It’s a tough time for one of the world’s most amazing cities: another terror attack in the streets prompts travelers to quickly turn their backs and head elsewhere. Istanbul, and on a larger scale Turkey, is facing a perilous and challenging time in its history. As these horrific attacks have continued, many cruise lines have made the decision to cancel their calls in Turkey, out of an abundance of safety. For those cruisers still sailing to Istanbul, I feel they shouldn’t fear this beautiful city.
I recently traveled to Istanbul to embark Viking Ocean Cruises’ new Viking Star. Including one night at the Park Hyatt and one night aboard Viking Star, I had three full days to explore the streets of this foreign city. I had never been to Istanbul, Turkey, or anywhere remotely close to the Middle East. I’ll admit I was nervous, but at the same time, I was simply excited. I had no idea what was in store and for weeks before, I found myself marveling at photos of the city and all the wonders it had waiting for me. Before I knew it, I was preparing for landing at Istanbul Atatürk Airport, counting the number of mosques that dotted the landscape below my Lufthansa Airbus A320. As we landed, I couldn’t take my eyes of the city appearing before me. For a moment, it looked as if I were landing in Tripoli. Soon, however, I was riding across the city towards the Park Hyatt, gazing out the window at a city that can be best described as a clashing of Europe and the Middle East. After arriving at the Park Hyatt and refreshing, I immediately set out to explore. It struck me how safe and secure I felt that I would just walk out the door and start walking around on my own. Everyone had warned me about Istanbul and how dangerous it was. I never once felt like I was in any danger. Walking from the hotel down to the Bosphorus, grabbing a bite at a small cafe, awkwardly watching locals go about their business in a nearby park, and later dining at a traditional Turkish cafe – not once did I feel in danger. The next day, I ventured further into the city with some fellow passengers from Viking Star, exploring the Grand Bazaar, the former palace of sultans of yesterday, and finally one of the city’s most prominent landmarks, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque. During my three days in Istanbul, not Constantinople, I never once felt the fear that so many people thought I would. I never felt I shouldn’t be there nor that my life was ever in danger. To see so many people continue to think this way makes me truly sad.
For the cruise lines, recent attacks have prompted them to cancel calls in Turkey, most notably Istanbul. While I understand their desire to protect their passengers from potential harm, I feel the cancellation of port calls casts an ugly shadow over a beautiful city. Turkey and Istanbul’s problem is one of perception. Europe, while suffering from similar attacks, is typically viewed as “safe” and “western,” while Turkey is viewed as “a war zone” and “the Middle East.” While other parts of Europe struggle with the same terror, its business as usual, but for Turkey, they won’t see those ships coming over the horizon.
For the sailings that will turn away from Istanbul and other Turkish cities, travelers will not experience the wonder and amazement I discovered during my time in that amazing country. They will not experience interaction with the incredible people of Istanbul, the tantalizing food of Turkey, and the incredible architecture found in the old city. Instead, those passengers will only be left with the negative perceptions of a city and country that is misunderstood and overshadowed by evil. How can someone know the good of something if all they’re allowed to see and know is evil? Turkey and Istanbul are not the war zones that public perception would lead you to believe.
For me, I’ll be making my journey back to Istanbul soon. I’m excited to return to such a beautiful, vibrant, and cultured city. I can’t wait to once again walk her streets, interact with her people, and feel the spray of the Bosphorus on my face as I drink a cup of Turkish tea along the shoreline. For the time being, I continue to #PrayForIstanbul and hope that travelers will one day again #SailToIstanbul.