I visited Turkey with my family in December 2015. It was one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen and my first step into Europe. It saddened me to hear about the explosion that happened near the Sultanahmet Mosque; people do terrible things at the expense of the lives of the innocent. I was fortunate to have seen Istanbul while it hadn’t been marred by selfish human deeds, and I’d like to share its beauty with you.
The Sultanahmet Mosque, lovingly known as The Blue Mosque was coincidentally the very first mosque we visited upon arriving in Istanbul. I remembered going ‘Wow!’ upon crossing the threshold because well, the view was indeed breathtaking. As I walked through the grounds, I marvelled at how magnificent the mosque was, and had a hard time believing when I was told that there were more beautiful mosques as we travelled around Turkey. Having spent the next 12 days visiting the various mosques, each one beautiful and unique in their own ways, the Blue Mosque will always be the one that holds a special place in my heart.
2. The Peaceful Grounds
Teeming with tourists, the vicinity around the Blue Mosque was well-maintained with its cobbled streets and well kept greenery. Other than the touts, and if you keep your belongings properly, walking down the streets of Istanbul feels safe and is hassle-free. If you’re a woman, you might occasionally get shopkeepers trying to flirt with you, but don’t worry, they’re harmless. Streets were kept clean and by night, well-lit.
3. The Food
Hummus, kebab, lamb kofte, sweetmeats… you name it. It was one country I didn’t really have to worry about food as a Muslim traveller because most of the food was halal. Unfortunately, being a part of a packaged tour, most catered meals were chicken. But I had the opportunity to venture out and try some food on my own. One of the most memorable was a deep fried lamb liver (for the life of me, I can’t remember what it was called). It was delicious, and I even asked if I could get some for takeaway. Not to forget, Simit a Turkish breakfast staple -which is essential a sesame bagel- readily available piping hot at random stands. It’s pretty versatile, buy one to feed yourself.. or feed the gulls. Your call.
Oh, and Turkish tea, served in quaint glasses with tiny cubes of sugar by the side.
4. The culture
Being a country that is both eastern and western, the Turkish culture combines modernisation and westernisation, and at the same time maintains its traditional and religious values. While being a predominantly Muslim country, Turkey isn’t as strict as compared to its neighbouring Middle Eastern counterparts. Fret not about searching for entertainment while you’re there, the city hardly ever sleeps.
5. The People
The people I met in Istanbul were one of the nicest, friendliest kinds. Always willing to lend a hand whenever you need directions, or translations; always offering a ready smile or sweets or hot tea whilst waiting for the mums to finish their shopping. The Turkish hospitality is one of kind; they welcomed us into their homes with warm smiles, great conversations despite the language barrier, and even better food… a feast fit for a king, I must say. Beautiful, beautiful people.
Honourable mention: Cats of Istanbul
I mean, check out these babies! They’re almost everywhere, and of more varieties than I am used to in Singapore. They’re clean, mostly friendly… some aloof, but what to do, they’re cats. I had a cat who tried to get into my jacket literally (and succeeded) because I was warm and it was really cold. I let her stay in there for five minutes before my dad had to drag her out. My plans to smuggle the kitty back home obviously failed.
Are you inspired to visit Turkey yet? Don’t let what you read or see or hear in the media fool you. There’s absolutely nothing we can do to stop evildoings, but we can sure spread love and kindness all around. There’s a lot of good in the world, if only you allow yourself to see them.