Istanbul is very metropolitan, very friendly for English speakers, and massive in size. There are 10 different tours available to those interested in exploring it. I took two of them and feel as if I didn’t even scratch the surface on what was a mysterious place to me before I arrived.
I was uncertain whether it would be similar to Paris, Rome, or London or perhaps similar to a city that was less exposed to Western culture. Istanbul offers the best of both worlds. You can eat pure Turkish cuisine or American fast food. The cab drivers will take the scenic route to your destination — similar to their Boston brethren — and there is a hip crowd of sneaker-wearing young people who nestle at the pier of the Bosphorus Strait in the evenings and then pour into the local bars and clubs.
Istanbul has that rare combination of New York flair with a history and culture that can be overwhelming. A visit to the Spice Market — an essentially endless flea market of frantic intensity filled with salesmen who can easily sniff out a tourist looking for souvenirs — was especially fascinating.
On one side of the city, you can experience the serenity of the various mosques, and on the other, amongst thousands of vigorous shoppers, bargain for a good price on pomegranate tea. Istanbul has various layers, and it would take much more than a few days to discover all of them, but for now, I feel completely satisfied and energized with what fraction I have discovered so far.