Tuesday, May 24, 2016
ISTANBUL / THE CRIPLING OF A ICON CITY
One of the perks of belonging to the National Press Club is being able to take advantage of the Club’s first rate tour packages. When a short itinerary to Istanbul was offered we jumped at the chance. Friends who have been to the ancient city praised our decision to go. Carpe Diem, indeed.
Despite my eagerness to see one of the world’s most majestic and truly international cities, I had uneasiness over safety from terrorism. Because we ended up having a safe and totally satisfying visit to the capital of the ancient world, which now has 17 million persons living there, we can look back a year later profoundly richer for the experience.
On our visit, we—like so many others over the years—stood at the site where a recent terrorist bomb exploded in the old part of Istanbul.
Terrorists knew the Sultanahmet area was as popular in Turkey as Times Square in Manhattan or Piccadilly Circus on London.
The latest bomb went off near the Blue Mosque. It is hard to grasp a terrorists’ mind set as to why it is necessary to murder innocents in order to praise their God and do it in front of one of the most iconic images of Islam.
Sadly, the tourism fallout has been devastating in Turkey for a second major reason.
On the heels of bitterness between Turkey and Russia over a shot down Red fighter in 2015, Russia has banned tourism to Turkey. Resorts once popular with snow bound Russians are virtually nude of visitors.
Bombings in Istanbul and Ankara and the debacle with Russia have punctured Turkey’s $30 billion annual tourist income, a fourth of its overall economy.
Istanbul is practically empty of visitors and lines at major sites are non-existent. Yet is it safe. Safety in numbers is my answer. Being next to Russia and Syria I’d say go with care and courage, but go.
Istanbul deserves a chance to prove to the world it is a safe visit. Far more horrific acts of violence (body counts) have hurt Paris and Brussels, yet tourism isn’t dropping there as steeply as in Istanbul.
The monsters have succeeded in wounding a magnificent city and country. But it won’t be forever.
The Turks have courage and its good people—the overwhelming majority of that country—are embracing international visitors even more because they
understand it takes courage to book travel to Turkey these days. And, even in the better times we heard “thank you for coming to visit—it’s good to see you.”
And such comments weren’t just from shopkeepers or tourist executives it was from Turks sitting next to us at restaurants, on street cars or in random conversations throughout the City.
Add note: the security at the international airport in Istanbul was the most stringent, this ex-travel writer has ever witnessed. We were searched no less than six times before we entered the final boarding lounge.