Originally posted July 6, 2013 by Svetopolis
The East truly meets the West in Istanbul. Istanbul is a city of the world. The variety of people and cultures here is much more than I had expected. Of course, the Turkish are the most prevalent–-something expected being this is Turkey, after all–-but even the Turkish seem like the amalgamation of 3 or 4 millennia of invaders and traders from Europe, Asia and Africa. (For example, the boy cleaning tables at our restaurant yesterday was a red head with freckles. A genetic leftover from Germanic or Viking invaders or traders? It was an unexpected surprise seeing, as many Turkish tend to have darker complexions.)
Nonetheless, there are so many types of people in the city: German businessmen, Chinese tourists, American families, Russian retirees, African street venders… The types of tourists are more varied than the typical Australian or American tourists that one tends to find in Western Europe. Yesterday while at Topkapi Palace (the Sultans’ palace and seat of Ottoman power for 400 years) we even saw a group of the elusive Turkmen from Turkmenistan–-all the women dressed in traditional felt dresses (it must have been so hot wearing those). The most interesting group to see are the many Arab families here on vacation… Burkas abound. It was at first startling and even a bit eerie to see, since I’ve only seen the burka being worn a few times and never in large groups. At first I mistook them to be Turkish, but I didn’t think that the Turkish really wore burkas. So after overhearing them speaking a language that wasn’t Turkish, holding Arabic inscribed tour books, hearing them have to speak English to communicate in shops and seeing them at all the tourist sites, I realized they were on holiday from Arabic speaking countries.
This morning we walked through the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar. They were somewhat tourist traps, but it was still interesting to see the products and smell the heady spices floating in the air. We walked up to the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent. The building was surreal, yet, very tranquil inside. While the Europeans were trying to rediscover how to build the dome in the 1500s, the Turks were doing it and Sinan, the imperial architect at the time, built a magnificent structure.
Yesterday we toured around the Haiga Sophia (the biggest domed building in the world for a millennia after it was built by the Byzantine emperor Justinian). We saw Topkapi Palace and took a desperately needed siesta (not sure if the Turkish siesta, but when it’s so hot out in the mid afternoon, it was a welcomed break).
After siesta we made our way to the Galata Bridge and continued our cosmopolitan tour. Crossing over the Golden Horn from ancient Istanbul (Byzantium/Constantinople) to a more modern part of the city, the bridge had all walks of Istanbul life on it. Men were fishing. Vendors were selling fish sandwiches and churro-like pastries. A man played a banjo-like instrument for the pleasure of passersby. Women walked arm in arm–some wearing the most fashionable, modern outfits, others wearing head scarves. The metro train passed by and the ferries took passengers across the waterways. Neon signs lit up the evening sky. The city was alive with both old and new, East and West!