The Capital of the World: Istanbul

“If the Earth were a single state, Constantinople would be its capital.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

This quote rung true as I entered Istanbul. This is a working city. A city of merchants and piety. The third largest city in the world, Istanbul stands on the edges of two continents and when brought together becomes a crossroad of trade, culture, religion and politics. Its 9 a.m. and I am walking up the street. I see two boys just up to my hip carrying bags twice their size. I looked closer, and it was the garbage in the neighborhood. Not only were they carrying probably twice their weight, but they were walking up a 40-degree angle. Continuing into the market and speeding pass are bright silver trays filled with elegant tea ware. Not one spills and the platters are offered graciously to local stores. There must have been dozens of young men providing this street order service, not just for the tea but for food, as well. The noise of traffic and people bumbling through the streets is suddenly penetrated by a chant that echoes through your body. Mosques are never unseen in the horizon. Every corner of this cosmopolitan is filled with business and Islam. A man is trading, but the nearest minaret echoes in the edges of your mind. Five times a day the call to prayer lifts the air. No matter where you are, you can hear it like it is inside of you … but it isn’t intruding, it soothes the pandemonium that is all around. Together, my boyfriend and I explored the wonders of Istanbul. Enjoy!

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Pictured above is the New Mosque used frequently in the busy area south of the Galata Bridge.

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Inside the New Mosque, tourists were reserved to sit separately during prayer.

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Further along our exploration, we found some sweet treats in the Grand Bazaar. It was phyllo dough galore with pistachios nestled in almost every dish. Pictured above is shredded phyllo dough (Kataifi), which is a Lebanese “take” on middle eastern confection. These Kataifi nests are filled with almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, walnuts and much more.

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 Suddenly, we experienced a beautiful waft of aromatic coffee beans. We found ourselves in the Spice Market, but before entering we encountered a conveyor belt of young men processing 10 transactions a minute selling Turkish coffee. Pictured above is one of the young men working the coffee stand.

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I realized that apple tea and Turkish coffee was well-demanded. It was not just tourists purchasing this coffee.

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A fascinating walk it is to stroll through the Grand Bazaar. Shops are so specialized you see a store dedicated to just shovels, another shop to just steamers and another to just fish food. Pictured above is lantern shop.

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In the early morning these colorful boats roam the seas catching the fish they sell throughout the day and night. Sizzle and steam, pickles and fermented drinks cover the harbor with people munching on little barrels. The fish is pan-fried whole on the docked boats, served with pickled veggies in a hot dog bun. You ate it together and spit out the bones.

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The two photos above are detail shots of the Topkapi Palace’s late 16th century mausoleums.

The following photos are an arrangement of detail shots of the rest of the Topkapi Palace.

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Detail of carved door in the Topkapi Palace.

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Photographed as my boyfriend and I lie in the second gate courtyard of Topkapi.

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Picture above is the Hagia Sophia interior from the second floor.

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The echoes of conquest are visible as you walk through the Hagia Sophia. It has lived five lives because of its architectural brilliance. It was a monument, a mark of power, a trophy and a faithful tomb. Today it stands as a museum representative of multiple beliefs, religions and history. Pictured here you see the mihrab with the Virgin Mary and Christ hovering above. The cross of Abrahamic religions can be experienced all at once.

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Pictured here is the minbar.

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The iconic medallions are obnoxiously towering faces moving your eyes away from the Virgin and Christ. This was definitely an interesting visit. The history was felt as soon as you walked in.

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Pictured above is Turkish Pistachio Baklava.

Unfortunately, I do not have as many food experiences to share because one of the main restaurants that we wanted to visit had an unfortunate disruption.

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We were passing the Galata Tower, a common tourist site. The area filled with cameras and fanny-pack-equipped foreigners. My boyfriend and I turned a corner and we were walking up this hill as we approached this sudden group of people running toward us. The wind whipped furiously as they sprinted past us. Frozen in a moment of shock, we noticed tall red flags in their hands. Next we heard a BOOM! A cloud began to move quickly toward us. Our eyes began to tear and we ran into a store. As this store let us stay inside, they seemed to be in visible shock as well. They started boarding up their shop, but it was made of clear glass, so we could see the gas and effects on the innocent bystanders. It was tear gas thrown by the police against the protestors. We noticed other civilians and even tourists aside from us caught in the crossfire. An incredible moment. We were unsure what to do. Knowing we were in a glass shop with only a fragile wall holding us between the outside, we made a run for it. Covering our eyes and noses we turned the corner to find ourselves in the bumbling crowd of tourists once again. They had no idea. Unfortunately, in my shock I do not have a photo of the protestors running toward us with the cloud of tear gas behind them. Pictured above is the busy area that is just one block away from the running protestors.

To find out more about what we encountered, read here about the Turkish police brutality towards peaceful protestors. We were there May 17-19 during the beginning protests against the Islamization of Turkey led by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

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The ruthless police force was an unexpected experience. However, we did not regret visiting Istanbul even with the civil unrest. Despite the dangerous possibilities of the situation, it made me more aware of turmoil occurring internationally. Istanbul is a treasure trove of history and art. I am ending this with the sweet memory of warm apple tea along the Golden Horn. I hope you enjoyed.

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