Istanbul

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Straddling Europe and Asia, Istanbul—once known as Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine and then the Ottoman Empire—has for centuries been a bustling and cosmopolitan crossroads. But what's more striking than the meeting of East and West is the juxtaposition of the old and the new, tradition and modernity. Brash concrete-and-glass hotels and office towers creep up behind historic old palaces, women in jeans or elegant designer outfits pass others wearing long skirts and head coverings, donkey-drawn carts vie with battered old Fiats and shiny BMWs for dominance of the noisy, narrow streets, and the Grand Bazaar competes with Western-style boutiques and shopping malls. At dawn, when the muezzin's call to prayer rebounds from ancient minarets, there are inevitably a few hearty revelers still making their way home from nightclubs and bars while other residents kneel on their prayer rugs facing Mecca. What a wonderful city of contrasts that manage to coexist.