Last month I had the incredible opportunity to meet a few friends in Istanbul. I suspected I would enjoy the trip, but I had no idea that I would love the city so much! We had amazing food, saw amazing places, drank amazing tea and saw amazing spices. It was great. Here are some highlights:
- The first night we found an Irish pub down the street from our hostel and sat down for a drink and some food. Turns out there was a big soccer game that night against a British team, and people had called in advance to reserve tables. We literally got the last table and then sat there watching the soccer game with these passionate fans all around us. Very cool.
- The second night, we sat down for dinner at a place called Aloran Cafe & Restaurant, just down the street from my friends’ hotel. Little did we know, this was one of the best decisions we made the entire trip. The food, the service, it was amazing. Granted, as Peace Corps Volunteers, the food is always one of the major highlights of traveling. But this place exceeded any expectations we had. If you go to Istanbul, look this place up. Below is a video of something called a “testy kebab,” which is a clay pot with meat cooked inside. They come out, pot in flames, then break the pot for you. It’s quite an experience.
- We spent hours at Topkapi Palace, where the Turkish sultans used to live. Specifically, they lived in the Harlem with their families and “entourage.” So much history and great information there. The mothers of the sultans actually had quite a bit of influence and power, which was interesting. But, within the palace grounds, there is a mosque/museum with various relics. They had the sword of King David, the staff of Moses, the gold-plated arm of John the Baptist, the skull of another prophet, and the sword of Stefan cel Mare (relevant to Moldova). I enjoyed seeing them, whether we can verify their authenticity or not. On the way out of this section, a man sat (not sure what the formal word is for this) but he sat singing the Qur’an as the text scrolled on a monitor in English. This was also very interesting.
- We also did many of the other “tourist” things. Saw the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Basilica Cistern (from the Byzantine empire), the Galata Tower, the million stone, a boat tour of the bosphorous, and the spice market! I had the BEST baklava at the spice market. The colors, the people, it was…vibrant.
- One thing that was very interesting was the prayer call broadcasted throughout the city. If I’m remembering right, I think this happens five times a day? Well, walking through the streets back to our friends’ hotel one evening, the call started over the speakers and I had to take some video to get the sound on tape. Ignore the visuals…the camera is pretty shaky…but the sound is wonderful. We actually talked about this a little, and what an amazing thing to know that, throughout the city, people are kneeling in prayer at this time.
- The last night we went out to Taksim Square where all the nightlife is. This was amazing. Our hostel owners told us there would probably be about 300,000 people out. I believe it. It was packed with people walking up and down this pedestrian walkway with stores lining either side. We walked down one street with lots of live music and sat and had drinks and just enjoyed the atmosphere. I got some vidoe of the music and people dancing on tables inside one venue.
It was, in a word, wonderful.