Istanbul, a city so rich with history and instrumental in the world’s passing of time, has been opened to Rwanda. As the newest airline to join the ranks at Kayibanda Airport, Turkish Airlines now flies directly to Istanbul three times a week. If at all possible, you should take advantage of this new opportunity and visit a truly stunning city.
Istanbul’s location has long made it a hotbed of activity; the Bosphorus strait running through the city divides Europe from Asia, and has often drawn the line between Christianity and Islam. Named Constantinople in 330 AD, Constantine the Great’s Orthodox Christianity reigned supreme and the many churches were erected, namely the epic Hagia Sophia, a major tourist attraction today. Captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1453, Istanbul was established and the Eastern influences prevailed in textiles, architecture, and cuisine.
The Hagia Sophia was dedicated in 360 when construction began. Completed in 537, its dome was renowned and the beauty of the building spread throughout the land. When the Ottomans took over the city, it was converted to a mosque, and in 1935 it officially opened as a museum.
Equally stunning and sitting at the opposite end of the same road, the Blue Mosque faces the Hagia Sophia. Replete with traditional geometric designs, turrets, and Islamic symbolism, the extensive mosque is breathtaking. Visitors are welcome inside during certain hours, but not before one removes their shoes, covers their legs and shoulders, and women don the requisite head scarf.
Perhaps one of the most interesting attractions (and a welcome break from the summer’s heat) is the Basilica Cistern. Built in the 6th century by the Byzantines, this subterranean structure stored the city’s water, with a capacity of 100,000 tons. A cavernous underground hall, narrow walkways lead you around deep lakes of cool water. Supported by massive columns, be careful not to look into the eyes of Medusa! Her serpentine head was added onto the base of a column as a detractor for those wishing to poison the water.
Local food is delicious. Turkish tea is served at every hour in small glass cups no matter the weather. Lunch will often be an assortment of tasty, fresh foods - cucumbers and chilis, eggs, crusty breads, and yogurty sauces. Kebabs can be found at every restaurant and the meat - whether beef or lamb - is often grilled to perfection. Istanbul is a cosmopolitan city, though, and it won’t be hard to find your favourite, be it pizza, pasta, burgers, African, French, or McDonald’s - but that would be a mistake. Street food abounds and though maybe not the healthiest thing, it’s definitely tasty!
Artistic displays can be found in every direction, be it the Whirling Dervishes - men who perform the traditional dance of extreme spinning with such precision, it’s amazing they don’t topple over, or the beautiful pottery in vibrant colours, textiles with rich patterns and flourishes, or the phenomenal architecture that can be found in government buildings and museums alike.
The people of Turkey were found to be incredibly jovial and friendly: eager to help and show their beautiful city. Picking up a few words of the simple Turkish will pay off, with pronunciation easy enough. The streets of Istanbul are cobbled, with ancient buildings wedged in between modern ones; there’s always something to look at.
During high season, the city of Istanbul is packed with locals, nationals, and tourists. Istanbul has catered to tourism, and with its bid for the 2020 Olympic Summer Games, it’s only likely to become more amenable. Easy to navigate, with English commonly spoken and information booths all around the city, one feels safe and able while travelling about. Also, with free wifi spanning the entire city centre, you’re always connected! Look up restaurant reviews, find hours of museums (or cinema show times) or upload some photos to Facebook to show your friends.
With direct flights under $1000, and a host of hotels and restaurants to suit every budget, Istanbul is a fantastic choice for a special holiday. A week will give you a great view and understanding of the place’s history and beauty. For those wanting a longer trip, travelling into the breathtaking country of Turkey is highly recommended. You won’t be disappointed.