Of all the cities we’ve traveled to so far in our trip, Istanbul provided us with the most dramatic introduction. The directions for getting to our hostel were reasonably straightforward — take the tram from the airport to “Sultanahmet”, walk through the park along the entrance to the Blue Mosque, wind down a couple back streets, and there you’ll see the hostel. Everything went as expected until we stepped off the tram… into what seemed like another world. You see, we weren’t aware that we had arrived during the final few days of Ramadan, and that this park is where many people go to celebrate the end of a day of fasting. As we entered the park, we stepped into a nighttime festival scene with loud prayers playing from the mosque’s loudspeakers and crowds of families wandering through the park while enjoying roasted corn cobs, chestnuts, fresh-made candy, and small cups of tea. We made our way through the crowds (looking and feeling very out of place with our travel clothes and large backpacks) and somehow found the hostel quite easily. We had the next three full days to check out Istanbul’s sights, many of which were located a short walk away.
Among the sights we visited were…
Topkapi Palace, an impressive palace in the old town, containing ancient buildings and treasures ranging from golden artifacts to Moses’ staff.
And Taksim Square, the center of modern Istanbul and site of Where’s Abby? Round I.
On the food front… aside from the many kebap stands that we also found in other European cities, the food and drink in Istanbul were considerably different than what we had elsewhere. In addition to serving the spit-roasted meat dishes you’d expect, most restaurants served freshly squeezed orange juice, a sour yogurt drink, and small glasses of tea. We also enjoyed Pide (also known as Turkish Pizza), pickled vegetables from a street vendor, roasted chestnuts, and even a Nagileh, a traditional Turkish water pipe. All of this was delicious.
Overall we had a wonderful time!