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The gateway between Asia and Europe, Turkey is a cultural bridge between East and West. This transcontinental country has a dual cultural ambiance, and offers those who visit a chance to step into both Eastern and Western traditions at once. The city of Istanbul glorifies Turkey’s Western-like culture and has the essence of a European city.

My personal Istanbul highlights include Hagia Sophia (a church-turned-mosque-turned-museum) and the Blue Mosque (named after its blue tile interior).

When it comes to shopping, Istanbul has you covered. Approximately 4,400 shops make up the Grand Bazaar, where you can get everything from Evil Eye trinkets to boxes of savory Turkish Delight. If it’s Western goods and apparel you’re looking for, head over to Taksim Square and wander down Istiklal Caddesi (Independence Avenue) for shops along a lengthy stretch of cobblestone.

Istanbul is a food lover’s paradise. Along the Galata Bridge (which links east and west districts of the city that stand on either side of the Bosphorus River), you’ll find a variety of seafood restaurants and cafes. In the Beyoğlu district you’ll find the restaurant 360, where you get a panoramic view of the city, good wine and fine dining. And on many streets you’ll run into vendors selling mussels with lemon (whether or not you decide to partake in the questionable “street mussels” is up to you).

Beyoğlu is also home to many chic bars and other nightlife assortments. Many of these nocturnal watering holes can be found along the stony pathway of Istiklal Caddesi.

Don’t leave the city without trying a glass of Turkish raki, which is made of fermented grapes and anis and usually cut with water.

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