The historical importance of the geography of Istanbul cannot be overestimated. The city spans two continents, Europe and Asia, and the Bosphorus Strait, which connects the Black Sea with the Mediterranean, has always made Istanbul strategically important from both a military and economic point of view. Oil tankers may be seen making their way along the Bosphorus, and a suspension bridge across the Bosphorus now tightens the connection between East and West. The photo immediately below advertises the tour of the Bosphorus available to visitors. (More about that later.)
Islam is of course central to the culture of Istanbul and has been for centuries. I was impressed nevertheless by the comfort a Westerner feels, or at least did seven years ago, moving around the city. European restaurants abound, and it is natural for European Christians to recognize places familiar to them (Nicaea, Ephesus and Antioch) in smaller surrounding cities. In other words Istanbul, despite it differences, remains a city by no means wholly foreign to us.
Next up: European restaurants in Istanbul.