As a warning before you read this blog, I feel deeply in love with the city of Istanbul. It might possibly be one of my most favorite cities I have ever ever been to. The warning
is that I will probably bug anyone who shows any interest in the city to go immediately, and probably won't stop until they do.We (all my roommates but Marissa sadly), left for Istanbul around 5 in the morning last Friday. We caught an early metro and breezed through security, getting us to our gate a solid hour before takeoff. I briefly passed out until our gate was called. The flight is surprisingly only an hour. If you look at a map it makes perfect sense, but for some reason Athens to Istanbul just seemed a bit further away in my mind. The airline was quite nice. They served us a decent sized breakfast on an hour long flight. Can you imagine that in the States? I can't.When we landed, all of us couldn't contain our excitement. In order to enter Turkey however, you have to buy a visa at the customs entrance. For 15 Euros we got our visa and went quickly through customs.
Side note: Now, here is the best part of our trip. When we all went to Santorini a couple weeks ago, we met a guy who was staying at our hostel with a European Union youth workers program who was from Istanbul. We told him we had just booked tickets to visit in a couple weeks. In response we swapped contact information so that he could possibly show us around if he was free. He is studying music theory at a local university in Istanbul, so he said chances would be good he could show us around. Lucky for us, he told me that he would be free and would meet us at the airport.
Anywho, so we weren't sure if he was actually going to show up, etc. However, the moment we went through customs he was waiting for all of us with a big smile on his face. His name is Orkun and he ended up making our trip the best it could possibly be.
As you probably know Turkish is a language I know nothing about. I arrived not even knowing how to say hello. So having Orkun take us to our hostel via the metro was super helpful. My roommates Emily and Laura did a great job with finding a hostel to stay at. They booked a hotel called the Tulip guesthouse, at it is in the main historical square where the Hagia Sophia is and the Blue Mosque. The four of us stayed in a ten person bunk room, so basically we were in bunk beds with 6 people. However, it was super cool. We met people from all over the world in our room including two people from New Zealand who knew and have eaten at my favorite cafe in Wellington! super cool.
The first thing we did was walk around the main square with Orkun. He bought us typical bread/breakfasty snacks and tea to eat in the park before heading off on our first adventure. Orkun has basically planned out our entire weekend, it was incredible. He walked us to the main port where we walked through the spice bazaar. I have never ever seen so many spices in my life in one place. He also bought us a finely cured turkish meat that was beyond delicious. Before getting on a boat to get a tour of the Bosphorus we walked by a mosque while they were calling people to prayer. Before you enter the mosque the men wash their hands and feet so that they are cleansed before entering the sacred place. We then hoped on a boat for a lovely hourish ride along the water. Istanbul is beautiful, we passed many palaces and venetian walls along our way. Incredible. After the ride we took a walking tour of the city. Along the way we stopped at beautiful mosques, cafes to drink traditional turkish tea, and to listen to street musicians. We even played a shooting game with a bb gun where you aim to hit balloons some feet in front of you. First time I have ever held anything that slightly resembles a gun. Quite scare actually. Orkun told us we were walking towards his favorite street vendor that sells "special baked potatoes" and he was right. This vendor sells baked potatoes with just about every traditional Turkish condiment known to man. If Anthony Bourdain ever comes to Turkey (will have to check if he has), I bet, hands down, that he would go to this place. It was incredibly yummy. So good. After our baked potato adventure, we taxied back to the downtown area called Takism (not sure on the spelling), where we went to a hookah bar and got traditional tea. Now one of the great things about Istanbul that at all the bars everyone is playing backgammon. I was taught the rules when I was a little girl, so after a refresher course from Orkun I was hooked. Playing backgammon at a hookah bar while sipping tea in Istanbul is not a bad deal. After relaxing for a bit we went to a rooftop bar that looked down upon the busy cities, it as wonderful. The place played British tec/pop that added a lot to the funky atmosphere. However, we were exhausted shortly after we passed out at our hostel.
