Once I was asked if Turkey would be considered part of Europe or Asia, and the answer I gave at the time was yes. In fact, the county sits amidst eight countries, separating East from West. And has actively sought to foster close relations with both communities. A true gateway between the two, Istanbul is in fact a small microcosm of the larger whole that Turkey is. Historically known as Byzantium and Constantinople, it’s the largest city in the entire country with over thirteen million inhabitants and is its busiest port – driven home by our view of the city and it’s surrounding waters from the Vision of the Seas.
To put that into perspective, it’s considered the 3rd largest city in all of Europe – ranked behind London and Moscow. Straddling the natural harbour known as the Golden Horn, it’s the only city with the distinction of being on two continents.
A city with an extremely long history, Istanbul has in its time served as the capital of the Roman Empire (330-395 CE), the Byzantine Empire (395-1204 and 1261-1453), the Latin Empire (1204-1261), and the Ottoman Empire (1453-1922), until it was proclaimed the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923 and the capital was then moved to Ankara.
All of which earned it a place upon the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1985.
But don’t just go for the sights, stay for the food. For the fish lovers the nearby waters of the Bosphorus Strait offer fresh catch for a variety of soups, rice dishes, and stews. Vegetarians need not worry however, as they also have a selection of vegetable tapas-like plates that are often accompanied by tasty Turkish bread.
Pistachios are also really cheap, so consider hitting the Spice market or one of the many vendors who work in the Old City.
Locals like to drink Raki, an 87% proof anise-flavored alcohol which is rarely drunk straight – instead mixed half-and-half with water, turning a milky white. Nic almost made that mistake the first night we were in Istanbul, but our helpful waiter at the Metropolis showed us how it’s done.
Local currency is the Turkish Lira ($TL) and available at various exchange kiosks as well as ATMs.
In fact you’ll find for the most part that locals will take American and Euro just as readily as lira. In fact Visa and MasterCard are as widely accepted, so feel free taking plastic if you don’t like the idea of carrying around a lot of money.
Canadians entering the country will be required to purchase a 90 day visa – at the time we paid in $US due to the favorable exchange rate and the lower amount they ask for in that currency.
Tips are usually at a rate of 10%.
All taxis – Taksi – are equipped with meters, but it’s advisable to ask for a general idea of the amount before hiring them. Tipping for the drive however is not customary, though many round up to the nearest dollar.
Public bathrooms are denoted by a WC and a pretty common sight.
As well as are the cats!
Some useful Turkish to know:
Hello – Merhaba
Goodbye – Hoscakalin
Thank you – Tesekkurederim
Yes – Evet
No – Hayir