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City Profile: Istanbul

Safety first…… When traveling to Istanbul, you will find most people hospitable, friendly and generous. Despite its size, violent crime is relatively low compared to other major cities but you should exercise the same caution that you would in any big city.

27 September 2016

It’s no secret that Istanbul has had its share of negative press lately. However, the most common crimes in Istanbul involve pick-pocketing and bag-snatching. Crowded areas in Sultanahmet, Beyazit and Taksim, where most tourists go, tend to attract more thieves so to protect yourself, avoid walking around in these areas alone at night. Also, some neighborhoods are known for being undesirable. Laleli, Dolapdere and parts of Aksaray, are known to be centers of criminal activity so its best to avoid these areas whether during the day and especially at night. Another area to avoid is Taksim Square. There are sometimes large marches or political demonstrations held here that can get large very quickly and might erupt into violence. Depending on the purpose of the demonstration, foreigners may be targeted, so it’s best to stay away from large political gatherings or protests.

Traffic fatalities are actually high in Turkey. Pedestrians do not have the right-of-way in Istanbul and many people drive recklessly. If possible, use bridges or underground passages to cross major thoroughfares and always make sure all traffic has stopped before entering into traffic.

If you are concerned about terrorist activity or high crime occurrences and areas to avoid, please check with your embassy, consulate or state department for information. The US Consulate Istanbul link for helpful information is, http://istanbul.usconsulate.gov/information_for_travelers.html.

Inside Istanbul….

Some ancient cities are the sum of their monuments, but İstanbul factors a lot more into the equation. Among its attractions are the locals, who have an infectious love of life and generosity of spirit. This vibrant community is full of people who work hard, treasure family and friendships and have no problem melding tradition and modernity in their everyday lives.

Touring Istanbul’s ornate mosques and palaces could keep history buffs and culture hounds happily busy for weeks. Most attractions are clustered in the Sultanahmet area, though areas like Beyoglu and Taksim are no less exciting. Kick off your exploring with a trip at the Sultan Asmet Camii, the Blue Mosque, which is visible from many vantage points in the city. The Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia are essential, but simply exploring the street traffic and observing daily life here are equally fascinating. You can also stroll the Galata Bridge or stop by the Miniaturk Park. Practice the lost art of some good natured haggling at The Grand Bazaar where you’ll find thousands of shops to visit, while the Egyptian Bazaar is a fragrant trove of spices and fruits where you should certainly pick up some souvenirs.

People often skip the Archaeology Museum (Arkeoloji Müzesi), and they’re really missing out. This is a real hidden Istanbul gem, displaying one of the world’s richest collections of classical antiquities. Here you can marvel at the marvelous sarcophagus of Alexander the Great depicting important phases of his life, the blue tiled Karaman Mihrab, the beautiful Tiled Pavilion, and the Treaty of Kadesh, known as the world’s earliest surviving peace treaty.

Another museum worth a visit is The Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts. Housed in the former palace of Ibrahim Pasa, the most talented Grand Vizier of Süleyman and overlooking the Hippodrome, the collection has over 40.000 items on display. Each room concentrates on a different period or area of the Islamic world and also reflects daily Turkish life from the 8th century up to the 19th century. Some of its notable features include the world renowned collection of gigantic carpets hanging from the ceiling, a recreation of a Turkic nomadic tent, and the peaceful Turkish coffee house where they brew Turkish coffee over an open fire.

The Galata Tower is one of the best spots in town to get a 360 panoramic view of Istanbul. On a bright day you can even spot the Princes’ Islands from the tower. If you want to get a quick glance of several sites at once, taking a cruise down the Bosphorus is a great way to get a glimpse of Istanbul’s main points of interest. You’ll ride past Dolmabahçe Palace, the Rumeli Ruins, the Maiden’s Tower, and many mosques, mansions, and gardens along the way. Old Istanbul remains a walled city. Close inspection of the walls explains how the city remained invulnerable to so many attacks over the years. In some places, the walls are 30 feet high and 16 feet thick. It’s quite the impenetrable force.

After exploring the city, make a visit to one of the locals’ favorite haunts for perhaps a cup of Turkish coffee….there’s the çay bahcesis (tea gardens), kahvehani (coffeehouses), meyhanes (Turkish taverns) or an kebapçıs (kebap restaurants).

Eating Turkey…..not the bird

Food is a central part of the culture, so menus should be studied just as seriously as a map (which is also a must). Turkish food has borrowed many elements from Greek, Central Asian, Caucasian, Jewish, Middle Eastern cuisines so you may find some dishes familiar.

Menemen is a delicious Turkish style omelet. Roasted onions and peppers are boiled thoroughly with tomatoes and finally mixed with eggs, herbs, parsley, pepper and grounded red pepper. Hunkar Begendi’s name means, “The Sultan enjoyed it”.  This dish contains marinated lamb cubes served on top of a white sauce made with mashed eggplants, flour, and milk. Eating this dish may very well make you feel like a sultan.

A kumpir is a loaded baked potato. The server will mix the potato with cheese and butter until it’s light and fluffy, and then you can choose from an assortment of toppings including olives, hot dogs, pickles, corn, peas, bulgur and more. It’s the perfect snack on the go.  You can wash it all down with the national drink, rakı, a grape spirit infused with aniseed, or a glass or two of locally produced wine.

The resilient Turks….

People of Istanbul are exceptionally warm, friendly and welcoming, and they’re very proud of their city. They’re very eager to converse with visitors, so don’t be afraid to enter into conversation with them and don’t be taken aback by their friendliness. You’ll get a much better feel for the city if you mingle a bit with the residents, and those interactions may just turn out to be the most memorable part of your trip.

In a traditional sense, Istanbul is not a city of neighborhoods. With nearly 3,000 years of continuous habitation, the only constant has been people’s desire to live there. Wars, invasions, occupations, and the systematic destruction of the city, as well as plagues, devastating earthquakes, and fires, have forced residents to rebuild Istanbul many times over. Somehow, through all the remarkable changes, the remains of ancient buildings and monuments still stand today.

Adorned with some of the finest architectural and artistic wonders in the world along with an extraordinary historic legacy on every street corner, Istanbul remains Turkey’s social, artistic and commercial hub brimming with vitality and activity. Growing at an exponential rate with some 11 million people today, the city continues to be the ultimate cultural crossroads.

Turkey as a country is moving forward at an astounding rate. Often criticized for being behind the times in its politics and social attitudes, it has changed beyond recognition in less than a century. Nowhere else will you find such a divergence of cultures and such contrasts between the ancient and the modern.

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