Turkey is a fascinating country of Asian-European contrasts and overlaps. It's also a nation of practical people. When I sat down in an Istanbul restaurant and ordered meat and rice, the manager came back with a different proposition "I'm sorry, the meat is finished. Instead of rice and meat, here I give you rice and yoghurt. Don't worry for you same price". Very practical guy indeed.
Istanbul is a crazy, hectic, chaotic city – but also magical. It was one of the great centres of culture and imperial power for many centuries. Once called Byzantium, then Constantinople, the Roman and Ottoman heritages are very evident. The most iconic sight is the huge Blue Mosque, which tells the story of Suleiman "the Magnificent", the Ottomans's greatest ever military leader, who gave up everything for a slavegirl named Roxalena.
Suleiman had conquered most of Eastern Europe, and Roxalena was a captured Ukrainian girl who was taken to the slave market in Istanbul, where she was purchased for Suleiman's harem. It wasn't long before he fell in love with her. She then managed to convince the sultan to marry her, which caused a stir throughout the Islamic world for marrying a slave. It resulted in their son Selim, a very incompetent man, inheriting the sultanate. It happened because all the other candidates had been murdered thanks to Roxelana's influence over Suleiman.
Sitting comfortably with history is a very modern side to Istanbul. With 20 universities, the city buzzes with a youthful energy best seen in the Taksim district.