7 Things you need to know when visiting Istanbul

By 23:37

I really under-estimate the opportunities I am afforded with my day job. A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to go on a business trip to Turkey and I managed to find some time to explore the city, get lost in the tastes and mingle with the locals. I'm quite enjoying these 7 Things posts that I've been writing about the cities I visit so here's 7 things that made me fall in love with the European charm of Istanbul.

Photo credit: http://hayatouki.com/luxury/content/1797824-%D8%A8%D9%84%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D8%A6%D8%A9-%D8%B3%D9%88%D9%82-%D8%AA%D8%B1%D9%83%D9%8A%D8%A7-%D8%AD%D9%8A%D8%AB-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%A8%D8%B6%D8%B9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%85%D9%85%D8%AA%D8%B9#9

1. The simplest visa process
I'm convinced that the countries with exorbitant visa fees and tedious visa processes don't actually want us in their countries *cough* Europe *cough*. It's so refreshing to know that Turkey's process for South Africans is much simpler...and free! You just get onto this website, fill in some deets and 2 seconds later...hello printed visa! No fees. No queues. No waiting period.

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2. The only city in the world to straddle two continents
I know it's not new news but now that you've got your free e-visa, go to Istanbul and take a ferry to the floating island of Galatasaray. It feels pretty surreal to be on two continents at the same time.

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3. Seat belts are optional
I took cabs in Istanbul mostly because we were in a large group so it was cheaper to split the bill. That's when we learnt that no one wears seat belts. Some of the cabs didn't even have seat belts! The fast drives through tight streets without seat belts is like an amusement park ride but it's a great way to see the city. Istanbul also has buses, a metro and a modern tram line so getting around the city (even as a foreigner) is easy and affordable.

4. Let sleeping dogs lie
Istanbul is filled with stray dogs. Dogs that just seem to lie around all day. It's actually quite sad to see so many lifeless dogs lying around. Despite looking like they are starving, they seem to be pretty self sufficient and don't come up to people begging for food. I'm glad the government at least vaccinates and tags the dogs with a microchip of their medical history.
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5. The home of Turkish Delight
I grew up eating Turkish Delight - it might be from the Indian love of rose water in our desserts and drinks. When I told my friends and family that I was going to Istanbul, they immediately asked for Turkish Delight. I didn't know why when they are so easily available in South Africa but when I hit the streets of Istanbul, I was surprised by the Turkish Delight experience. There are stalls with every variety possible of Turkish Delight - chocolate, coconut, pistachio. I went on a tasting spree before buying my boxes of my Turkish Delight to take home.
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6. A liberal Muslim city
I remember packing for my trip and my husband looked in disdain at the clothes I packed. He insisted I pack modest clothing bearing in mind that I am going to a Muslim country during Ramadaan. I landed in the midst of summer and dreaded my choice of long sleeved tops. The local women were dressed in Western clothing - some even dressed in a quite a revealing manner. So, yeah, you need to dress modestly when visiting a mosque but on the streets of Istanbul, strappy tops and shorts are perfectly fine.

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Although 98% of the population is Muslim, I was also surprised at the popular Turkish liquor, beer and wines. And if you visit during Ramadaan like I did, fear not, you can grab a meal very easily during the day.

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7. A heritage to be proud of

Istanbul's history can be traced back to 13th century BC. I absolutely love that the history of the city has been treasured. Where possible, old buildings have been maintained even after the numerous changes in political and religious power throughout time. And through all these changes, old, damaged and dilapidated buildings have been restored. Even as you travel through the city, you're bound to see many buildings undergoing restoration.

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I'd love to go back to Istanbul - this time on holiday. If there's something you think should be on this list, let me know in the comments below. 

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