Merhaba (hello in Turkice) everyone and welcome to the real heart of my time in Turkiye. While Cappadocia was bizarre and peaceful, Istanbul was filled with the hustle and bustle of three NYCs. Thus, my first experiences with Istanbul were overwhelming, but eventually I learned to love it.
Landing in Ataturk Havilmanu (airport) - named after the great Mustafa Ataturk who modernized Turkiye in the 1920s through the language and alphabet, religious acceptance, gender customs, and much more - I would be encountered by a plainclothes police who asked for my passport. This was the only odd experience (the worst experiences of travel are from the airport/train station to where you're staying) as I'm quite good at ignoring hustlers all over the world, but then I saw his badge in his hand and noticed his partner and I gave them my US passport. After that, all was clear; however, I must say it was a jarring experience as they blocked my path until I showed them the passport - I'm not one for giving my passport to anyone, but hey in the airport I could've figured issues out.
Afterwards, I would find my way through Istanbul at a van night to my hostel. At the hostel, I would meet my South African friend Chris and get to use the first of many rooftops in Istanbul. A note about rooftops: The Turks love their rooftops for eating, hookah, and drinking (bars = meyhanes). This is made possible by the hills and the varying heights of the buildings in the city. As such, I would begin my day in the old area of Sultanahmet to see the Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque) - a beautiful inside & out, huge 500 year old mosque where I saw women of all ethnicities wrap their hair up for the respect of Islam. Following that, I would check on the Roman Cistern, get haggled for nearly everything (Bosphorous Tour! Sahlep! Chay!), have lokum (turkish delight) and muhallebi (milk pudding -sorry - no pictures), and ride the tram.
Later in the day, I would go with Chris to take the long way around Taksim in the Beyoglu side of the city. We would encounter the revolutionary Taksim Square (site of the 2013 riots) and head down Istikal Street to Hard Rock Cafe Istanbul to meet with his friend Secil. She would be our Turkish tour guide for experiences with meyhanes, raku (the Turkish anise drink that turns white with water), mezes (appetizers), Efes (the beer of Turkiye), and other aspects of Turkish culture. The raku would definitely take its toll and we soon headed back home.
The next day would have me exploring the ancient (1300-1400 year old) Aya Sofia, the Archaelogical Museum (check it out if you can, there's a lot of Istanbul's multi-cultural history here), and the Suleymaniye Mosque (this may be my favorite mosque). The Aya Sofia represents the slow progression of change in Istanbul from a Byzantine Christian origin in Constantinople (you can still see the original walls of Constantinople), the Muslim/Ottoman influences, the addition of the minarets, and the Sultan tombs. It is just as great as the Blue Mosque, but overrides the Blue Mosque with its history and vast museum of varied interior designs. However, this greatness goes hand in hand with a comparison to the Suleymaniye Mosque (as seen in Skyfall). The Suleymaniye Mosque, named after the prosperous Ottoman sultan Suleymaniye and his wife (yes only one!) Roxhana for all their accomplishments. Based on the designs of grand architect Mehmet Khan II, it is the most symmetrical and in my opinion wondrous of the three grand mosques (out of hundreds of smaller mosques) of the city. I would end my afternoon with a stroll through the 550 year old Grand Bazaar, filled with every manner of shops and hustlers. Many of my nights in Istanbul would conclude with chatting with my great hostel staff about this and that in biraz (little) bursts of Turkish (I picked up some).
The next day would have more grand adventures in the gigantic Topkapu Palace and my return from Cappadocia would have times at the Kariye Musezi (Chora Museum). However, I will conclude part 1 of Istanbul by describing all the glorious food in my pictures. Turkish cuisine is an absolute speciality from Ottoman, Turkish, and Anataloian (the Asian part of the country). As such, I'll just write some more of what I ate: Iskander kebab, Hurrem (chicken/pasta named after Roxhana), sutlac (rice pudding), baluk ekmet (fish sandwich), street kebabs, Turkish coffee, kunefe and kanafeh, baklava (best ever), tons of simits (bagel donuts), koftes (meatballs), and the weird drinks; sahlep, aryan, salgam (turnip juice), and nar suyu (pomegranate juice).
Part 2 will discuss Topkapu, Kariye Musezi and a day of rest in Istanbul