istanbul is brilliant. loved my time there! i spent the first couple of days in sultanahmet, which is the older part of the city. the weather was pretty good while i was there … definitely hot, but sometimes there was a breeze so it made it mostly tolerable. the evenings were cool and it felt so nice to walk around after the sun went down. i spent my first day walking around sultanahmet with a guy from turkey. it’s extremely easy to meet people in istanbul. turkish men love women … especially tourists with white skin. if you are a female tourist in turkey you can be sure to make plenty of turkish acquaintances quickly! about two minutes after leaving my hostel i ended up meeting a guy that owns a carpet shop. he was just sitting outside of his shop (as most shop owners do) and he started talking to me as i was walking by. i assumed that he was just wanting me to look at his rugs (which he probably was at first) so i immediately told him that i was not interested in looking at or buying anything. i told him about the rugs that i bought in morocco and how they got lost at the airport in switzerland (which by the way, they may have been found but i’m still waiting to see if they actually get shipped back to the US). he ended up offering me turkish coffee and we sat outside of his shop and chatted for about 30 minutes. really nice guy and i loved the coffee! at the blue mosque i met a guy who wanted to show me around. again … i had to make it clear that i wasn’t looking to spend any money. he offered to show me around for free and i decided to go with it. he actually took me to several places that day … the basilica cistern, a restaurant with some palace ruins beneath it, walked by the topkapi palace, through a park that led to the waterside, and then walked along the water for a bit. i wound up seeing a lot that afternoon – and i quickly fell in love with turkey! the boy was unhappy that i did not want to spend my evening with him, but that’s life. istanbul alone is amazing … and there is so much more to see in this country. my 2nd day in the city i ended up going to one of the princes’ islands (büyükada – the big island). met a guy at my hostel who knew about a couch surfing meet up group … a turkish girl was organizing the trip to büyükada to bicycle around the island. that turned out to be a pretty incredible experience. the ferry ride over was beautiful. the island was a nice break from the bustling city. i don’t think that motorized vehicles are allowed on the island so all you see are people walking, riding bikes, or horse-drawn carriages.
there were 7 of us in the group and we were all from different countries … turkey, spain, greece, austria, canada, and a guy from the US (but he was born in tanzania). really interesting group of people! cycling was a good way to see the island, and with all the hills and having to dodge horse-drawn carriages, it was an interesting ride. we had a picnic at this spot overlooking the water … so pretty. feta cheese, bread, tomatoes, red pepper, tuna sandwiches, and green olives. if you know me at all you will be shocked to hear that i ate a few olives! i couldn’t believe it myself. i just decided to try one (because i was getting peer pressured) and it was actually an olive that i could tolerate. this has never happened before .. normally i want to spit them out immediately. so i’m hoping that this is the beginning of acquiring the taste for them. i still hate the black olives though!
so the next day i went to hagia sophia, the grand bizarre, the spice market, and then to the hamam for a turkish bath and massage. i met a girl named eve at my hostel the day before so we ended up running around together that day. i ran into some people at hagia sophia who i had met in budapest – so random! these are 2 guys from philadelphia who were celebrating an anniversary and traveling around for 6 months … the nicest guys ever! i had a good conversation with them in budapest, but hadn’t seen them since, and then there they were at hagia sophia in istanbul. love when that sort of thing happens! they invited eve and i for dinner the next night … we had a great time up on their terrace overlooking the galata tower area. they made rice, beet and apple salad, and fish … and then we had baklava and turkish delight for desert. really nice evening – love those guys.
the hamam/turkish bath experience was amazing! you HAVE to do this if you go to turkey. i mean … what could be better than a huge turkish woman scrubbing you down with soap suds in a heated room on a marble slab? it really was such a good experience. you get bathed and then relax in the bath/heated pool for a bit. i had to get the 30 minute massage as well … totally worth it!
i stayed in beyoğlu my last two nights in istanbul. totally different from sultanahmet. beyoğlu is much more modern. the main street (İstiklâl cadessi) is loaded with shops, restaurants, and bars. in the older city turkish men are constantly trying to hit on you. in beyoğlu you get that a little bit, but for the most part people leave you alone. i spent a day just walking around the area … going into cute boutiques and spotting out cafes and restaurants. spent a couple of hours under galata bridge … huge fishing area. once eve and i got used to the fish smell, we decided to have a turkish coffee under the bridge. the area around the galata tower is really interesting at night. loads of people sitting all around on the ground drinking and eating and chatting. istanbul is such a vibrant city. i love the diversity … you can be in the old city seeing beautiful mosques and buildings, the grand bazaar haggling for souvenirs, in beyoğlu sitting on a rooftop terrace having a drink, on a ferry floating about the sea of marmara, or in the street playing a game of backgammon! in turkey, they play to 5 in backgammon … whoever wins 5 games first. i beat the guy running the hostel in beyoğlu twice … i don’t think he liked it too much!
here are some photos from my time in istanbul …