A city steeped in history and conflict, Istanbul is a refreshing change in destination for someone who is seeking something different to western tourist traps.
Istanbul is just about different enough to offer that escape. Although it is still relatively tourist orientated, with all the trinket shops and pushy dudes standing outside restaurants, you will still notice a distinct cultural difference.
This is mostly down to the Middle Eastern flavour of certain parts of the city and how even the streets can differ hugely between Muslim and Catholic religion to the point where one night we sat down and tried to order a beer. The waiter kindly said, “follow me” and brought us through the building and out onto the parallel street where he could legally serve us beer on the Catholic side.
This is a city with a population of around 15 million and the diversity of opinion and culture transcends their political strife and religious differences. Mosques dominate the skyline and make the city delightful to walk around as you catch glimpse of these historical goliaths through dull, modern apartment blocks with air-conditioning units poking out every second window and the food can land anywhere on the scale of dull to mouth-watering.
But how much can you really experience in a week? After walking the high street and seeing the magnificent Hagia Sofia and Blue Mosque, to floating down the river Bosphorus we spent the majority of our time eating, drinking and smoking shisha.
The city maintains a high level of energy around the clock, you won’t notice the difference between 10pm and 2am as the people who head to bed are ideally replaced by people who probably should be in bed.
We of course did the infamous Turkish baths, where we were literally ‘exposed’ to the masculine underbelly of Istanbul. A sign read “We charge double time for every hour stay over four”. You can only guess what is keeping men in saunas six hours a day.
But the coffee is worth a shot, although drinking warm muck only made me appreciate my French press all the more on my return to Ireland. But it’s good to see how far we have come since the muddy waters of Turkish coffee.
I will most certainly be back to Istanbul, but I don’t know when. Although it stimulates the imagination with its unique identity and friendly people, it has fallen trap to the western style of capitalist trading. Between touristy crap and rip-off taxi men you can find every highstreet name there. But if you walk through the streets you will still get glimpses of authenticity, from the friendly natives, to the food and the Turkish Dondruma vendors.