Thursday, May 15, 2014

Holy Week in Istanbul

Ever since I went to Marrakech this past Christmas I've been wanting to go to Istanbul. Loads of people I met in Morocco told me that if I liked Marrakech, I'd love Istanbul. Well, I really liked Marrakech and what they said turned out to be true. I absolutely loved Istanbul.

I mean, with views like these, what's not to love?

Last year for my long Easter break I took a solo trip to Budapest and Vienna, which was awesome. This year all the places I was looking to go (Iceland, Berlin, Istanbul...) were markedly more expensive, but with my approaching move back to the States, I figured I might as well go all out. So, 325 euro later I had my round-trip, direct flights from Madrid to Istanbul. That's the most expensive European flight I've booked to date! So, I guess I'm not doing so bad.

Some told me Tulips are from Turkey, but in Prague I was told by a guide that they're from Kazakhstan. Anyone know?

Anyway, getting to the actual trip. I'm ashamed to say I didn't do my pre-trip homework. Sure, I booked a hostel for Matt and I, and I looked up how to get from the airport to the center of the city (using a bus, funicular, tram, and a ferry), but that's about all I did. I had no idea how huge Istanbul is, had no idea how crowded it would be, and, most embarrassingly, had this idea that it would be somehow similar to Morocco based on the associations so many travelers there had made. So, I obviously learned a lot. For example, McDonald's in Istanbul delivers!

The New District's Galata Tower: amazing views and a neat surrounding neighborhood ( or where I smoked the most nargile)

We stayed in Sultanimet, the old, touristy part of the city, which was a pretty convenient base camp to see all the main sights and even to catch the ferries to other parts of the city. We booked a reservation for five nights in Cheers Hostel, which I really loved. It probably had something to do with the Turkish breakfast they served every morning: soft white cheese, cucumber, tomato, olives, hardboiled eggs, and coffee. They also served free tea throughout the day. There's also a terrace with a view like this.

The Hagia Sophia was by far my favorite on Istanbul's must-see list

By staying in Sultanimet, every time we stepped out of our hostel it felt like we were entering Disney World. All the main sights (Blue Mosque, Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace etc.) had lines out the door that stretched for blocks or, once, across an entire plaza. There was even a museum "fast pass" available. Seriously, it was like a big theme park. It was madness, but despite the crowds, the sights were incredible and worth all the hassle.

Inside the Blue Mosque

We could only take so much of the lines and crowds, so several times Matt and I tried to escape touristy Istanbul. We thankfully succeeded. We spent one afternoon in Kadikoy, a cool, youthful neighborhood on the Asian side of the city filled with markets, bars, book stores, and cute clothing shops. It could have easily passed for an American college town, with more nargile or hookah. Ferries leave from Sultanimet every 20 minutes and tickets only cost 3 lira!

These teal, blue, and white tiles were everywhere!

We also took a ferry up the Golden Horn on Friday to Eyup, a more traditional Muslim area. It was great for people watching, especially considering it was Friday. The mosque there was one of my favorites. There's a funicular that takes you up the hill and we had tea on a terrace overlooking the city.

We stayed in Istanbul for five days, and there was still so much to see and do. It's definitely a place I'll go back to. The prayer calls were beautiful (if you go try to catch it in the park right between the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia), the food was delicious (though I wasn't brave enough to sample the mussels being sold on the street), people were incredibly friendly, the culture and history was out of this world, and most importantly, cats were everywhere (and taken care of!). <3

Good look for me?
Stayed tuned for more posts. I'm going to try and catch up and write about all the trips I've been taking since: Prague, a short weekend in Seville, and a very special destination I'll be visiting soon that I've been waiting years to visit!

1 comment:

  1. So glad you enjoyed Istanbul. I knew you would. I would like to take your mom there! Thanks for the post!