Istanbul is an amazing place. It has incredible sights, smiling people, and an abundant energy that has to be felt to be believed.Highlights of my all too brief time here include moments of calm (time to breath, to relax, to linger) intermixed with moments of total hysteria.
Try quietly cruising on the Bosphorous in the sun and watching the dolphins play. Experience the peace and tranquility of a seat inside (early in the morning) or outside the Blue Mosque or on the Hippodrome (before the carpet merchants descend). Get to waking up at dawn and hearing the call to prayer over the waking city), or taking a drink at dusk on a roof terrace, watching the sun drop down below the buildings.
But also look out for life-threatening driving on tiny, windy streets with no lanes marked, parked cars and traffic coming both ways, a quick game of soccer in the streets late at night, or a fist fight (weapons drawn but not used) between our bus driver and a taxi driver who did not appreciate his driving.
Look out too for children. They grow up fast in Istanbul. Kids in Edirne stop you to say ‘hello. what is your name? my name is [x], goodbye’. Endlessly. Kids in downtown Istanbul stop you to try to sell you spinning tops or tissues. Endlessly.
And I have to admit that visa requirements have one virtue. They have forced me to get out of the central city and see a side of Istanbul that you would never imagine existed from the bar of your hostel in Sultanahmet.
See European-looking suburbs nestled by the sea where the pavements are straight and bathed in dappled sunlight filtering through the trees, the pace is slower, and there are no carpet shops.
Or sit and take in the view at this bayside cafe that would not look out of place in Sydney or Auckland.
Take my word for it (or come see for yourself), it is worth a look.