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ISTANBUL

WHY TURKEY?

ISTANBUL – The City of Cities
 
 
 
Istanbul is a city of wonders and marvels. It’s a city with traditional quarters that have changed little since the time when the city was known as “Constantinople” contrasting with modern neighborhoods full of skyscrapers that define the 21st-century skyline. It’s a city with tea gardens and shisha pipes in the courtyards of 500-year-old mosques and a city of nightclubs on the European shore looking out over Asia. It’s a city where you can go out every day of your life and never visit the same cafe twice.  
 
The name “Istanbul” is derived from the Greek word which means “In The City.” Often neglected in Western textbooks, “The City,” as it is still often referred to in Greek, has been the capital of the civilized world for the better part of 1,500 years. And, although the “modern” city was founded in 660 B.C. as Byzantium, recent excavations reveal that the city has been home to continuous habitation for at least 6,500 years.
 
In 330 AD, the city became the capital of the Roman Empire. Later, it became the capital of the Byzantine Empire, the Latin Empire, then back to the Byzantine Empire, and finally the Ottoman Empire. Today, with a population approaching 15 million, Istanbul is Turkey’s economic and cultural hub and is one of the world’s truly great metropoles.
 
THE BRIDGE
 
As clichéd as it sounds to locals who have heard the “bridge analogy” their entire lives, the city really is a bridge between East and West, both geographically and culturally. Geographically, the city straddles both continents, split by the Bosporus Strait. A significant part of the population makes an intercontinental commute to work every day.
 
Indeed, it was this unique geography and geostrategic importance that led Constantine the Great to rename the city Constantinople and make it the new capital of the Roman Empire.
 
Today, Istanbul’s status as a bridge is as true it has ever been. Fifty-two countries can be reached from Istanbul with a 3- to 4-hour flight and more than 45% of global trade occurs within this radius. The Bosphorus is also one of the most heavily traversed commercial waterways in the world.
 
Taking advantage of this geography, Turkish Airlines, the country’s flagship carrier, flies to more destinations than any other airline in the world. For residents of Istanbul, this means that because of the frequency of flights and the competition from other carriers, 100-euro weekend getaways to Rome, Madrid, Paris, Saint Petersburg, Athens, Tbilisi and countless other destinations are just a few clicks away.
 
 
 
 
GETTING AROUND:
 
In terms of getting around with public transport, the core of Istanbul, despite its geographical challenges (it straddles two continents and is split in half by a sea) is one of the most maneuverable major cities in the world – assuming, that is, you use public transit and stick to the city’s core.
 
Intercontinental travel, crossing from the Asian side of the city to the European or vice-versa, via public transport is incredibly efficient. Ferries costing about a euro whisk commuters across the Bosphorus day and night and serve up tea in tulip-shaped glasses for about 0.50 euro.
 
The city’s tens of thousands of shared taxis (or “dolmus”) run 24 hours a day from Taksim to Kadıköy and Üsküdar. They also run along just about all significant routes that one would want to go to.
 
While the metro is somewhat anemic compared to international standards, it is growing rapidly and presently covers just about any area that expats living in Istanbul would wish to visit. Moreover, an underwater tunnel connecting the European and Asian sides makes transport between the two continents a matter of mere minutes.
 
FOOD:
 
There are also no worries of going hungry in Istanbul. Turkish cuisine is one of the richest in the world.
 
To the astonishment of Turks, many visitors who have never travelled to Turkey before, picture Turkish cuisine as meat on a spear turning around in front of a grill in a white-tiled restaurant with a fly buzzing overhead. Nothing could be further from what it’s cuisine actually is.
 
 
The expansive Ottoman Empire brought food, tastes, spices, and recipes back from the lands it conquered. And because few empires conquered as large a swath of land as the Ottomans, Turkish food is incredibly varied. Today’s Turkish cuisine consists of elements of recipes found at the gates of Vienna, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East and even North Africa.
 
