Day one in Istanbul. It’s just as amazing as it looked last night.
I didn’t sleep well. If I had slept the whole time I was in bed, I would have gotten 5 hours of sleep, but it felt like I was awake most of the night. It was pretty chilly. I slept better after I finally broke down and took a blanket off one of the unused beds.
The call to prayer was the final time I woke up before my alarm went off, and I honestly didn’t mind. It’s very surreal to be in a Muslim country, and that’s all part of the charm. It makes sense.
My airplane friend had told me about Turkish breakfasts, so it was no surprise when I came downstairs. The only surprising thing is how nice it was. Breakfast started at 8, and I was the first guest to arrive at 8 on the dot. The hard boiled eggs where still hot. For anyone interested in chickens ( Dad) yolks here don’t turn grey outside/yellow inside when boilEd. They’re actually bright orange. Turkish breakfast is also marinated olives, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, bread, and spreads like butter or Nutella. Hazelnuts are one of Turkeys primary exports, and they eat them all the time. I’d never had a whole hazelnut since til the plane ride here, and I’ve had them several times since. It seems like a staple here.
i wanted to be a the TopkapI Palace right as it opened at 9:00. Some Chilean men I met last nit had the same plan, but I started to get worried at 8:45 when they still hadn’t showed up to breakfast. They turned up shortly after, and the delay didn’t harm us at all. All of the tourism guides advised getting to the Topkapi Palace as early as possible to avoid massive crowds. Even at 10:00, when we finally arrived, we had the place almost to ourselves. There are huge perks to traveling in the off-season. It had barely started to get crowded by 2:00, when we left.
The Palace seemed like the Tower of London of Turkey. It was a massive complex of buildings with an almost unbelievably deep history, the royals lived there, and the Crown Jewels are displayed there. I have seen so many diamonds and emeralds as big as eggs this week, it would make your head swim.
there was an additional fee to enter the harem. This is where the sultan lived, along with the queen mother, princes, favorites, concubines, and eunuchs. It was by far the best part of the Palace. It was amazingly gorgeous, and it is crazy to imagine all of the people who once walked the exact same corridors.
we had turkish kebabs for lunch before going to the Hagia Sophia, known in Istanbul as the Ayasofya.
the Ayasofya is easily one of the most amazing places I have seen in my life. I had an art history teacher once tell the class that it was in a constant state of reparation, which makes sense when you consider how old it is. The scaffolding on one side was a little obstructive, but at least I can’t blame my timing.
The experience was overwhelming. We stayed for hours. As I stood in the upper gallery looking down on the hall, listening to the evening call to prayer, it literally brought tears to my eyes. It’s incredible and indescribable. Truly a place to see before you die.
I even took some photos with my iPad so you wouldn’t have to wait.
the Hagia Sophia is a tough act to follow. How do you compete with that much history and beauty? but the Blue Mosque was literally right across the Hippodrom, so we gave it a shot.
The Blue Mosque is much more beautiful than the Ayasofia on the outside. The inside was even pretty beautiful, but nothing like where we had just been. Still, it was interesting to be in an active mosque. You can all look forward to photos of me with bare feet and a head scarf.
there were a few women who were walking around without anything on their head. I think they took it off as soon as they got in. I was a lot more upset than I would have expected myself to be. I don’t know. It was just shockingly disrespectful. It was so kind of the Muslim community to allow us into their place of worship at all. They didn’t charge admission. Although covering my head wasn’t part of my belief system, I was a guest in their mosque. Ugh. I was appalled.
After the Blue Mosque, the boys wanted to go to the Taksim neighborhood to eat at istanbul’s Hard Rock Cafe. It was about 2.5 km away and off the historic peninsula where we’d been up to this time. The road passed the Galata Tower and some interesting newer neighborhoods.
We stopped to try Turkish Coffee and fortify ourselves against the cold. Since I was really hoping to get some good sleep tonight, I opted for Sahlep instead. Luca, one of the Italians, had bought me a cup of it last night from a street vendor. It’s a sweet, hot milk and cinnamon drink that is very traditionally Turkish. I’ll save coffee for some morning. The friendly shopkeer took an odd turn and was getting a little too friendly. I actually resorted to telling him I was married and meeting my husband for dinner that night. Alberto and Tomas backed up my story like old pros, but the guy still wouldn’t piss off. We left in a hurry.
a few blocks later, it started to rain. We decided to take a taxi as far as the Galata Tower and walk the rest of the way. A police officer with a very large rifle was kind enough to help us flag down a taxi and negotiate a fare.
When we landed at the Galata Tower, we realized that there were still some people on the uppermost gallery. It didn’t close for another hour, so we decided to go up. It’s one of the oldest towers in the world, but because of its location on a hill it rises above the Istanbul skyline. You can see the whole city from the top. Even Asia!!!
the walls are over two meters thick at the bottom but only 29 centimeters at the top. You can walk all the way around the outside of the tower, and the view is stunning. There are splendid mosques in every direction.
Of course we took lots of photos. Then, weirdly, an Asian guy asked if he could take a photo of me “because I was so beautiful.”
On our way out of the tower, we decided that perhaps we were not hungry or rich enough for Hard Rock Cafe. We thought something like tapas would be better, but our chances of finding it in Istanbul seemed slim. We headed towards Taksim anyway, because that’s where many good restaurants and bars are meant to be. We were only hoping to find appetizers or a happy hour, but the first restaurant we came upon when we reached the district was in fact tapas.
We enjoyed a couple small plates and a pitcher of happy hour sangria, then it was time to head back to the hostel.
Today was amazing. Is only day one, and Istanbul has already exceeded my wildest expectations. I am so incredibly exhausted, and I am so excited to do it all again tomorrow. I think I’ll be spending the day alone this time. I want to hit the last of my big tourist destinations before Friday night when the weekenders arrive, but they’re mostly places that Albert and Tomas have already visited. I am going to be at the Bascillica Cistern when it opens. The Italians who I had met on my first night we’re sadly at the end of their tour, but they said that the cistern was the #1 most beautiful thing they’d seen in Istanbul. The Hagia Sophia was #2. That’s pretty serious. Oh, and it was also in the James Bond film, From Russia With Love.
I would also like to hit the Grand Bazaar (featured in Amazing Race last season), a Turkish bath, and the Egyptian Spice Bazaar. There are these vendors everywhere selling some kind of bagel-looking thing, and it’s definitely time to try one of those too. And probably Turkish coffee. It’s already past midnight and I’m not wasting any time tomorrow morning.