A Weekend in Istanbul

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Now that we are getting more settled into a routine with our jobs, we’ve been trying to plan more trips and activities.  When we realized that we both had three weekend duties in a row coming up, we knew we had to do something besides our weekly trip to the grocery store in Gebze. Since the school offers a free shuttle to Kadikoy every weekend and we hadn’t seen anything outside of the airports, we figured it was high time to give Istanbul a proper visit.

We booked a cheap hostel outside of Taksim (a popular area full of shops and bars) and hopped on the bus along with several of our students after finishing up lessons on Friday.  We were starving by the time we got to our hostel, so we headed straight into Taksim for something to eat.  One place in particular stood out due to the large crowd standing in front of it, so we had to see what all the hype was.  It turned out to be Kizilkayalar, a place that is famous for their Turkish “wet burgers”, a soggy, spicy concoction that is typically eaten with booze.  It was kind of like a meatball sub, a sloppy joe, and a hamburger all had a baby and then got Turkified.  It was some seriously delicious stuff.

After eating and feeling more human, we went down Istiklal Avenue and explored the shops.  I bought some much-needed fall wardrobe items and since it was starting to get cold, we decided to stop for a cup of coffee.  While we had originally planned on getting the usual Turk Kahvesi, we couldn’t resist when we found a Starbucks advertising their Pumpkin Spice lattes.  Afterward, we turned in early to prepare for a day of touring Sultanahmet.

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The inside of Hagia Sophia.

We ended up sleeping in way later than usual, which felt amazing, and then took the tram over to Sultanahmet to see Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.  After a quick bite to eat, we secured our spot in the crazy long line to the Hagia Sophia.  Luckily it went by pretty quickly and we entered the bizarrely beautiful basilica.  Hagia Sophia is a pretty good representation of Turkey in general:  it is a lovely, yet confusing clash of Eastern and Western culture.  First an Orthodox church of the Roman Empire, then an Ottoman mosque, and now a museum, each phase of history and culture is evident in its architecture.  Arabic script and minarets are contrasted against Byzantine domes and painted depictions of biblical scenes.  It’s the kind of thing that’s hard to explain, but amazing to witness.

The amazing tiled ceilings of the Blue Mosque.

The amazing tiled ceilings of the Blue Mosque.

Afterward, we walked across the square to the Sultanahmet Cami, better known in English as the Blue Mosque.  The massive mosque is just as beautifully constructed as the Hagia Sophia, albeit a bit more complicated to visit.  Unlike Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque is still an active mosque, which means that it is closed to tourists during prayer times and that you must follow Muslim customs when entering the mosque.  Both men and women must be covered from their shoulders to their ankles and women must cover their heads.  You also can’t wear shoes.  On your way in, you can pick up a scarf or skirt to borrow for free and a plastic bag for your shoes.  Although it is a little labor-intensive, it’s definitely worth a visit to get a look at the amazing blue tiled ceilings.  They also have informational presentations about the mosque and about Islam for those who are interested.

Selfie in Sultanahmet! We look quite rough, thanks to forgetting to pack shower essentials and the onset of colds.

Selfie in Sultanahmet! We look quite rough, thanks to forgetting to pack shower essentials and the onset of colds.

We had originally planned to go to a concert and then party the evening away in Taksim, but it was cancelled due to the tragic bombing in Ankara and subsequent protests.  Instead, we ended up walking around the Galata Tower area and finding a FANTASTIC vegan restaurant, which was a welcome sight after weeks of heavy, greasy Turkish food (this is not an easy place to be health-conscious).  We had vegetable-stuffed falafel, salads, hummus, and some amazing peanut milk lattes.

We tried to get back to our hotel at a reasonable hour to avoid any hostile activity that might be going on since we were so close to Istiklal Avenue.  I was also starting to feel a bit under the weather, so an evening in with a decent WiFi connection and outtakes of The Office sounded just fine.

On Sunday, we spent most of the morning trying to find coffee shops with good views to stay out of the chilly drizzle.  We took the ferry from Eminonu to Kadikoy and sat on the top deck, which was quite honestly one of the biggest highlights of the trip for me and cost all of 2 TL.  The view and breeze were spectacular.

We grabbed some lunch in Kadikoy and walked around some of the shops before hopping back on the school shuttle to start another crazy week of teaching.

View of the Blue Mosque from Hagia Sophia.

View of the Blue Mosque from Hagia Sophia.

This trip wasn’t what we were expecting since a lot of our plans fell through, but it was great nonetheless.  I still have to pinch myself every time I realize that we can go into an amazing city like Istanbul every single weekend if we want to.  We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of the surface of all there is to do and see there.  There are guaranteed to be more adventures there to come.

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