One of the most enjoyable eating experiences in Turkey consists of meze or appetizers, which very often make up an entire meal upto themselves. There are hundreds of different kinds. Eating mezes (especially when accompanied by rakı) is a process that can last into the wee hours of the morning as tray after tray of the small dishes are brought to the “rakı table” throughout the evening. As the night wears on, eating mezes is often more a process of turning back the ones you don’t want rather than ordering the ones you do want.
 
Turkish breakfasts are to die for, and many consider the Turkish brunch to be the best in the world.
 
If you prefer international cuisine, there is no limit to the number of international restaurants in the city either. Thai, Mexican, Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Iranian food are just a few of the options available. 
 
 
CITY OF NEIGHBORHOODS:
 
Istanbul is a city of neighborhoods much more so than most other cities. Because the city is so ancient, and because it has grown so much over the past half century, it has expanded to envelope villages, towns, and cities, some of which have their own unique histories, cultures, and cuisines that stretch back thousands of years.
 
Sarıyer, for instance, at the mouth of the Black Sea on the European side of the city, was once a fishing village and a summer retreat for Ottoman nobility and the city’s wealthy minorities. Today, it is the peaceful home to numerous seafood restaurants and fish markets where fishermen unload their cargo against the backdrop of one of the most dramatically scenic portions of the Bosphoros.
 
Further down the Bosphorus are neighborhoods like Rumeli Hisar, where a castle that was used to mount the offensive against the Byzantines stands, and where some of the best breakfast restaurants on the planet are nestled against the castle walls. The back streets of Rumeli Hisar, like many neighborhoods along the Bosphorus, are lined with cobblestone roads and staircases leading to old wooden houses, churches, and mosques. Next to Rumeli Hisar is Bebek, home to some of the trendiest restaurants, bars, and cafes in the city. Further down, Arnavutköy (Albanian Village) boasts dozens of bars and restaurants occupying what are arguably the most beautiful wooden houses in all of Istanbul. In the evening and on weekends, the area’s bars spill out onto the street with people of all ages drinking into the early hours of the morning.
 
Beşiktaş, a neighborhood popular among academics, university students, football fans, and beer drinkers, boasts street markets, fishmongers, and dozens of cafes. It is also home to the 2016 Turkish football champions and the most spirited football fans in the country: Beşiktaş Çarşı.
 
From Beşiktaş, sea buses make hundreds of crossings every day to Üsküdar and Kadıköy, the two main hubs on the Asian side of Istanbul.
 
Kadıköy is known for its hundreds of restaurants and bars, as well as its theaters and vibrant minority population. It is bordered by Moda, a peaceful seaside residential area with parks, boardwalks and running, biking, and roller-blading paths.
 
Üsküdar, the municipality where the Üsküdar American Academy is situated, is a lovely traditional neighborhood with old mosques, beautiful seaside walking trails, and bustling street markets. Nearby, Kuzguncuk is perhaps the most underappreciated and beautiful neighborhood in Istanbul.
 
Each neighborhood along the Bosphorus has its own charm and energy, some peaceful and quiet, and others vibrant and Taksim, quite possibly the world’s busiest entertainment district, is a labyrinth of winding streets, rooftop bars, backstreet kebab restaurants and epic discos. Neighboring areas such as Galata, Cihangir, Karaköy, and Çukurcuma also offer an endless assortment of galleries, cafes, antique shops and bars to discover. One could quite literally spend every day of one’s life exploring these winding streets and never grow bored.
 
NIGHTLIFE:
 
Few cities in world can boast a nightlife like Istanbul. From hole-in-the-wall hangouts hidden in the labyrinth backstreets of Taksim, to rooftop bars overlooking the city in Kadıköy, to luxury nightclubs fronting the Bosphorus with yachts dropping high-heeled party-goers off at club docks in Ortaköy, to the trendy lounges where the who’s who of Europe flaunt their wares in Bebek, Istanbul nightlife truly offers something for everyone. 
 
ARTS & CULTURE:
 
Istanbul’s young and increasingly affluent population makes the city home to a vibrant creative scene. Dozens of museums, theaters, and live music venues dot the city.  
 
You’ll be hard pressed to find another city that elicits the emotion and love that Istanbul does for its residents. The City has been called many things by many different people – but the one thing The City can never be called is “boring.”
 
 

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