Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase an item that I link to then I will make a small commission, at no extra cost to you.
Istanbul is one of the most important cities in the world. For over a thousand years, it was a bastion of civilization, following the sack of Rome . Since the end of the Roman Empire, it has served as a link between East and West, straddling Europe and Asia in a way that no other city on Earth does.
The settlement, therefore, has a unique culture. There are Greco-Roman influences here, but also Persian, middle-eastern and north African. It’s not a melting pot in the usual sense. The cultures didn’t combine in the 20th century following mass immigration. Instead, they’ve sat alongside each other for the better part of a thousand years. The whole place feels like you’ve squished down Europe and the near East and combined them in a patch of land just twenty miles across.
Istanbul is also unique for its geography. It sits on a spit of land coming off Turkey and is separated from Europe by a relatively small waterway. The entire topology of the area feels somewhat unique. The central part of the city sits on a knoll, surrounded by water, teeming with tourist boats.
Istanbul is a city that can teach you a lot about the world. If you’re one of those people who loves getting new perspectives on your own culture, this is the place to go. Despite all the different cultures that live here, the area somehow manages to work. When you go to Istanbul, you’re implicitly accepting that you’ll live alongside people who don’t necessarily share your values or traditions. And in that sense, it is a little bit like a prototype of New York . It is one of the first times in the human experience that so many different people from across the globe met in one place to trade. And that gives it a unique feel that you just can’t find anywhere else.
You Discover That The Shopping Experience Is Very Different
The modern mall took some of the rough and tumble out of the retail experience. Shoppers swan about through great cavernous halls, gently browsing goods under the watchful eye of CCTV. The air is fresh, and the service staff polite. It is all very civilized indeed. Once you’ve spent thirty minutes on your feet, abundant coffee shops line the causeway, and you can pop in for a drink.
Turkish bazaars, however, are an entirely different experience. Each seller is in a pitched battle with the one next to them, trying to convince you that they have the best wares. It seems like a dog-eat-dog world – a far cry from the gentle world of the modern mall.
The shopping experience is different. The market operates like a western one. You still have buyers and sellers and a price. But the way that they go about it is entirely different. It seems like an environment that hasn’t changed for a thousand years. And that’s probably close to the truth.
The Way People Get Around Is Unique Too
Istanbul straddles two continents, so the transport style is very different from other cities around the world. There’s no reliance on a metro system here—companies like Fat Taxi Istanbul transport people from the airport. But the primary way people get around is by ferry.
This setup makes a lot of sense. The waters around the city are essentially a giant highway. And boats can deposit people at numerous docks around the periphery of the town, sending land values soaring at these locations. It does mean that getting to some of the sites is a bit of a trek, but you get to experience more of the city that way.
Pets Are A Big Part Of The Culture
Some western companies have recently been experimenting with the idea of allowing people to bring their pets to work with them. These firms, however, are few and far between. The vast majority of companies prefer to keep things strict and formal in the workplace.
That’s too bad. In Istanbul, the culture is entirely different. People take their pets with them everywhere, including their places of work. And you can’t walk five minutes before stumbling upon a vet practice with a queue of worried owners lining up for treatment outside the door.
The only issue is the prices. It costs about the same in Istanbul to provide medical attention to a dog or cat as it does a human.
Turkish Tea Is Something You Can Drink Twenty Times A Day
They love tea in Turkey. Like Britain, it has a history of trading the Indian leaf-based drink. So it quickly became a popular beverage here during the middle ages.
The tea-drinking habit is perhaps a little more ubiquitous than elsewhere in the world. The frequency with which people consume the stuff is dizzying.
People take their tea in Istanbul in small cups – more substantial than a thimble but smaller than a tumbler. It isn’t uncommon to down a tea shot twenty times per day, with many kettles full of brew, ready to go.
Residents also like to drink their cuppas with mint too because of the herb’s energizing properties and absent caffeine content.
The Street Food Is Sometimes Better Than The Restaurants
Turkish street food is famous all over the world, and for a good reason: it’s beautiful.
One of the most popular dishes is mussels cooked fresh in front of you and then drizzled with garlic and lemon. It’s a treat and just about the most morish food on the planet. You can’t stop popping them once you get going.
Of course, there are also plenty of kebab stands. So if you want to get a traditional experience, you can get that here too. Just be aware that these offerings are no healthier than the ones you get at the local kebab shop.
Istanbul is also fabulous for its delicious Turkish desserts and sweets! Yum!
Driving through Istanbul streets is a massive challenge. They’re narrow and crowded with people. You often find yourself in a squeeze from which you can’t escape. The city, therefore, is best explored on foot!