The week before I moved to Ireland, a friend from my study abroad days mentioned she was going to Istanbul for Spring Break, and invited me along. I gleefully told my parents, whom I’m sure had Taken flashbacks, and my dad uttered something along the lines of HAYUL NAH. I booked my ticket anyway.
I’ll admit, I had low hopes for Istanbul. I thought it was going to be like Marrakech, Morocco- dirty, third world, maybe we’d get a good deal at one of the shops on some unique souvenirs. But it was nothing like that! It was beautiful. Magical. Totally different than I expected.
We spent our first day (which was clear and crisp), wandering into the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and eating the yummiest kebap I’ve had in a while. The food was so cheap! We ate a whole sub of delicious kebap complete with a drink for less than two bucks. I’m sure wages are a lot less than in Europe / the U.S., but it felt nice to feel “rich” since so often I’m left feeling poor in Dublin (I say this as I’m drinking a caramel latte in Starbucks #priorities).
It was modern (abundance of Starbucks, even saw a Coldstone Creamery), yet super old-world. Mosques in the background of pictures containing the metro running full-force in the foreground, that sort of thing. It’s interesting how some cities can maintain such strong roots to their past, and keep these old buildings alive and in use. In Houston, we knock things down without hesitation, which I find incredibly sad and pathetic.
Laura, the friend that invited me, had a list of everything we should see on our trip. It was a packed three days, and we walked over 40 miles during the duration of it! We were out from 8 am to 5 am one of the days we were there, and it was so fun to experience day and night Istanbul. We met these guys from the Naval Academy in the States, and went to check out the night scene with them. Many places featured Turkish music, but some bars were blaring Western music. Like I said, staying true to their Turkish background, with some adaptations to Western modernity.
Our second full day in the city, we slept in a little, and then did a walking tour with some people staying in our hostel. I’m a huge advocate of walking tours because they totally get you acquainted with the city in a short amount of time. Not to mention, they point out random landmarks that you would otherwise pass up, not knowing what they are! We got to taste Turkish coffee (ew), and Turkish chai (reminded me SO much of sweet tea, it was brewed strong and delicious!), and walked around plenty. We ended the evening meeting up with some Turkish Instagrammers who shared a traditional Turkish meal with us, and then took us for drinks! Again, so cheap and so good!
Sure, it’s fun to travel to places like Paris and London, but I think it’s super important to trek to places that we’re a little less comfortable with. Otherwise, how else are we supposed to know how others live? Traveling to a country where they have the call to prayer was startling, but in a good way. It reminds us that people live differently, but at the end of the day, we’re all just humans trying to survive and make the most of things. We saw fathers carrying daughters on the ferry, and men trying to make a honest living manning carts selling pastries 3 for a dollar. We’re all pretty similar at the end of the day, despite the fact that we look a little different and verbally express ourselves a little different!