Where: Istanbul, Turkey
When: June 2010
How: Direct flight from Newark to Tel Aviv, flight to / from Istanbul
Duration: 6 days, 5 nights
Accommodations: Boğaziçi University dormitories on the cheap. Attending an academic conference as a grad student, I got a sweet deal on a dorm room and bunked up with 5 other conference attendees from around the world for a whopping $45USD.
Language: Sign language! Unless of course, you speak Turkish. English was not widely spoken when I visited just last year.
Currency: Turkish Lira
Tourist facts: Istanbul has been gaining popularity as a tourist destination. According to the Republic of Turkey Ministry of Culture and Tourism, in 2010 the country logged 28,632,204 foreign visitors and the number continues to rise. National Geographic opens their review of Istanbul with a quote from Alphonse de Lamartine, a French politician from the 19th century: “If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Constantinople.” I must say, it certainly deserves a look.
Links I recommend during trip planning: I consulted the NYTimes to look for their 36 hour report, which was written in February 2010. As recently as July 2011, the Frugal Traveler (once Matt, now Seth) took a swing at the city on a $100USD budget. You can see the details of his adventure here. Just reading it makes me want to go back, immediately! Another tried and true resource: Fodor’s online guide and users forum for Turkey.
- see Sultan Ahmed, more commonly known as the Blue Mosque
- visit Hagia Sophia: once a basilica, later a mosque, now a museum
- haggle in the Grand Bazaar
- enjoy a Turkish bath
- eat, eat, eat
What I saw: A city on the rise: chaotic, historic, thrumming with energy. The Blue Mosque is postcard perfect, and you can walk through as long as you’re not baring any unnecessary skin (arms + legs, ladies) – the guards will give you fabric to tie around your bare parts. Hagia Sophia is enormous, and stunningly beautiful: a mash-up of Muslim and Christian decor, resulting in an awesome sight, as opposed to a garish one.
What I did: Sweat all my calories away waiting in the sunshine for the public bus. Held my breath when the un-deodorized masses surged around us. Sweat a bit more glamorously on a marble slab in a positively ancient Turkish bath (circa 1500s). Walked along the Bosphorus Strait and stopped for tea with my face to the water and my feet up on a chair. Bargained shamelessly for a pashmina that I now own and love, and laughed out loud at the salesmen inquiring if my friend and I were Top Models. Accidentally drank the soot at the bottom of Turkish coffee and have not had a cup since.
What I ate: waffles, kebabs, kumpir, kunefe. You know kebabs originated in Turkey, right? You know how I feel about kebabs.
I’m sorry I missed: The famous 6th century cisterns, often referred to as the “sunken palace” and the other side of the Bosphorus.
If (when) I return I will: book an appointment at Çemberlitaş Hamamı immediately. Plan to stay in the historic district. Take the ferry over and spend some time on the Asian side of the country.
Thanks to: One, a student working at the university who gladly took charge of my tour through the town, along with a fellow conference attendee. This meant waffles in Bebek (twice!) and my first taste of Turkish coffee (still recovering). Two, a post-doc who visited my university in the US and welcomed me to her country that summer with open arms. With her we walked along the Bosphorus Strait, drank Turkish tea (much better) and chowed down on kebabs. Three, a Turkish native home for the summer from his studies at Northwestern took time out of his vacation to guide us through the Grand Bazaar. Most notably, he drove us through the most chaotic traffic I have ever witnessed, to date. My thanks to Tuba, Nagihan and Mert for their insights and their expert view into this beautiful city!
If you want to read the original post: You can see it here.
Now, you: What will you do when you visit Turkey? Have you been there before? What do you recommend?