I arrived to Istanbul with eyes wide open, eager to learn its history and hear the stories of those I met along the way. I found out almost immediately that the Turkish people are very aware of the preconceptions that they thought I, as an American, might have of them. They wanted to make sure that I walked away from every experience with a deeper understanding of their culture, religions, and people. This made me feel ashamed, and yet grateful for the opportunity they extended to me at every turn. What would follow then would be the welcoming of everyone I would meet, whether it was through the generosity of food or offering of cultural knowledge.
As I wondered around I found people fascinated by the fact that I was from America. I often found myself approached by teens and kids wanting to practice their English with me, locals curious about where I was from. I found this warm reception humbling. I also was embarrassed that we Americans rarely extend this kind of warmth to them in our own country.
The experience was a great reminder what we can learn about others through travel. By opening myself up to these encounters I walked away feeling la fuller person.
Where I stayed
The Renaissance Istanbul Bosphorus Hotel is located in the European side of Istanbul, and many of its rooms overlook the gorgeous Bosphorus Strait which serves as the border between the European and Asian sides of the country. Travel tip: Some of the best views of Istanbul are from the water, especially at sunset.
Fishermen waiting for a catch from the Bosphorus.
The New Mosque, built between 1660 and 1665.
The hotel’s location is perfect for this first-time visitor because of its proximity to many of the beautiful monuments and lively markets and bazaars, which were ideal for people-watch, shopping and and great food.
But aside from the city, I loved being able to venture out to tour the ruins of Ephesus in the coastal town of Kusadasi, a must if you are looking for a more laid-back experience in your trip.
These images give a glimpse of my travels through and around Istanbul. In a country so often caught up in conflict and from which so much fear is spread, especially in our country about religious groups and specific destinations around the world, it is important to move beyond the noise and see the truth of what so many, whom we have labeled as “other”, have to teach us. I hope my images give you an insight into this beautiful country and its inspiring culture and people.
The Sultan Ahmed Mosque
This museum originally was a Greek Orthodox Church before it was converted into a mosque after the a Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople in 1453. What’s so unique about this museum is that you see imagery and symbolism of both religions displayed throughout, a reminder of Turkey’s religious history and diversity.
The spice market
The Grand Bazaar
Go to the Grand Bazaar with plenty of time to spare. Not only is there a lot to see (and shop for), but there also are many hidden alleyways and stairs; these are fun to explore because they lead into some pretty spectacular places. Be ready to negotiate for better prices!
House of the Virgin Mary
Speaking of coffee, some say Turkish coffee and Greek coffee are the same. They are similar in many ways except in how they are brewed. Pictured here is the traditional way in which Turkish coffee is prepared. Feeling tired? This will wake you right up!
Basilica of St. John
Located in Ephesus, the Basilica of St. John was constructed by Justinian I in the 6th century. It is believed that the burial site of John the Apostle is located here. The views of the valley and the village from here are outstanding.
To the beach!
Ladies Beach is a popular beach located in the beach town of Kusadasi. This beach was once segregated for women only, and now is open to all. (It also is a favorite local hangout on weekends and during the summer months.) There’s nothing like bathing in the Aegean sea and hanging out with locals!
Unlike when in the busy city, I felt I could breathe in the coast of Turkey. So beautiful and peaceful. Arrive during off-season and it’s as if you have the entire sea to yourself.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site is 14,000 years old! Visitors are welcomed to take off their shoes and walk over and into the hot springs and travertine. The name means “white castle,” which describes the layers of limestone walls that make up this spectacular destination.
The site is ancient and beautiful, and a wonderful reprieve from the often hot weather.
So many sights, so little time.
Turkey leaves your senses feeling overwhelmed with all its flavors and sounds and colors. So much to see and so much to do, I touched only but a bit of it all during my visit. Everything I tasted, whether from a street cart or a restaurant left me wanting more.
Chestnuts roasting as night falls over Istanbul.
Turkey remains one of the most excited places that I have ever visited because of all I learned from the people I met, a gift for which I am eternally grateful.