Three years ago I had the wonderful opportunity to visit my Aunt Frances in Turkey, an American who relocated to Izmir (a large coastal city in Western Turkey). I spent a month with Frances, and fell head over heels in love with the country and it’s people. Jacob has patiently listened to me wax nostalgic over my memories of Turkey for two years now; so landing in Istanbul on Monday was thrilling for both of us. 

Unfortunately our first couple hours in Istanbul were less than wonderful. But we’ve been on the up and up since then. We caught our bus from the airport to Taksim Square, where we had written directions to our apartment, less than a kilometer away. Unfortunately, while the directions were clear, Istanbul is not. From Taksim Square we could have gone in some 20 possible directions, and we wound up dragging our luggage around in the heat, and ravenously hungry. Several very kind Turks took pity on us and gave us directions, but regardless, five minutes later we were lost again (later we found that some of them had pointed us in the wrong direction). After an hour we were at our wit’s end. We hailed a cab and gave him the address – but he did not know where the apartment was either. He wound up driving around for 20 minutes, asking every local he passed on the street if they knew the address. 

Finally we arrived home. We cheered up as soon as we entered the apartment though – it was beautiful. Our hostess was a kind young woman, who we found later, is also an internationally known installation artist. 

Once we were settled and fed, we set into the city. Istanbul is a massive city, and seems to be constantly humming with activity. The city is cut in half by the Bosporus, with one half sitting in Europe, and the other in Asia. The city has a long and fascinating history that has resulted in an eclectic mix of European, Asian, and Middle Eastern influences.  

As I hoped, Jacob fell in love with Istanbul immediately. 

We visited Sultanahmet, and the Hagia Sophia, two grand buildings that sit across from each other in a large square. Sultanahmet is a beautiful mosque, still in daily use. 

But the Hagia Sophia, one of the first cathedrals ever constructed in 500 (ish) A.D. is the real gem. The cathedral is covered entirely in gold mosaics, however barely any of these mosaics are visible today. The cathedral was converted into a mosque, at which time the mosaics were plastered over and whitewashed. Later the Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum, and the gold mosaics slowly restored. 

As the sun went down, Jacob and I went to the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market, a chaotic, endless maze of shops and stalls. Everywhere you walk you dodge shoppers and vendors hawking their wares. It is just as exotic as you can imagine. 

Walking along the waterfront, Jacob and I came across the “Fish Bread” boats. 

On these boats, rocking crazily in the waters of the Bosphorus, chefs cook fish on giant grills and stuff them into sandwiches piled with onions and peppers. You can buy these sandwiches for the equivalent of $2.50. Hungry and feeling adventurous, we decided this was our dinner stop.

The sandwiches were good – but fishy. We spent the whole evening trying to get the fish taste out of our mouths. But sitting there on the water, watching the chefs miraculously keep their balance on the rocking boats, the lights and the noise – Jacob and I suddenly felt: Toto, we are definitely not in Europe any more (or America, for that matter).  It was a wonderful feeling. 

After the Fish Bread we stopped from some quintessential Turkish tea. I can’t get enough of it. The Turks drink it everywhere, at every opportunity, and I join them as often as I can.

On our last evening in Istanbul, Jacob and I went out for an evening of Hookah. Turkey has a wonderful café culture that I miss when in America. Much more common than bars; the cafes offer Hookah, Backgammon, and endless amounts of Turkish tea. It’s where you go to hang out with friends, or watch the soccer game. 

After two wonderful days Jacob and I packed up to take the plane for Izmir to meet my Aunt Frances. We arrived to bus station and had a shock. Did I recognize that girl with the backpack? We stared at each other for a few second in a stupor. Her name is Rebecca, she is a friend from college back in Southern California. We were flabbergasted. Meeting her by chance in this gigantic city, half way across the world...I still can barely believe it. We were taking the same bus to the airport, so we had a chance to get caught up before we parted ways. 

More stories to come soon!