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Istanbul, Constantinople, Byzantium – the city where east and west has had many names over the centuries, conjuring images of the exotic, ancient histories and civilizations. I haven’t visited Istanbul yet, but I’m heading there next week and I have high expectations from the city that straddles two continents.

Turkey has been one of the fastest growing tourist destinations of late, with Istanbul ranking fifth in the 2015 Mastercard Global Cities Index of the most visited cities. It’s been high on my bucket list destinations for a while and I’m excited to be invited to explore Istanbul during the World Tourism Forum Global Meeting.

In my imagination, Istanbul inspires romance and mystery. Few places have witnessed more history than Istanbul which has been at the cross roads of civilizations for centuries. With relics from the Roman, Ottoman and Byzantium empires to the modern skyscrapers and a thriving business metropolis of 14 million people today, Istanbul is also at the cross roads between the ancient and the modern.

From my research, the city seems to abound with all the elements that makes cities great, strong heritage and culture, mystical and historical relics, amazing food, and a vibrant arts and creative culture. I’m fascinated to in learn about how this historic city has dealt with modernity and become one of the tourist capitals in the world.

I’ve seen pictures of the city’s mosque-dotted skyline, it’s spectacular monuments like the Haga Sofia, but I’ve also heard of the hip Istanbul – the city of foodies, hipsters, fashion designers and creatives – a city of art, music and mysticism. As much as I want to explore the ancient secrets of Istanbul also fascinated with the contemporary side of this dynamic city.

In a times that we live in, when there is still so much misunderstanding of cultures and religious intolerance, I think that visiting Istanbul will provide context and relevance and allow me to learn more about Islam and modernity. I have a few Turkish friends and I’ve been exposed to some amazing Turkish food here in Johannesburg, where I live and discovered local Turkish culture in my hometown.

As a cultural tourist, I think there are few places that offer such diversity as Istanbul. I have visions of feasting on Turkish delights, indulging in big Turkish breakfasts, experiencing my first Hammam, and wondering in awe at the Blue Mosque at sunset. I want to get lost in the maze of streets of the Old Town, discover the secrets of the whirling dervishes and experience the city’s famed nightlife. I can’t wait to taste Turkish street food, dine in Istanbul’s trendy eateries, sip raki on a roof top bar, drink tea like a local and smoke shisha in a hookah lounge.

The mystery, history and culture of ancient Istanbul intrigues me. Now, where tradition and modernity meet – that’s what really excites me.
Let’s go in stanbul, I can’t wait to meet you.
by MERUSCHKA GOVENDER

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