Bangkok… Paris… Dubai… and then, a bit further down, just ahead of New York, is Istanbul, holding up the fourth spot of most visited cities in the world. I don’t know what the security situation was like a few months ago in the tourist section (Old Town) of Istanbul, but there is some pretty heavy weaponry lurking around right now if you’re paying attention. Police have to be in an awfully difficult position after the recent bombing at Sultanahmet Square. Tourism revenue is incredibly important to the economy here, and now they have to balance maintaining security with keeping the place open and pleasant for visitors.
The town is really lovely to stroll around, but I did find myself studying people in crowds a bit more than usual. A guy on the public tram with a giant cylindrical case on wheels had me more unnerved than he should have thinking just a little about what a soft target the place is. From what I can see, police and special forces types are all over the place and really on top of things, but I’m afraid the damage may already have been done for a little while. Cruise ships are already rerouting from Istanbul and accommodations are definitely less expensive than normal. We actually stayed in Old Town for these last two nights… I don’t really have a way to compare the current crowds with the typical numbers for this time of year, but the main tourist sights have pretty comfortably low numbers right now. That was basically the agenda for this visit: Blue Mosque, Basilica Cisterna, and Hagia Sophia. We also stocked up on Turkish Delight from Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir, the oldest candy shop in Istanbul (since 1777). Those main sights were really beautiful, but you really don’t need more than a day to visit them. The tourist shops in Old Town are sadly lacking in any charm. Our stay a week ago in Taksim had a much more authentic feel. The food was better and the antique shops around every corner in Taksim had really cool stuff.
Istanbul is a major Star Alliance hub for jumps to East Africa and Central Asia, so, Inshallah, we’ll be back to this town over the years as those places get checked off. We really weren’t in a rush to see everything this visit. We head back home tomorrow, but we’re going to be back at it very, very soon.