Istanbul On the Road

Istanbul, Turkey
It seems everywhere I turn, someone's talking about Istanbul these days. What makes this place so fascinating? Why are more and more tourists rushing to see it every year? I'm convinced it has something to do with Turkey, with it's unique continent-straddling geography.

Especially now, with debates on whether to allow Turkey into the E.U., Turkey's cultural identity has come into focus in the eyes of many foreigners. Somewhat European, somewhat Middle Eastern, somewhat modern, somewhat traditional, the country is a hybrid of many social and cultural trends. And at the heart of it all, it's capital Istanbul.

To better understand the city's present, let's take a look at its past. Originally known as Byzantium, it was to become Constantinople under the rule of the Roman Empire, serving as the capital of the empire's eastern half. Over time, it has felt great pressure from surrounding groups and empires, including the Persians and Arabs. Each has a left a trace on Istanbul's character, cultivating its diversity.

The Bosphorus, a strip of water separating the European and Asian continents, is one of the highlights of Istanbul. Fisherman stand at the water’s edge with buckets, flipping their hooks and lines every which way. Couples sit on wooden benches, sipping Ayran: a national yogurt drink.

The liveliest part of Istanbul is definitely Taksim. This modern quarter is always full of people, with many walking on Istiklal Caddesi. It's also a social place and the heart of the nightlife, with many great restaurants and designer shops.

Majestic churches, palaces, and mosques can be found throughout Istanbul, representing many different architectural traditions. Examples include Aya Sofya, The Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and Dolmabahçe Palace.