Istanbul is all the things that Turkey isn't and isn't any of the things that Turkey is. I'll explain.
Turkish eating habits seem incredibly conservative. Once you've had your fill of kebabs, the often bland pastries, and the occasional sloppy school dinner at a lokanta, your options are quite limited, and foreign food isn't one of them. The two independent pizza and pasta joints I saw in smalltown Turkey had both closed down. Chain garbagemongers like Dominos Pizza and Burger King had a sprinkling in the larger cities but that was as dangerously international as the food got. Of course, in Istanbul it's another story. There are restaurants that take Turkish food to another level and plenty of places where you can eat internationally if you need to. And, believe me, after cycling for five weeks in rural Turkey you'd probably need to.
Finding a beer, especially if you want to drink it sat on a terrace, can be impossible in a lot of Turkish villages and towns. In Istanbul it's a doddle. Istanbul still isn't London or Munich or, come to think of it, absolutely anywhere else in non-Muslim Europe, but if you steer clear of minaret-to-the-maximum Sultanahmet, where alcohol cannot be sold within one hundred metres of a mosque, you won't have a problem. Outside of Istanbul, and especially the farther you go from Istanbul, the bars that do exist, of which there are not many, are often dark and dingy, designed to prevent those outside from seeing inside, like British betting shops. I'm not sure if this is to protect the identity of the drinkers or to prevent those outside from being joyfully sucked into its alcoholic decadence.
I'm glad I left Istanbul to the end of my Turkish adventure. For one, the rest of Turkey would have been a disappointment architecturally and culturally, but I also think I would have trusted people a lot less, and it was by trusting that I met so many wonderful people throughout Turkey. If I gave too much money at a petrol station while buying water, it was always returned. The one time I accidentally left behind a small pile of coins after taking a juice break at a garage I found a couple of blokes waiting half an hour down the main road with open arms. I think they would have pounced on me had I not stopped. They returned the money, and it was only about €2. I don't know anywhere else that this sort of thing might have happened.
In Istanbul, scams are as prevalent as Turkish Delight. Aside from simple restaurant overcharging, others are more ingenious. We were the target of one. Walking across Galata Bridge behind a shoeshine man we noticed that he'd dropped his brush. We called after him. He turned around, picked it up and thanked us. Then, seemingly as an afterthought, he offered to clean my shoes for free. I'd read about opportunistic scams and so I was a little wary. In this case I was especially wary because I wasn't sure how shiny he expected to get my grey, grubby, slowly disintegrating trainers. I politely declined. After a quick Google we realised that he, or at least this type of scam, is famous. Apparently, during the free shine, he tells some guff about his wife having the plague and his kids having nothing to eat but polonium on toast and lyingly tries to guilt cash out of you. The Lovely Nina was impressed by how 'street' I'd been. (She lived in London for ages and thinks I'm a bit of a yokel.) The next day we saw him try it on someone else, and then he did us again, the chump. It was very tempting to pick up his fallen brush, shout, "Oi, looking for this?" and then lob it into the Bosphorus.
Beauty and atmosphere
Istanbul has the Bosphorus and the Golden Horn, both stuffed full of boats, in which to reflect the illuminated mosques as the sun starts to set. Then there's Hagia Sophia, first completed in 360 AD, and the solid Galata Tower from 1348, standing above Beyoğlu like a swollen version of Rapunzel's fortress. If any of Turkey's other cities has buildings to match these - and I saw a few of those cities - then it kept them well hidden.
There's also the feel of Istanbul. The sensual assault of the Spice Market fills the nose with unlocatable aromas and the eyes with colours yet to be invented. And then there was the Grand Bazaar, the largest market in the world. While selling mostly tat, it never felt more alive than when a thunderstorm caused its drains to burst, sending a slurry of, erm, yesterday's kebabs down the main thoroughfare and a tidal wave of shoppers running for their lives, or at least the lower two inches of their trousers.
I read the blog of a pair of cyclists the other day and they said how they'd liked Turkey but hadn't loved it. I know what they mean. The roads can be rough, the winds tiring, the scenery monotonous and the food predictable. What saves the country as a whole is its people, the friendliest in Europe (so far).
While it would be unfair to say that this isn't true of those in Istanbul, the scammers and restaurants touts can make it feel like that. If you're looking for a pleasant biking holiday, then there are a lot of better options - Austria, Belgium, France, Italy or Spain (plus, perhaps, some of the 25 countries that I've still to visit) - but you won't find people in any of those places more interested in what you are doing. And you won't drink as many freely offered glasses of tea either.(Oh yes, don't come during Ramadan when the free tea dries up as it did for me towards the end of July). And if you haven't been yet, you have to visit Istanbul, but don't think that the rest of Turkey is anything like it, because it isn't, for better and worse.