I’m currently on board my flight back to Houston using Turkish Airline’s fabulous complementary wifi – seriously, their on-board service is phenomenal even though they are always late departing.
Wednesday was our first full day back in Istanbul and we decided to split up as a group for the morning and meet up at the Hagia Sophia in the afternoon. Two guys went to the Archeology Museum and then to drop off the rental van.
Side note on the van: despite the GPS leading us astray a few times, we enjoyed having it. At first, we named her Roxilana, after a former Turkish empress. But halfway through our trip I changed the voice to an Australian male and we dubbed him “Huge Ackman” (a play on Hugh Jackman), who was very good to us. We named the van Mustafa, in honor of all the great Mustafa’s we met along the way.
Anyway, I digress. Me and two of the guys chose to spend our morning causally exploring the city. We walked around, did some shopping, and got a recommendation for a cafe for lunch. We had lunch in a cool terrace cafe in the university area. It was fun because there were a lot of students smoking hookah and hanging out. And the view was gorgeous – as always.
After lunch we made our way back to the Hagia Sophia, where we met up with the rest of our group and entered the ancient church turned mosque. It was vast and beautiful and intricate and we spent over two hours observing every nook and cranny.
Afterwards, we headed to the spice market and then had dinner at the fish market off the Bosphorus. The fish was beings caught and cooked from a boat that had a hug grill on it. So, as it rocked back and forth on the waves, the fisherman/cooks would just hand people fish sandwiches. It was yummy. And very interesting to watch.
That night was our “late night” and we wanted to get a feel for the night life in the city. So we walked from Old Town to Uptown and basically went bar hopping. Despite my lack of bar hopping experience, I had a lot of fun. I don’t drink, but my friends do, and it was fun to just enjoy the night with them. I also found a bookstore (after looking for one all day) and bought myself a copy of Orwell’s “1984” in Turkish – it’s my favorite book.
Throughout the night we went from one terrace cafe to the next. At one we met a great server names Yunis (Turkish for dolphin) and he talked to us about how he studied tourism and hospitality at university. We learned about his passion for restaurants and his family of 6 brothers. He then gave us some recommendation for the night.
We spent most of the night moving up a Main Street of fancy shops and döner cafés and high-end bars. We ducked into a “jazz” bar and listened to a Turkish band cover American music. It was pretty good! Then we moseyed to Taksim square and got some more street food to fuel us for our like 3-mile walk back home. We ended the night around 2am and passed out in our hostel.
The next morning we let ourselves sleep in a bit, then we did any shopping that we might have missed before. We had lunch at a tiny corner place that Anthony Bourdain gave race reviews and we were not disappointed. Then, we went back to a cool boutique of local designers that we had passed the night before. The boys got t-shirts and I got a magnet or two with their locally-design logo for Istanbul on it: “They call it chaos. We call it home.” I’ll include photos of it once I get stronger wifi.
We ended our night by taking a ferry cruise up and down the Bosphorus River. We started at sunset and got to watch as the sky changed from blue to pink to black and the city lit up in technicolor lights.
On the way home we grabbed our last cup of Salep (a warm, sweet milk conception sprinkled with cinnamon) from a cart peddler. Finally, we made our way to our hostel and had dinner on the rooftop restaurant where we reflected on the past 10-days. It was fun because we met a few hostel patrons who were just arriving and we got to share our wealth of knowledge – and minute understanding of the Turkish language. And then, we went asleep.
Two of our group members left the hostel at 5:00am to catch their flight back to Ohio. The rest of us woke around 8:00am, had breakfast, packed up, and took one last stroll to the park outside Topkapi Palace. Then we got our backpacks and took the Metro to the airport.
This trip has been amazing. And it has reminded me how much I love traveling and exploring new places and experiencing new cultures. Turkey is an amazing country with beautiful topography, delicious food, and probably the nicest people I have ever had the chance to interact with.
When I first planned this trip many people were dumbfounded. “Why would you want to go to Turkey?” They would ask. But now I know the real question is “why haven’t you been to Turkey yet?”
I plan on posting a top ten list of things to do or things I noticed or something along that lines. But for now I leave you with this: Turkey is the most enchanting place I’ve ever visited. And you should visit as soon as possible.