The next day Orkun could not meet us because he had to go to a party to celebrate his friend getting his pilots license, so we did the major touristy things since he couldn't be there. Our first stop was the oldest palace in Istanbul. It was really really nice, would not mind calling it my home. The palace is made up of incredible buildings that are just stunning, a incredible jewelry/object collection from political relations back in the day, and wonderful artifacts crossing over many centuries. Then we went to the amazingly beautiful Hagia Sophia. I will say now that it is the most amazing building I have ever been too (the only thing that beats it is St. Peter's and just just barely in my opinion). For those of you ho don't know Hagia Sophia is a fascinating place because in its history it has been both a mosque and a held under Christian rule, so you can see inscription of Allah next to mosaics of Jesus Christ, fascinating. The Hagia Sophia is honestly something you can't describe and photos barely do it any justice. We then went to the Underground Cistern, which are also wonderful. You walk down these stairs and then all of a sudden you are in this spooky, cool, beautiful walkway surrounded by columns glowing with red lights. After the walk we decided it was time for lunch. We decided to get the cheapest gyro like concoction we could find, and luckily it was quite good. We were then on our way to the famous Blue Mosque. Before entering all women have to make sure they are conservatively dressed, if not they hand out long scarves to cover yourself at the door. The mosque is stunning, it is covered in beautiful, intricate tile designs. We decided to sit in the corner and watch the men pray, it was fascinating and a beautiful tradition to witness. However, the women have to pray in the back of the mosque away from the men (they are even put behind the tourists walking around), I know it is tradition but a bit unsettling, but nonetheless deep tradition. After watching for quite some time, we decided to head the the also famous Grand Bazaar. It is the largest bazaar in the entire world. We were totally taken aback my the atmosphere. I personally was just looking for a nice little memento of Istanbul, however, Emily was on a mission to get a hooka. Luckily for us, after talking to millions of people, and looking at billions of shops. We all got nice pashminas, and Emily was successful at finding a nice and affordable hookah. Exhausted, we went back to the hostel to rest before going out again to the downtown area. At around 10ish, we headed back to Takism, the place we had gone for drinks the night before. We decided to walk into the first bar that had a rooftop area, and it just so happened that we walked into an American themed bar, oh well. While there we met two college students who were studying in Istanbul (one was an NYU student who was studying abroad and the other was Turkish studying at a local university), we also met up with some guys who were also visiting Istanbul from our program. The evening was a lot of fun and relaxing.
The next day (sadly our last full day), we woke up around 8 for breakfast before leaving to meet Orkun at the local port. For our last day Orkun had decided to take us to the largest island off the coast of Istanbul called Buyukada. The island is especially interesting because cars are not allowed on the island, only emergency/police vehicles. The ferry over took about an hour and half. When we arrived, I could tell that the island was going to be beautiful. The first thing we did was walk about the main square to get a feel for the island. We then decided to take a carriage ride to see most of the island. The carriage ride was beautiful, and we some some amazing summer homes. Halfway through the ride, we stopped at the bottom of a hill in order for the horse to take a bit of a break. While waiting, we decided to climb up the hill to a beautiful church located at the very top. The climb was quite exhausting but well worth the trip. The church was extremely beautiful. Inside I also learned another thing about Turkish culture. A woman and a few young girls were going around the church giving people chocolate, apparently in sacred spaces in Turkey you share sweets with those around you. I think that is an amazing tradition. After walking around for a bit, we walked back down to our horse carriage to take us back to the main square. Sadly, by the time we returned it was time for us to catch the ferry back. However, my roommates were really excited to visit the continent of Asia (half of Istanbul is European and the other is Turkish), so we got off the boat a bit early to have dinner in Asia. Orkun took us to an amazing restaurant so we could have traditional Turkish kebob. It was amazzzzing. After dinner, we took a taxi back to the port to boat back to Taksim for our last evening. Orkun took us to our favorite hookah/tea/backgammon place for the last time. Sadly, after hanging out for an hour (and sort of beating Orkun at backgammon, with a bit of coaching), Orkun sadly had to say goodbye (he had to go back to his university for classes the next day). After Orkun left, we went back to the hostel to get sleep before a 5am wakeup call to catch our plane back.
Overall, Istanbul was incredible. My weekend there will definitely be one that I remember forever. Would love to talk to anyone who is thinking about going, can give you some advice on what to see.
Can't wait to hear what everyone at home has been up to. I miss you all so much. Comments are like getting Christmas presents in October :)