch upon, Istanbul lives up to its identity, and then some, and provided me with a solid travel experience which will no doubt remain within for as long as the open road remains my ever-reliable companion.