Before I arrived in Istanbul I knew I was in for a treat. Anytime I visit a culture that is as boisterous and lively as my Latino culture, I feel a sense of belonging and acceptance. Though there were many things that felt familiar to me, there also were many other things that were totally new discoveries.
I walked around Istanbul with eyes wide open, hungry to hear the stories of those I met along the way. What I found both saddening and enlightening was that the Turkish people are very aware of the preconceptions that they thought I, as an American, might have of them. They wanted to make sure that I walked away from every experience with a deeper understanding of their culture, religions, and people.
So often when I walked around, I found people fascinated by the fact that I was from America. I often found myself approached by teens and kids wanting to practice their English with me. Locals were curious about where I was from. I found this warm reception humbling. I also was embarrassed that we Americans rarely extend this kind of warmth the other way around. The experience was a great reminder of the lessons we can learn about others through travel. I opened up myself wholeheartedly to these encounters and feel like I walked away a fuller person because of them.
During my time in Istanbul, I stayed at the Renaissance Istanbul Bosphorus Hotel. The property is located in the European side of Istanbul, and many of its rooms overlook the gorgeous Bosphorus Strait that divides the European and Asian sides of the country. The hotel was close to a lot of the big city attractions I wanted to explore, such as the beautiful monuments and the lively markets and bazaars. I got to people-watch and enjoy some great food.
One of my favorite moments on the ground in Istanbul was when I got to go beyond the city and tour the ruins of Euphesus in the coastal town of Kusadasi. In my opinion, the mellower Turkish experiences allowed best for quiet moments of reflection.
Through these images I hope to bring to you a flavor of what my time in Istanbul was like. My hope is that the pictures will inspire you to visit and get to know the beautiful people of Turkey.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque
Otherwise known as the Blue Mosque for the beautiful tile work that adorns it, this functioning house of prayer and worship was built in 1616. Expect to see many in prayer when you visit. Conservative attire, with legs and shoulders covered (but no shoes inside), is a must.
This museum originally was a Greek Orthodox Church before it was converted into a mosque after the Ottomon Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453. What’s so unique about this museum is that you see imagery and symbolism of both religions displayed throughout, a reminder of Turkey’s religious history and diversity.
Sunset cruise along the Bosphorus Strait
Some of the best views of Istanbul are from the water, especially at sunset. Seen here is the New Mosque, built between 1660 and 1665.
Taking in the spice market
I loved everything about the spice market in Istanbul: the energy, the fast pace, the crowd, the smells, the colors. It definitely is worth a visit.
The Grand Bazaar
Go to the Grand Bazaar with plenty of time to spare. Not only is there a lot to see (and shop for), but there also are many hidden alleyways and stairs; these are fun to explore because they lead into some pretty spectacular places.
House of the Virgin Mary
To explore more of Turkey’s diverse history, one must travel outside of Istanbul and up to Mt. Koressos, near Selcuk. There you will find the house of Mary, mother of Jesus, where she lived till her death. Many believe John finished writing the Bible here.
Some say Turkish coffee and Greek coffee are the same. They are similar in many ways except in how they are brewed. Pictured here is the traditional way in which Turkish coffee is prepared. Feeling tired? This will wake you right up!
Basilica of St. John
Located in Ephesus, the Basilica of St. John was constructed by Justinian I in the 6th century. It is believed that the burial site of John the Apostle is located here. The views of the valley and the village from here are outstanding.
Escape to the beach
Ladies Beach is a popular beach located in the beach town of Kusadasi. This beach was once segregated for women only, and now is open to all. (It also is a favorite local hangout on weekends and during the summer months.) There’s nothing like bathing in the Aegean sea and hanging out with locals!
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is 14,000 years old! Visitors are welcomed to take off their shoes and walk over and into the hot springs and travertines. The name means “white castle,” which describes the layers of limestone walls that make up this spectacular destination.
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Carol Cain is a travel and food blogger who enjoys sharing her adventures, with or without her beautiful family in tow, in the hopes of inspiring others. Originally from Brooklyn, Carol has studied and lived abroad, experiences that have nourished her wanderlust. Her travel stories have appeared in both print and online publications, as well as via broadcast outlets where she has appeared for both Spanish and English media, including Telemundo, CBS, NBC, and ABC. Stop by on Twitter and say hello!