Kat and I first visited Istanbul 2 years ago, almost by accident. We were thinking about going on a cheap vacation an weren’t quite sure where to go. Then we saw a flight sale that we couldn’t turn down so we just thought “why not?” We’d never even thought of going to Turkey before and quickly discovered that Istanbul is, seriously you guys, THE TOPS. We had such a blast there that we decided on our current trip we’d have to return. Going back to a place you love after a long absence can be a tricky thing. Have things changed? Have I changed? Will I be able to recapture that beautiful experience or was it just a fleeting moment in time that cannot be recreated?
There have been several places on this trip where we’re going somewhere for the second time (Singapore, Bangkok, Saigon), but none of them had the grip on us that Istanbul does. The people are wonderfully friendly, the food is fantastic, traveling around the country is remarkably easy an Istanbul is one of the most chic, liveliest cities in the world. Istanbul is also, to me, the most interesting place we’ve been socioeconomically. The way Turkey and Istanbul struggle with their identity, particularly the role of Islam and religion in daily life and government, is fascinating to me. Drinking an Efes beer at a trendy bar with Istanbul hipsters while the call to prayer echoes across the city from hundreds of minarets may be old hat to Turks, but to me it’s always an amazing experience that causes me to pause and think “This place is SO DAMN INTERESTING.”
I was amazed to return to Istanbul after 2 years and find that NOTHING had changed. Countless times, I found myself thinking “Oh, RIGHT. I REMEMBER that restaurant/shop/thing there!” I was able to get all of my favorite foods that I’d been craving:
The great thing about having already been to Istanbul before is that Kat and I had already done all the tourist “must-do” things, like all the sites in the Old City. Don’t get me wrong, those sites are amazing, but we were more interested in getting to know Istanbul more intimately and seeing places and neighborhoods we missed the first time around.
We stayed in Besiktas, which is a well-to-do neighborhood full of fun bars and restaurants. It’s a great place because not many tourists make it up there. Coming from Asia, we had a big culture shock in dealing with people. In Asia, you look different so you are instantly categorized as “foreign” and people know right away that you won’t speak the language. In Turkey — particularly in non-tourist areas — everyone thought, at first, that we were Turkish. So there was an initial awkwardness every time we’d walk into a store or restaurant and the person would expect us to speak Turkish. When we weren’t able to speak Turkish, they then assumed we were Spanish or, to a lesser extent, French. One guy at a restaurant began speaking to me in Spanish, I answered back in Spanish “I’m American!” He laughed and laughed and then continued to speak to me in Spanish. What can you do?
We had an AMAZING experience attending a Besiktas soccer match. The stadium is quite old but amazingly beautiful. There’s a big mosque right next to it and it’s right on the Bosphorus, making it the only stadium in the world where you can see another continent from the stands. I’m a huge soccer fan and love attending matches in foreign countries. Let me tell you, the Turks are AMAZING fans. I’ve been to matches in America, the Netherlands and England and they’ve got NOTHING on what I saw in Istanbul. These guys are serious.
Let’s not forget another reason that this city is awesome: Istanbul has not one, but TWO funiculars, and we rode them both. What’s great about these funiculars is that not only are they funiculars, but they’re actually USEFUL for getting you places.
I find myself frustrated writing this blog entry. I love Istanbul so much and I feel like no words I can write will do it justice or really give you an accurate idea of why this city is so amazing. Instead, I’ll just leave you with some shots of the city and hope that they give you an incentive to go see for yourself how Istanbul is truly one of the world’s great cities.