Should Istanbul still be on your bucket list?
Disclaimer: I adore Turkey, and even that's an understatement. I love its people, its architecture, its food (duh) and its variety of landscapes across the country. But this year hasn't been an easy one for the state, with terrorist attacks happening almost monthly, and a coup attempt only two months ago in the heart of Turkey, Istanbul.
When Turkish Airlines invited me over to Istanbul for a couple of days earlier this month, I leaped at the opportunity of going back to one of my favourite cities, but when I told my friends and family about my trip, they weren't quite so enthusiastic. The frequent attacks in Turkey, particularly Istanbul, are seriously damaging the country's reputation in the West, and my traveling to Istanbul only confirmed this.
The last time I visited Istanbul, as a solo traveler nonetheless, the place was packed. Entering museums and mosques meant endless queues, the bazaars were constantly buzzing with activity, and the streets were full of foreigners. The city was, simply put, alive. Istanbul during my latest visit? Not so much. I was dismayed to see the streets almost empty, though still equally pretty, and I got into the Blue Mosque in two minutes flat.
Do I blame travelers that are currently avoiding Istanbul? Hardly. Most governments are recommending avoiding Turkey, since attack threats are still high, and many warnings are being issued. However, after visiting Istanbul again, I simply have to recommend Istanbul to you again, for a number of reasons:
1. Because of past attacks, security has been amped up. Walking through the streets, I could definitely notice an increase in patrol cars driving in the city centre and more security guards around traveler zones.
2. Despite all the negative events, life in Istanbul has definitely moved on. Locals go about their daily business and normal life has resumed. I have no doubt that the events of this summer have had a huge impact on the people of Istanbul, but the daily routine seems relatively uninterrupted.
3. I firmly believe that travel can be an act of solidarity. Yes, the situation in Turkey may change at any minute, and yes, tragic events have happened, but why should the citizens of Turkey suffer even more because of them? A decrease in tourism means a plunge in any country's economy, which then means a tougher life for the guys like you or me. The people in Istanbul are still as friendly and still as welcoming as ever, and I for one will not refuse to visit.
4. Istanbul is still as beautiful as ever. Its mosques, palaces, the bridges connecting Europe to Asia, its young quarters - these things have not changed, and you should experience them at the first opportunity you get.
Of course, you should always be alert when traveling - the usual precautions apply. Stay in safe areas, ideally where there are people you can call to, avoid showing off any jewelry, try not to look too lost, don't follow strangers anywhere. Simple stuff that can avoid possibly dangerous situations wherever you are in the world.
Have I convinced you yet? What are your thoughts on Istanbul and Turkey right now?