We happened to be in Turkey during the 2007 re-election of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. We traveled all over the country, and we were so enamored with the city of Istanbul that we decided to return this spring. However, when we told people that we planned a second visit to Turkey, we received a chorus of negative reactions based, I believe, on the perception of the changes made in the last few years by Erdogan’s government.
Istanbul is one of the most intriguing cities on the planet. While it is not the capital of Turkey, it remains the heart and soul of the country and is one of the largest cities in the world. Just as the Bosphorus divides the city – with one side in Europe and the other in Asia – Istanbul is a mixture of the modern era and of years gone by. One sees Ferraris race past ancient push carts.
As a visitor, your impression of the city’s atmosphere depends upon where you stay. We selected a hotel near the Topkapi Palace, which was made famous in the 1964 movie starring Melina Mercouri, Peter Ustinov and Maximilian Schell. In this portion of the city, you breathe a sense of history – but spending a day at the Grand Bazaar quickly convinces you that the people of Turkey are 21st-century capitalists. Though you hear calls for prayer wailing from the minarets, none of the merchants budge from haggling with the shoppers. This country does not mince words when they say they want your business. Any commercial establishment in the city will take Turkish Liras, but they will gladly also accept American dollars or Euros. They don’t particularly care how you pay – they just want you to buy, eat, and enjoy.
We crossed the Bosphorus to meet some government officials at an upscale shopping center that could easily have been mistaken for a mall in suburban America. Both sides of the street were lined with tall office buildings, including a Trump Tower. It’s no surprise that our taxi driver told us that we were entering the “Manhattan of Istanbul.”