Istanbul is a study in contrasts. It has a “European” side and an “Asian” side. I have never heard any of the locals refer to Istanbul, or Turkey, as the Middle East. I arrived in Turkey knowing that it was the Middle East, and now find that knowledge highly questionable. At the same time, there is Old Istanbul and new Istanbul. I am now in a hotel in Old Istanbul (and by the way, the Turkish spell the city with a small i) and enjoying it very much. This city is reminiscent of San Francisco in many ways: rolling hills, a bay, houses tucked into the hills, and lots of fish restaurants.
The Bay of Bosphorus has two bridges that connect the European and Asian side, and they look a bit like the Golden Gate Bridge, although not painted red. The water in the Bay is a midnight blue with a very slight green tinge. Bosphorus Bay, like San Francisco Bay, is filled with ferries of tourists, fishing boats and sailboats.
On Saturday, I saw palaces, mosques, and even a fortress. The city’s population (20 million, I’m told) is largely Muslim, but there is a decidedly European and very western feel to things. At least half of the people I’ve seen, mostly men, smoke cigarettes. I haven’t seen this much smoking since the 1970’s. I’ve also seen a lot of beer drinking, and lots of Turkish women in skinny jeans, skimpy tops and uncovered heads. Everyone seems to be in a rush, and I believe there is lots of money to be made and spent.
I’ve spent all of my time on the European side; hopefully, before I continue on to Saudi Arabia, I will see the Asian, and much less European, side of Turkey.