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Istanbul, the City of Contrasts

A white cat with one blue and one green eyeWith 14.5 million inhabitants, Istanbul, which once was known as the ancient Byzantium (later Constantinople), is today one of the most populous metropolises in the world and definitely one of the most culturally diverse. The “City of Seven Hills” is the only metropolis that straddles two continents – Asia and Europe – inserted by the Bosphorus, which connects the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara. The hills of Istanbul all offer stunning views of one or both continents, so it’s no surprise that everyone says the best rooftops and terraces are found here.

Istanbul city at sunset

To start with, the numbers will impress you since this bustling city is home to more than 3,000 Islamic religious centers and mosques which live in harmony with other religions and are surrounded by hordes of tourists. The human and the divine: all jumbled together. In fact, nothing symbolizes this mixture better than Hagia Sophia.

As for the language, Turkish is simply incomprehensible to Spanish and English speakers so don’t try to understand it! All you need to know is “indirim”. It’s a magical word for the tourists who love shopping because it means that it’s clearance season. The Gran Bazaar and the Spice Market are the typical places to shop.

Gran Bazaar full of people

Anywhere, at any time, you’ll see groups of people drinking tea on a terrace or in a makeshift corner spot. Delicious and intense, the Turkish tea is served in small glasses around little, low tables. It’s the perfect way to take a break in this city that never slows down. Also, going to one of Istanbul’s clubs is almost like experiencing the Carnival in Brazil. Turkey is one of the few countries in the world with its own music industry (they even have their own version of Lady Gaga: Hande Yener). Dervish dancing is traditionally the most daring dance in the Turkish dance. The hypnotic ritual is performed by Sufi mystics and it was considered pagan in origin. Wearing wide skirts, the men spin with remarkable grace without losing balance, leaving the audience enthralled.

Dervish Dancing

Finally, a boat trip on the Bosphorus is an essential part of any visit to Istanbul, but not everyone is up for crossing to the Asian side to explore the picturesque waterfronts. Do as the Turks do: bring a blanket or towel and relax in one of the parks.

Woman on a Ferry out at sea

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