The Ertuğrul Gazi Mosque, said to be patterned after the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, sits at the end of a grand boulevard of parks that are almost as empty as the mosque itself. Large enough to hold 5,000 worshipers, it sees only a small fraction of that since it’s ‘unlucky’ or ‘haunted’ due to a number of deaths during its construction. In that respect, it seems that some comparisons are only skin deep.
An evening stroll along the Seine/Bospherus. A room with a view of the sparkling Eiffel Tower/Blue Mosque at dusk. This is a city where travelers can show up with no plans. Time in both Paris and Istanbul can be spent just walking the streets and spending time viewing art in small and large museums and later contemplating it all over an espresso/turkish coffee and a pan au chocolat/turkish delight in a cafe “you discovered” while walking through a neighborhood just off of the LP guide map.
Paris is not the only metropolitan city where people to travel to and spend hours getting lost amongst bustling streets and their alleyways. Istanbul is fast becoming a place where one can experience the cafe culture, romantic skylines, local cuisine and indoor art collections. There’s plenty of cute outdoor cafes that offer a comfortable place to have drink and watch the world go by.
Istanbul is a place for those who enjoy visiting cities that offer wonderful food, sites and views while keeping to a low to moderate budget. Gone are the days where visitors became instant Turkish millionaires at the airport currency exchange. Even with a few less zeros on the Lira notes, the cost of living in Istanbul is still 40% cheaper than Paris according to the Expatistan website. This means that even the budget traveler can afford a room with a view of the Blue Mosque, add a few more get a few more days to the itinerary and enjoy a few good meals. Maybe even pick up a nice rug if your bargaining skills are up to par.
Some basic comparisons between Istanbul and Paris:
There is no arguing that there’s no place like Paris. It’s a city everyone should spend time in and experience. Wine, art, architecture and wonderful sites are its big draws. Istanbul has all of these and more.
İstiklâl Caddesi located in the historic Beyoğlu district offers cafes offering tables with many different views and offer that for a $2 pint of cold beer and a $5 plate of doner kebab with rice. It’s the section of town where you can party on the roof tops until 7am and come back later and meander the streets seeing the latest additions to Istanbul’s buzzing art scene. It’s also where visitors and locals go to shop for everyday items, find a decent internet connection and find a plate of cheese Börek and strong turkish coffee.
On the other side of the Bosphorus, the Sultanahmet visitors the opportunity to lift the feet up and lounge on top of a cushioned platform, drink tea, enjoy a little nargile while watching the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia change color as the sun goes down. There a number range of places depending on amount of service, atmosphere and there’s one for every budget.
THE ART SCENE
Istanbul’s art is not restricted to just what can be seen on the walls and ceilings of many if the city’s mosques, palaces and historical sites. Istanbul is becoming a premier contemporary and modern art scene and giving other european cities some competition. Great contemporary and modern art works created mostly by native artists and can largely be viewed in the Golden Horn section of the city. The art typically references both the ancient and modern history of Turkey. Visual art, architecture, urbanism, the environment and cultural activities are highlighted in the both the large Istanbul Modern and SALT Art spaces.
Paris is famous for its very sophisticated street food of sorts that consists of buttery Pan au Chocolat, Macorone, baguette sandwiches, wine, cheese and fresh crepes filled with Nutella sold by vendors on the Montparnasse and in parks throughout the city. Turkey tempts it’s visitor’s sweet tooth with taffy-like ice-cream dished out by performing scoopers, sugar-coated fruity varieties of Turkish delight and of course rich Turkish coffee with extra sugar cubes.
The wine scene is experiencing a boom like that of the local art scene. Many visitors are beginning to find that Turkey’s locally produced wines are maturing as small wineries are adding depth to the world market. It’s no surprise that Turkey grows quality grapes since the lands are fertile and it’s neighbor Georgia is well-known for their fine wine vintages . The grapes are local and the wineries are working hard to develop their brands and begin competing with wines from France and Italy.
Istanbul is a great city on the western fringes of Europe. The Topkapi Palace Minarets and colorfully domed buildings of Ottoman construction make up the skyline. The haphazard singing of numerous muezzin begins at dawn and calls on the faithful to pray five times throughout day. Paris and Istanbul really can’t be trading for one another but they do share many characteristics. Unique architectural design that reflects the history of each city, a bustling modern and contemporary art scene and rich cuisine.
I first visited Istanbul in 2002. It was a place taken over by large groups of backpackers swilling pints upon pints of local beer in the Sultanahmet hostel outdoor roofs and patios. The city is still very good for those on a budget whether you travel with a backpack or something with wheels. Some of the hostels have changed over to boutique hotels but hostels are still in the mix as well as good affordable food and drink. There is even a street French Street located in the Beyoglu district if you feel a need to have the best of both Paris and Turkey in one city. Istanbul won’t disappoint.
Our flight on Turkish Airlines departs on Thursday at 11pm EST and lands in Shiraz at 2am Saturday. No worries since there’s no way to get around it. Mahmoud from Pars Travel Agency is going to meet us on arrival and will then take us on a short 14 day tour. The journey will take us over land and through the desert and visiting many UNESCO sites located along the eastern side of the Zagroes Mountains. We will finish our tour in Tehran where we will tour museums and hopefully will have some time to enjoy this modern and relatively new capital of Iran. We will be taking another early morning flight out of Tehran’s Imam Khomeini International Airport to Istanbul. Our trip was extended since while were in the neighborhood we mine as well turn the 5 hour layover into a 3 day stay. Visiting Istanbul is never gets old and who can get tired of seeing the great Blue Mosque at night and walking the streets of the Sultanahmet.