*If I had a nickel for every time I hit my head on the top of a doorway…*
For Spring Break, we’ve come to Turkey! We planned on being in Istanbul and Cappadocia, and it’s been a great experience thus far. Istanbul is a bustling city with a socially active population. It actually is part of both Europe and Asia, and we lived on the European side. We stayed in Taksim Square for the first few days, and spent most of our nights in Taksim’s restaurants and clubs. Our Airbnb was in a perfect spot- we were able to conveniently catch the metro to all the tourist spots and have a short walk home from the nightlife. Our apartment was a vertical structure, ranging 4 stories plus a rooftop terrace. Each floor was a bedroom plus another smaller area, with the kitchen on the first floor. It was a neat home design, and the rooftop overlooked part of the city. Around the corner were a few small produce shops and a delicious bakery, so we had everything in our little neighborhood.
Turkey is a great place to visit for religious history. There are centuries old paintings and architecture that were constantly destroyed or altered under new Ottoman Sultans, but many pieces have been rediscovered and restored. We visited Hagia Sophia Museum and The Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet, where there is a church from centuries ago that was converted into a mosque. You can see where the original paintings of Jesus and other important figures were covered by plaster. It’s odd to walk into a building that is essentially half mosque and half church. Overlooking the coast, the Blue Mosque was another piece of incredible architecture. After visiting these, we stopped at Buhara 93, which is the family restaurant of my fraternity brother Omar. We had Turkish pizza and tea- great food! After that, we walked the coast at sunset all the way up to the central bus and ferry station. We saw an old, partially abandoned shipyard and then got to shoot air rifles at balloons on the rocks. There are a few street vendors offering “target practice,” but I was still nervous wielding a gun in broad daylight on a busy road.
The next day we took a ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul in Kadikoy. The ferry is about a half hour ride and I got to see both sides of the city from the water. We spent the afternoon in the local market, and I met a shoe designer who hand makes custom leather dress shoes. I told him I would return to Istanbul when I can afford $300 shoes, because they were gorgeous. We finished the afternoon visiting some shops and drank some tea, then we were back on the ferry. For the evening, we went to a whirling dervishes performance. It’s a religious dance associated with Sufi Muslims, and it’s neat to see in person. After the performance, we took the metro, which is incredibly reliable and easy to use, back to Taksim. That night we witnessed a political protest regarding the recent bombings in the Turkish capital, Ankara. There were a few people disgruntled about the protest and a shouting match almost turned into a fistfight before plainclothes police arrested 2 of the men threatening the protesters. I wish we could have understood the language, but it was still interesting to watch this at such a tense political time.
My only complaint is that the doors are too short! I hit my head so often. I think the city was built for people under 6′.
So much good food: fish, shrimp, Turkish pizza, bread, and other traditional dishes. We tried different restaurants each night, and had pretty good food everywhere. Most of the main streets were packed with people eating dinner, so the atmosphere was energetic. There is also a local liquor, called Raki, that tastes like a licorice-flavored wine. It goes well with fish, but I wasn’t the biggest fan. The local beer, Efes, is pretty good and a cheap option compared to imports. Raw muscles with rice is a popular street food, as are roasted chestnuts. Turkish delight, a delicious sugary dessert, is everywhere. And it’s delicious everywhere! We also had many different chicken and meat dishes served with fresh vegetables in a broth- I burned my mouth a few times because it’s served incredibly hot. Overall, it was similar to food in the Gulf but also had it’s own style.
Part 2 Upcoming: Cappadocia and my hot air balloon experience!