We arrived from Bucharest in the afternoon, hopped a shuttle to Taksim Square, and then rode the subway to Sisli, where we attempted to find our lodging for the week- a room in an apartment that we found on AirBnb. Soaked with sweat after twenty minutes of tramping up and down side streets with our backpacks, we called our host and attempted to get directions. Unfortunately, the intersection of our Turkish and their English wasn't enough to figure things out, so our host told me to just hand my phone to someone on the street. It's a strange feeling handing your iPhone to a stranger on a random street in Istanbul, but our new friend was generous (as was pretty much everyone we interacted with in Istanbul) and before long he walked us to our apartment (we were pretty close it turned out). Tired from a day of traveling, Jenny and I grabbed a quick dinner and then crashed.
The next morning we headed straight for the Old City where we decided to get out of the city for a day and cruise the Bosphorus. Our chariot for the day:
Heading northeast from Istanbul away from the Sea of Marmara and toward the Black Sea, we passed some of Istanbul's most well-known sites, including the opulent (and treasury depleting) Dolmabache Palace,
one of the only continent-spanning bridges,
and the city's first fortification from the 13th century, just down the hill from Bogazici Univeristy, where my twin sister spent 6 months abroad (for a much better take on Istanbul, I recommend: http://turkiyede.livejournal.com/).
After around two hours later we arrived at Anadolu at the mouth of the Black Sea, where after a lunch of fried squid and mackerel we trudged up a few hundred feet to an old castle guarding the mouth of the Black Sea.
And here's a view of the castle on the ride back to Istanbul.
We had dinner on the Bosphorus in Ortakoy, at a restaurant recommended (and frequented in her day) by my sister. Not a bad view either:
Jenny and I dedicated the next day entirely to the Old City, starting with the Hagia Sofia, a Byzantine Church constructed around 530 by Justinian I, which was converted to a mosque in the 1450's by Mehmed when the Ottomans captured Istanbul, and then to the secular museum it is today by Ataturk in the 1940's. An iconic building inside and out:
After a jaunt through the Grand Bazaar (spices anyone?),
we visited the beautiful mosque adjacent to the Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, completed by Ahmed I in 1616. And it was plain to see why the Ottoman Empire was nearly bankrupted by the endeavor:
Here's Jenny reflecting on the mosque:
Dinner that night was a special surprise. We met up with my friend Jeff and his extended family, who were in Istanbul for a day or two before departing on a Mediterranean cruise. The view from the rooftop restaurant where we ate was only surpassed by the generosity of our hosts and the good fortune of meeting Jeff and his family 6,700 miles from our apartments in San Francisco.
The next morning Jenny and I planned a trip to the locals' getaway, a 90-minute ferry ride into the Sea of Marmara, the Princes' Islands- named for the princes who escaped from sweltering Istanbul in the summer to their residences on the island. Unfortunately, the heat followed us, and after staggering around in the heat for an hour we settled in for a picnic. Not even an ice-cold Efes lager (the local brew) could rouse us from our stupor:
On the ferry ride back to Istanbul, we stopped in Kadikoy on the Asian side of the Bosphorus for dinner. At the recommendation of Jenny's aunt and my sister we eventually made our way to Ciya Sofrasi, hands down the best meal of the trip. After stuffing ourselves on mezes (charged by the pound!), we savored a dessert plate and tea- the best Mediterranean meal of my life for $15 a person! A real winner. We even got to take in the minarets of the city at sunset on our ride back across the Bosphorus.
Our final day in Istanbul was spent seeing the rest of the sites, including the most-visited site in Turkey and home of the Ottoman rulers: Topkapi Palace.
We also visited the cisterns, built during the Byzantine era (to make up for the city's lack of freshwater access), which were only rediscovered by a curious Frenchman in the 1800's who wondered where the locals were catching freshwater fish from in the middle of Istanbul.
We started our evening with a glass of ouzo, a clear anise-flavored Turkish liquor that clouds when it's mixed with ice, on a rooftop bar overlooking the Old City:
And we ended the evening with another delicious dinner, this time at Cooking Alaturka, a cooking school and restaurant in the Old City.
The next morning we were up at 3 AM, and after a harrowing cab ride to the airport (I couldn't see how far the needle went past 130 kph...), I boarded a 6 AM flight to Paris and then San Francisco, while Jenny boarded a 8 AM flight to Kiev and then on to Vilnius, Lithuania for a two-week creative writing workshop. In spite of the heat, Istanbul was quite an experience:
After 14 days in Europe starting with a trek in the Alps, meandering through Budapest and Bucharest, and ending in Istanbul, it was finally time to head home. What a trip. And what a good traveling mate: