So my trip to Turkey started off with me almost missing my flight from Belgrade. I kept on thinking the flight was at 4:55pm and it wasn’t until about 2pm, when I looked over my email, that I realized it was actually at 4:15pm. Without any hesitation I jumped up and started yelling to my aunt that we have to leave NOW. After a congested half hour drive through Fruška Gora’s one lane mountain roads, we finally made it to the highway and then to the airport exactly one hour before departure. Phew.
When I arrived in Istanbul I got my bearings and headed on the metro to the old historic part of the city, Sultanahmet, where our hostel was located. On my way to the hostel, I met a young Serbian man that was on my flight from Belgrade. As we kept talking, we discovered that we were staying at the same place which immediately made finding it that much easier.
I got to the hostel around 9pm and the girls and Aran were already there sitting on the rooftop terrace enjoying some traditional raki (Turkish liquor when mixed with water turns cloudy and tastes like black licorice). After settling in, we headed to dinner to celebrate Megan’s birthday and see the town a little bit. This is when we all learned how much Turkish men love blue eyes.
Day Two: Mosques and the Grand Bazaar
Day two started off with a short 5 minute walk to the Blue Mosque. To say this thing is big is an understatement. This was the first mosque I’ve ever been in so it was an interesting experience. We put our shawls on our heads, took off or shoes, and the ones that had bare legs were given skirts to put over themselves and headed inside. One of my favorite things about religious places is the wall art and there was no shortage here. I’m used to Orthodox churches that are covered with frescos of saints, apostles, and martyrs. The mosque walls were covered but with beautiful floral patterns in every shade of blue imaginable. The whole place gave off an air of calm and serenity even with the crowds of tourists everywhere.
The Hagia Sophia sits directly across from the Blue Mosque so naturally, this was our next stop. The thing that struck me the most about the Hagia Sophia is the sheer size of it. It was at one point the center of Christianity but i just never thought it would be THAT big. It was really interesting to see the mix of both religions present throughout the structure. There were frescoes of Jesus and St. John the Baptist right next to Islamic scriptures.
After leaving Aran and our new friend Srdjan, the girls and I decided to head back to the hostel and grab some lunch. When we got back to the hostel we ended up befriending a girl named Rebecca from Canada. We had some lunch and washed it down with apple tea (my newest obsession) and started off for the Grand Bazaar.
The Grand Bazaar was just as massive and congested as I imagined it would be. There was everything and anything available for a decent price if you could haggle for it. Here was when we first realized that all of the shop workers, which were male, used charm as their tactic of choice. We got called Spice Girls a countless number of times along with God only knows how many various celebrity names.
The rest of the day was just spent moseying which was followed by some dinner and more moseying.
Day Three: Baths and Birthdays
This day was our new friend Rebeca’s birthday so the only natural thing to do for your birthday would be go to a spa and we did just that. Just turn spa into Turkish bath. Entering into the location didn’t look very promising until we got inside of the women’s section. There were three floors of couches and different areas for pampering. The attendant gave us some bikini bottoms to put on and sent us upstairs to undress. When we got into the bath area there was a large circular heated marble plateau where a few women were already laying on. There was also a jacuzzi, mini heated pool, and areas for self bathing. Some of the girls decided to go for the full service and have an attendant bathe them but, as you all know I hate being touched, I decided to just bathe myself. We spent about an hour in the sauna of a room and then enjoyed some mud masks and finished it off with apple tea.
After the bath we made our way through the intertwining side streets of the city and ended up on the other end of the Golden Horn at the Spice Bazaar. The Spice Bazaar is just like the Grand Bazaar but not so…grand. We perused around and found a shop where we could buy some Turkish Delight and tea for a good price. After talking with the very nice store attendant (the only woman attendant that we saw) we learned that she was Romanian from Suceava. Talk about a small world!
Our last stop for the day was the Basilica Cistern. We did the most touristy thing we could think of here and that was to take a “Turkish” group picture. Aran dressed up as a Sultan and the girls dressed up as royalty. The best way to describe the cistern is to compare it to the dungeon in the Harry Potter movie when Harry battles the Basilisk.
By the time we got back to the hostel we had enough time to change and get ready to go out and celebrate Rebeca’s birthday. We went to Taksim which is known for it’s nightclubs and found a place for some more traditional Turkish food. After about an hour and a half and a large bottle of raki split between the seven of us, we started our search for a particular club of interest. An hour later, when we finally found it, it was closed. Bummer. We didn’t let our setback stop us at all. The rest of the night was spent bar hopping and trying out the local street food like muscles and Kokoreç aka sheep’s colon sandwiches which are actually extremely tasty!
Day Four: Asia
After a slow start due to the previous night’s late arrival, we got on a bus that was to take us to a boat for a Bospherus Straight tour. The tour lasted about 90 minutes and we got to see a lot of scenic buildings, great views, and learn many interesting facts about the city such as the fact that in Istanbul alone there are roughly 3,042 mosques, 120 churches, and 16 synagogues.
When the tour had finished we hopped off the bus at the harbor to grab some fish sandwiches. These aren’t your ordinary sandwiches. The fish is freshly caught and they are made on floating boats that act as kitchens. These boats aren’t very big so when one of the big ferries ports, they get thrown around in the current. I don’t know how those cooks manage to not get seasick everyday.
Our main goal for the day was to make it to Asia and we did just that. After a 15 minute ferry ride across the straight we reached another continent. Since Lindsay is part Japanese, we made sure to get our fair share of “motherland” comments in. After a short hour or so on the Asian side, we decided Europe was cooler and headed back.
Day four was a rough one so we took it easy that night and relaxed and went to bed early to prepare for our last day in Istanbul.
Day Five: The Final Countdown
We were woken up to some awful weather that looked like it was sticking around but we powered through it and visited my most anticipated part of the trip; Topkapi Palace. The palace was turned into a museum a long time ago and holds some amazing historical treasures. What we thought was just going to be an hour long visit turned into about three hours. Some of the highlights we saw were Moses’ staff, Ștefan Cel Mare’s sword, and several artifacts that belonged to Muhammed the Prophet and his family. A fellow volunteer said it best when talking about the palace by saying that it is truly remarkable that someone so many years ago thought it was important to save items that represent the start of what was to become one of the world’s largest religions. Towards the end of our visit, as we were taking a group picture on a covered terrace overlooking the straight, a covered woman came up to me and asked me to take a picture with her. I was confused but then the 10 men she was with said I was a star. Um okay? After I took a picture with her, we asked her to take a picture with us and this is when the photo shoot started. Every single one of the men asked to take a picture with me and Aran managed to capture all of it. Who knew I would cause such a stir in the palace! We got to talking and I learned this group was from Iraq and was told that if I ever come to Iraq, I have a husband waiting for me. Super.
After leaving the palace we made our way back to the Grand Bazaar to pick up some knickknacks we had our eye on from our first trip and grab one last kebap and freshly squeezed cup of pomegranate juice before we packed up all of our belongings and said farewell to such a gorgeous city.