Compartmentalizing Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

Kids, I experienced a lot in the short week that I was in Istanbul. And I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to fit everything into one blog post. If I were to try, the post would get wordy and eventually stray into senseless rambling that just goes on for decades until you click away because you heard about an adorable new cat video on YouTube. And who could blame you? Cat videos are hilarious.

Anyway, ramblings aside, I would be doing a disservice to you and to Istanbul if I tried to pack it all in one post. So sit back, relax, make sure your seat back and tray tables are in their full, upright position, and we will begin.

You would think, after taking such a long hiatus from writing on this blog, I would have fully processed my time in Istanbul. You would think that I’d know exactly where to start. But I don’t, really. Do I just start going through the week, listing off everything we did chronologically? No… that’s dull… Should I write about the flight to Istanbul? I mean, when is an international flight not worthy of a blog post? But, no… that’s not where you begin when discussing the trip of a lifetime.

What about my impressions of this incredible city? And the culture? And the food? And the…

I think I blew a circuit in my brain… I’m trying to compute too much information…

Okay, I’m back.

Istanbul, at first, was incredibly overwhelming. Do you know that there are approximately 20 million people living there? 20 MILLION. You probably thought New York was big. HA! 20 million people. And they all have cars. At least, I assume they do, because the traffic was horrendous.

I was super glad that I never once had to get behind the wheel of a car while we were there. I thought I’d dealt with difficult drivers when I drove through Atlanta that one time. No… Atlanta is Mayberry compared to Istanbul. You know how, when you take drivers’ ed, you learn all about who has the right-of-way in pretty much any given situation? Yeah, I don’t right-of-way is a thing in Istanbul. I didn’t learn much Turkish, but it wouldn’t surprise me if I ever found out that there’s no Turkish translation for the term “right-of-way.”

Our host, the guy who picked us up at the airport and drove us around most of the week, has fully adapted to life behind the wheel in Istanbul. He’s an American, but he’s definitely become one of the locals when it comes to driving. Makes me wonder what he’ll be like when he’s stateside and making a quick trip to Target.

Kids, this was my first visit to a Muslim nation. To say that it was not what I expected would be an understatement. Actually, to be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Because, here I am, a guy who has spent 33 of his 37 years in southwest Virginia. All I know of Muslim culture is what CNN has told me. You really can’t count on western media to tell you what to expect when you visit Turkey.

Think about it. What do you hear about Muslim culture when you turn on the news? Terrorism? Extremism? And why is that? Because it’s sensationalist. It’s exciting and stirs up feelings of fear and anxiety and, for some reason, inspires people to keep watching because, for some reason, we expect that we will eventually see a positive outcome. But happy endings don’t generate ad revenue.

Do you think Fox News would see a ratings spike if they suddenly informed people that most, if not all, the people you encounter on a trip like this would be warm and generous and gracious and welcoming?

To me, it didn’t matter that there had been a bombing at the airport in Istanbul last summer. It didn’t matter that there had been a failed coup attempt, the first anniversary of which would hit while we were in town. There wasn’t a single moment in our entire week there when we didn’t feel completely safe and secure.

And it’s not like we just stayed cozy in our hotel the whole time, either. We got the chance to walk around. A lot. We did a lot of walking. And we weren’t just in tourist areas. We got to see some neighborhoods that no tourist agency would have ever sent us to. And it didn’t matter where we went, the people were the same. Friendly… Engaging…

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not naive enough to think that every street you walk down in Istanbul is safe for everyone at all times. But there are places here in Blacksburg I wouldn’t want to visit in the dead of night. Every city is going to have those places where you just shouldn’t go. We just didn’t see any of those while we were there.

Honestly, we may have seen only 10% of Istanbul. It’s a huge city. Huge.

And these are just my general impressions of the place. Come back for more tomorrow. I still have to talk about the touristy stuff we saw and some of the people we met. Oh, and the international flights. Who could forget about those?

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2 thoughts on “Compartmentalizing Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

  1. I wish I could “love” this Aaron. As you know I’m Muslim, and I know lots of people who have been to like every country EXCEPT a country in the Middle East because of some of the reasons you stated. Bless you for being so open minded and going!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I won’t say that the trip changed my life. But it certainly changed my attitude. Not that I ever felt like I had an overly negative attitude. But, like I mentioned, my only exposure to the Middle East has come from Western media, so I definitely had a biased attitude that was probably tinged with fear up until I actually arrived there and witnessed the culture first-hand. The people of Istanbul definitely hold a special place in my heart now. I’m not sure if I’ll ever go back, but if the opportunity presented itself, I don’t think I’d turn it down.

      Liked by 1 person

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