As I’m currently in a bit of a lull in my travels for the next month or so until we head out east to Maine and Boston where we plan to burn a few witches I have decided to reflect a bit on a destination I have been to twice but only briefly mentioned before in my Mongol Rally stories.
I first went to Istanbul probably 5 or so years ago with a friend for Spring break. I found it to be one of the most profoundly beautiful cities I had ever encountered and a perfect combination of East meets West.
First, the majority of the popular tourist destinations are located in like a 5 block radius which includes the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Bisilica Cistern(my fave), and the Grand Bazaar. So even if you can only swing a long layover there, you can see a ton.
One thing I tend to take a lot of enjoyment in is trying to sort the the standard tourist trap type activity and figuring out what makes it more fun. A lot of times the answer to that is booze. In this case, and similar to several other times, my story about that comes from the nighttime cruise through the bay and along the shore. These all come with dinner and a show and you need to pay a hefty amount to get liquor on top of that. However, we had the benefit of getting friendly with a recently married Muslim couple on the cruise that gave us their drink badges. After a few drinks and vigorously volunteering I was selected to show off my belly dancing skills and, in my head, I was amazing. This is among one of my favorite memories during that trip as it was the first time someone described me as incorrigible. That is an adjective I wear to this day.
Another piece of advice I do need to mention on this is the food. You need to get well away from that 5 block tourist area I mentioned above to find the peak Turkish cuisine. I never had a terribly memorable meal near any of the spots. In fact it wasn’t until we got to Ankara that I distinctly remember the food quality going up. The swing side of that is it is much easier to find booze in Istanbul vs. anywhere else in Turkey. I hope there is no correlation there…
The quality of products there is very solid as well. I bought a rug and a wallet that are still in use for me to this day with barely any signs of wear and tear.
Now onto the people. Everyone is friendly if not a little overly aggressive in the sales department. However I spent half a day fishing with random people off a bridge and just having some of the greatest conversations with strangers. As with every trip you just need to be open. The comfort zone is your enemy when traveling and forcing yourself out of it is critical.
Seriously to the above though. ALWAYS DO THE COSTUME ATTRACTIONS. EVERYWHERE. PERIOD.
Uhhh…guess that’s it…? Reflection time ended.