A bustling city that stretches across the tips of Europe and Asia, there is no doubt that Istanbul is truly one of a kind. It is a city where one can enjoy the comforts of a modern European experience coupled with the grace of Islamic heritage. I first visited Istanbul in 2011 and was stunned by the scale and beauty of the Sultanahmet Mosque. Ever since then, I have been returning from time to time, but little did I know that this city has so much more to offer.
The Golden Horn is a horn-shaped inlet of the Bosphorus that served as a natural harbor during the Byzantine and Ottoman period. Despite being a major tourist attraction, I often find myself back in this district, as it is, in my opinion, the heart and soul of Istanbul. Today, this ancient waterfront is buzzing with life; surrounded by parks, historical sites, and transportation hubs. During the day, a çay (Turkish tea) vendor will do his best business of the day, serving his brew in tulip-shaped glasses to the fishermen on the Galata Bridge, where the smell of fish permeates the air. Daily commuters will scurry past the crowd once they disembark from the ferry to the next tram station. If you are here in the evening, you will catch the jaw-dropping sunset of the Golden Horn as it plummets behind the Suleymaniye Mosque.
What I love most about this city is wandering the neighborhoods as layers of history unfold before me. While exploring the historical quarter of Balat, I find myself stepping back in time where life moves at a slower pace. Here you will find houses painted in vibrant colors, children playing football in the cobblestoned streets, and washing lines strung between buildings. As the sun goes down, the sound of the muezzin’s call to prayer echoes through the quaint back alleys leaving one with the sense of serenity to end the day.