Istanbul is Baku on some serious steroids. I was only there for about 36 hours, but I learned some valuable things about the city in that time:
- Nobody ever seems to sleep.
- There are more tourists roaming the city on any given day than there are in my hometown.
- It must’ve been one bad ass place back in the Constantinople days
- The no smoking indoors law actually works
- Evidence of modernity is everywhere
The city’s reputation definitely precedes it. Ask almost anyone interested in the Turkic world who has been to Istanbul what they thought of the city and he or she will probably tell you that it’s the greatest city on earth. Those people have obviously not been to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia….
Istanbul has a lot going for it: liberal society, great nightlife, cheap food and alcohol, and a ton of character. You could probably explore the city full-time for six months and still not discover all the little nooks and crannies. And the street food… plentiful and diverse. You could get anything from fish, to mussels, to cow intestines, to “wet burgers”.
But what does the city lack? The whole “popular tourist site” situation doesn’t help. The difference being that Istanbul tourists walk and take public transportation, while their counterparts in Cairo, for example, are mainly on air conditioned buses. Istanbul also lacks the “baladi-ness” of Cairo. Call it my warped sense of charm, but where were all the street cafes with sawdust on the floor? I blame the EU and their strict standards for that.
One thing I do know is that I would give almost anything to be able to be a spice trader in Istanbul in the days when it was the gateway between east and west.