Istanbul Day 1

Istanbul has been on my bucket list for a while now. I’ve never been to Asia before, and a trip to Istanbul, which a half-European, half-Asian city, seemed like a good way to dip my toe into the Asian scene without being completely immersed and overwhelmed. Luckily, I’ve been racking up the KLM miles for work, and a few months ago I finally earned enough points for a freebie flight to Turkey. I convinced Amie (meet Amie here, here, and here) to join me, and a few days later our tickets were booked and were planning our fifth European adventure together.

I won’t lie – looking at Turkey’s geographic location on a map beforehand was a bit unnerving. ‘Hey, I want to go to a country that borders Syria and Iraq . . . ‘ said no ever. Family and friends in the States voiced a loud and conservative view on how ‘safe ‘Istanbul actually was, compared to many of my European friends who had actually paid the amazing Istanbul a visit in the past few years. So I was excited, a bit nervous, and completely mystified as to how the trip would actually unfold. Having now survived four days in Istanbul, wow, do I have some stories for you.

IMG_3615The first word that comes to mind when I try to describe Istanbul is ‘sensory’. It’s truly a city of diverse tastes, sounds, sights, textures, and scents. You could easily become consumed in the ‘muchness’ of it all – it’s both overwhelming and delightful. Istanbul is swarming with people, you’re constantly getting heckled at on the streets, everything is for sale at a bartered price, and there’s always something more to be had, sampled, or explored. But before I get into the markets or the mosques, let me first tell you about our accommodation We were staying at Barok Hotel, which I chose based on the excellent, central location in Fatih. The interior looked totally cheesy and they had free breakfast and wifi, so we went for it.

Yes, the room was every bit as tacky as it looked on the website, red plush bed runners and all. Our bathroom even had a Turkish wash basin, with a small bowl for bathing (more on those when I tell you about our Turkish bathhouse adventure . . . .) I arrived at the hotel at 1am (after being horribly scammed by a cab driver) and then spent a good 45 minutes talking to the concierge about where to go and want to do the next day. By 2am I was exhausted and fell into bed. It felt like only moments later that Amie was knocking on my door. It was 11am and her 9.30am flight had landed in Istanbul right on time. First item on our list was food. We were starving and had been recommended a lunch visit to Pandeli. However, we found Pandeli impossible to locate and ended up eating street pretzels instead . . . . 
IMG_3609. . . . before giving up completely and swooping into the next restaurant we stumbled upon. We chose a basic looking cafe along the water, which was located less than 10 steps from our pretzel cart friends. However, although we motioned to the terrace, we were pushed into an elevator by a Turkish man who didn’t speak a word of English. We exchanged worried glances, but decided to roll with it. The doors closed and we rode upwards towards our fate. Turns out we had unknowingly landed ourselves at Hamdi Restaurant, which is well known for their stunning rooftop views of Istanbul. IMG_3615IMG_3639IMG_3635Blown away by our luck, we settled into our seats and went on to order half of the menu. IMG_3628IMG_3613Humus, meatballs, roasted eggplant, freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, turkish pizza, and tomato salad. IMG_3619 IMG_3621IMG_3622IMG_3626I couldn’t help but to pop up every ten minutes or so to soak in the view from the balcony. Our dishes arrived one by one, fresh from the kitchen, and after a long leisurely lunch, we were ready to take on the bustling Istanbul below. IMG_3642IMG_3632We started our adventure at the Spice Bazar, which was just downstairs from the restaurant.IMG_3645The market was packed, and for the first time it was very obvious we had left home far, far behind. As we wound into the spice market, the minarets began to burst with their call for prayer, and suddenly we were totally immersed in Turkey. IMG_3647Despite the blaring calls, Turkish shopkeepers still beckoned us to their stalls. Truth be told, they beckoned Amie. As a beautiful blond bombshell, she attracted a LOT of attention in a very brunette nation. I’m pretty sure she was called Barbie, my beauty, Shakira, darling, sweet sister, and Angel at least fifty times. I felt like the ugly older step-sister in comparison, but at the same time had a blast teasing my beautiful Angel friend ;)IMG_3677Despite the heckling, we still managed to taste, smell, and explore a variety of stalls, packed with dried fruits, spices, teas, and sweets.IMG_3660IMG_3652IMG_3648IMG_3667IMG_3654IMG_3657We stocked up on gifts for friends and a few cheeky selfish presents, and then decided to explore in the sunshine a bit.IMG_3664IMG_3679I should tell you now that I have many cat photos in store. Istanbul is swarming with stray felines, which is both wonderful and sad. Most people in the city take care of the cats – for example I saw many restaurant owners putting special scraps of left over food outside for the cats to eat. For the most part they’re quite friendly, and will welcome a little scratch or a kind hello. So although they don’t have homes, they are treated well and tend to enjoy the city at large as their home, which isn’t so bad as long as you’re fed regularly and treated kindly, right??IMG_3597IMG_3685IMG_3690Can we all take a moment to appreciate my fanny pack here? The mosque is also pretty cool ;)IMG_3702IMG_3713IMG_3706IMG_3711IMG_3712We swirled through gardens, tried on purple dresses, and made friends with bears. We then made our way around the castle, and got our first glimpse of the Hagia Sophia. IMG_3718The Hagia Sophia was constructed in 537 as a Greek Orthodox basilica. Later, it was converted into an imperial mosque, and today it stands as a museum.IMG_3720In between our history lessons, we guzzled fresh pomegranate juice, which is sold at juice carts on almost every corner in Istanbul. It’s tart and addictive, and a treat we sampled at least twice daily!IMG_3717IMG_3725IMG_3736Our last historical view of the day was of the Blue Mosque, which we gazed upon for the first time just as the sun set. It was an architectural sight to behold, and we swore to make our way inside later in the trip. However, at that moment we were both exhausted and still stuffed from lunch, so we went back to the hotel to watch a movie.
IMG_3729v v Some cool shops around the corner from our hotel.
IMG_3743I’m pretty sure I was sound asleep by 9pm. All in all an awesome first day in Istanbul with one of my favorite friends :) 

xo Ali

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22 thoughts on “Istanbul Day 1

    • she totally did!! we went out on Saturday night and she was all the rage – I know blondes are cool in the US but in Turkey they’re a gem. At one point a woman on the ferry (we were taking a boat ride to the Asian side) came over and just started stroking Amie’s head, touching her hair. It was strange, and funny!

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  1. First things first: Love tea? !! Now that is something we don’t come across every day :)

    Could be your camera skills could be the place itself- but amazing pictures :)

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    • Thanks darlin’! I did have fun. . . however it was one of those holidays where you come back feeling like you need a holiday to recover from your holiday! Such a whirlwind time, looking forward to being lazy with pajamas and a book tonight :)

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  2. It is indeed Interesting, but the truth that Turkey used to be a tiny kingdom until In 1915, leaders of the Turkish government set in motion a plan to expel and massacre Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire.

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      • We want to underscore that it is not just Armenians who are affirming the Armenian Genocide but it is the overwhelming opinion of scholars who study genocide: hundreds of independent scholars, who have no affiliations with governments, and whose work spans many countries and nationalities and the course of decades . . . The scholarly evidence reveals the following: On April 24, 1915, under cover of World War I, the Young Turk government of the Ottoman Empire began a systematic genocide of its Armenian citizens – an unarmed Christian minority population. More than a million Armenians were exterminated through direct killing, starvation, torture, and forced death marches. The rest of the Armenian population fled into permanent exile. Thus an ancient civilization was expunged from its homeland of 2,500 years.”

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