I’ve had the great fortune of traveling the world for business and with my beloved family and close friends for over 25 years. These travels have taken us to multiple continents and cities; some similar to our Western traditions and some so old they far supersede our cultural norms. I have learned that being well-traveled leads to a more well-balanced life because it allows you to see the uniqueness of various cultures and the traditions and norms they have built over time. More so, it allows you to see the similarities that highlight just how similar humankind is, regardless of distance, culture, religion and language barriers.
I’m traveling again, and this time I’m in a place I’ve never traveled before. A city that sits at the crossroads of East and West, in both Europe and Asia. Yes, you read that correctly; half of the city is in Europe, and the other half is in Asia. I’m talking about none other than the unique and beautiful city of Istanbul — one of the oldest cities in the world.
Turkey was founded in 657 B.C. as Byzantion by Megarian colonists. It has gone through various cultural shifts led by the Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans, each leaving an indelible mark on Istanbul today. Currently, Istanbul is the largest city in modern Turkey, and you can feel that when walking through the bazaars. People are bustling and going about their daily lives.
Traveling these days during the pandemic is a challenge in itself. One of the reasons why we decided to travel to Istanbul is because Turkey is more vaccinated than most countries in the region. It is also fascinating that if you’re vaccinated, you don’t need to test, and if not vaccinated, you only need a polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, test. Turkey is eager to open for business and tourism. The people all wear masks and are all very respectful. Their work ethic and discipline are impressive as well.
My biggest complaints thus far have been the cigarette smoking everywhere and the slow broadband internet, but the food is amazing like nowhere in the world. The people are so warm. While walking in the square and doing a live video, a trolley bus was coming toward me. A kind lady pushed me out of the way to safety. It just shows how compassionate and kindhearted they are.
My trip to Turkey is an exploration of the culture, people and food, but also the politics. They’re intertwined, and in order to fully capture the essence of a place, it is important to experience each of those things directly or indirectly. As an American, it also reinforms just how blessed we are to live in the most wealthy and powerful nation in the world. It humbles you and serves as a reminder that despite our imperfections and shortcomings, as perfection doesn’t exist, our shortcomings are small specks of dust beneath our fingernails when compared with the experiences of other places. While this may not be the exact case for Istanbul, it has so often been the case in many places I have visited. So, I embark on each journey as an explorer seeking new experiences and knowledge.
While we’re here, we decided to explore in-depth, so we abandoned our driver and took a cab. Interestingly, there was a crash, but even that was an experience. Between the language barrier, the crash and interacting with Turkey police, it was something else; but thankfully, we were all OK.
Turkey really has some of the brightest intellectual minds in the world. We met with the top business leaders in Istanbul to truly understand the trading of goods and services between our nations. Turkey is one of the largest car part exporters in the world, with mechanicals and equipment flooding from its shores.
What’s so unique about this experience is how open many of the people are to tourists exploring their culture. They’re not only open but also eager to share their stories and the history of their beloved Istanbul. They want to engulf you in their world for however long you’re there, and that truly is what makes a new traveling experience so unique.
The truth is: People are people, regardless of where they are from. They are kind, warm and welcoming in all aspects of society. It is that special human connection that ruminates during moments of complete silence and absorption around our common humanity.