Being able to look across the water to see both Europe and Asia is really quite something, and it couldn’t be in a more appropriate city than Istanbul. With its Bosphorus bridges connecting the two continents, the northwestern Turkish city is transcontinental not only in terms of geography, but also with regards to its rich and fascinating history – it is nothing short of a melting pot of cultures and traditions.
On the one hand, you have Sultanahmet or the Old City, which is steeped in heritage and home to the breathtaking Sultan Ahmed Mosque – or the Blue Mosque as it is widely referred to, the vast labyrinth that is the Topkapı Palace and the epitome of Byzantine architecture Hagia Sophia.
This outstanding area, formally Constantinople, is a feast for the eyes with its sensational Ottoman architecture and Byzantium relics – most recently made famous by the latest James Bond movie Skyfall, which features some of its most iconic landmarks, including the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and Eminönü Square.
Indeed, the area received a shining endorsement from Bond himself, with starring actor Daniel Craig declaring that Istanbul provides “an incredible backdrop to any movie”. Naturally, the rumour mill is now awash with talk of the English actor supporting Istanbul’s 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games bid in person at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session in Buenos Aires in September next year, when the 2020 host city will be decided out of the three bidders of Istanbul, Madrid and Tokyo.
A must-visit destination for tourists and history buffs alike nonetheless, this ancient world is poles apart from the metropolitan area of Istanbul. The commercial districts of the city are vibrant with lights, populated by middle class professionals and cosmopolitan to say the least. In fact, these parts are so western that there is even a Marks and Spencer.
Diverse the city may be but the one thing that is universal throughout Istanbul is the friendliness of the Turkish people and their hospitality is second to none. Always very welcoming and eager to help, these characteristics ensured I had a fantastic stay in the city, as I am sure anyone else would.