If asked, our friends and family back home would be quick to tell you that I prefer small towns over large ones, even at the risk of being bored with nothing to do. Perhaps this is why we never moved to Vancouver after graduation like so many of our friends, or why now, eight years later we haven’t packed up and moved to Calgary or Edmonton along with even more of those same friends. Even while traveling, when large cities offer some of the world’s most incredible sites, museums, and attractions – I find myself drawn to their smaller, more charming counterparts instead.
Enter Istanbul. The largest city in Turkey with an approximate population of 13.9 million people, and also one of the largest in the world. Istanbul is far from small. In fact, it’s the largest city we’ve ever visited and is home to more people than our entire province of British Columbia (crammed into 5,343 square kilometers, 0.57% of the land size of BC). Therefore, I’m sure you can understand my hesitation to allocate a whole week to our visit. As it turns out, I actually came to love Istanbul, and with so much to see and do here we haven’t had much time to sit around and come up with reasons to dislike the place.
As a city, Istanbul has everything I normally shy away from – crazy traffic (including an overabundance of obnoxious honking horns), crowded streets, smog, salesmen wanting to show you their carpet store, hot temperatures, humidity, and millions of tourists lacking any form of self-awareness. How then did I come to like this city so much – and perhaps even love it? Here’s what I’ve been able to come up with.
1. Istanbul is beautiful – in an obscure kind of way
She isn’t Paris, or Vienna, or Bruges, but Istanbul is beautiful in her own way. And while much of the architecture leaves something to be desired, Istanbul’s beauty isn’t found in ornately carved details and shiny new paint jobs, but on the street level where people go about their day-to-day lives, and the winding cobblestone paths lead you in directions you never would have thought to go.
2. Being on the water is my kryptonite
You could take me to some sort of freezing cold hell, where Sarah McLachlan commercials play on a continuous loop, and I would be fine so long as we were beside a large body of water – river, lake, ocean it really doesn’t matter. As fate would have it, Istanbul is surrounded by the Sea (it’s everywhere!), making the hustle and bustle of the big city melt into the background. As an added bonus, one of the best ways to get around the city is via FERRY; I have found my new happy place!
3. The off-season is the best season
While our visit in November may not be everyone’s ideal time to visit Istanbul, it has worked out marvelously. The weather has been glorious (sunny but not too hot), the crowds have been thin, and the carpet salesmen and hawkers have been relatively civil – at least compared to the horror stories I’ve read online. We also haven’t had to line up for a single attraction or fight our way onto overcrowded public transit, making the visit all the more enjoyable.
4. They have a freaking yarn bazaar
Although I struck out at the Grand Bazaar, where the majority of the goods seemed to be mass produced in China and the rest was way out of my price range, the story of our stop at the yarn bazaar has a much happier ending. The selection wasn’t the ‘holy-land of knitting’ I’d dreamed of, consisting mostly of thinner lace and sock yarn; however, I was able to find some awesome chunky 100% Australian Yarn (hand dyed to boot!) for a killer price. Since you’re clearly just dieing to know, I’m making a scarf. Don’t expect too many posts in the next week as I will be preoccupied until the yarn runs out.
5. It’s impossible to hate Istanbul
As much as I’ve talked about how “I normally hate big cities but Istanbul is sooooo different”, in reality, it’s just hard to hate this city. There is so much to do that anyone could be happy; shopping for the big spenders and cheap knock offs for the wannabes, culture and history for the civilized and grilled lamb kebabs for the carnivores, quiet parks or sandy beaches for a day of fun, and a freaking yarn bazaar! Istanbul kept us so busy that we are completely exhausted after just seven days in the city – thank goodness it’s time to leave because we really need a break.
So there it is – I like Istanbul, possibly even love it – although I normally reserve that type of language until at least ten or twelve days into a new relationship. Will we be back? Most definitely! I can honestly see us visiting over and over as time goes by, unless Travis starts to get jealous of my new admiration.