Istanbul: Day One

OMG. OMG. OMG.

I love it here. I’m never going home. You can’t make me.

(Ask me how I feel in about seven days when all my clothes are dirty and I’m tired of people trying to sell me carpets by shouting at me in Turkish, Spanish, and Russian after incorrectly guessing my nationality.)

Istanbul is gorgeous. My first impressions are that it’s a clean, well-planned, and diverse city. I get the sense that I came at the right time of year–there are other tourists, but not as much, as I’m told by the locals–as there would be had I come later in the summer. The weather has been perfect–it’s mid-70’s and sunny all week. Being right next to the sea results in a nice breeze every few seconds, which is welcome, because it is also humid. I’m reminded of that each time I climb the extremely steep cobblestoned hills and immediately am rewarded with a sheen of sweat.

So far I haven’t met any other Americans here. The only other native English speakers I’ve met are from Australia and New Zealand. Most other tourists are from Spain, Germany, Nigeria, Russia, China, or South Korea. It’s kind of refreshing to be in a part of the world that is less-traveled by my countrymen. However, I can’t really blame them for not coming because our governments have not been friendly to one another. In addition, this city has a reputation for being unsafe at the moment, which based on my limited experiences so far, is undeserved. There hasn’t been split second when I’ve felt unsafe; the locals are are reserved but kind, and there are armed police everywhere who all speak English. (I don’t talk enough about how incredibly lucky I am that English is my first language, and how grateful I am that others take the time to learn it.) At the same time, however, the presence of the same armed police does remind one that this country is still technically in a state of emergency. This city has always had a tumultuous history, and I don’t think that will change.

Soooo before I get into what I did today, let me preface it with the fact that the wifi at my hostel is absolutely horrible, so I haven’t been able to upload as many pictures as I’d like. I will make up for it once I find a better connection/get back to the States. To recap the day:

I woke up late because I am INCREDIBLY jet lagged. Like, so jet lagged that I thought I was sick and had to go to the hospital until I remembered that my body just has to adjust to the hell I’ve put it through. To make things worse, I hardly ate at all because I was so excited. Queue me almost passing out in a park this morning before realizing that I need food and water. I had a tasty simit–a fresh bread ring encrusted with sesame seeds–and a European Coke (I’ve missed you guys!!!) to stave off the blood sugar crash, and that did me right for a day packed with sightseeing.

My first stop was obvious: the Hagia Sophia. The exterior of this building is so huge that you can’t even fit it into one frame when photographing it. My anticipation built up as the line waded through fragments of ancient columns and tombs and inscriptions. My heart started beating rapidly as I entered the doors, and then BAM–there I was, inside the single most beautiful building in existence. I actually cried. Yes, you heard me–just hours after crying because the Golden Knights made the Stanley Cup Finals, here I was full-on bawling in the Hagia Sofia. (I really need to find more important stuff to cry about.)

I had read this countless times before, so I was prepared for this to be the case, but there really is no way to photograph this building properly–you absolutely have to see it in person. I took dozens of photos and they all suck. Two that I don’t hate as much as the others are below:

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Just looking at these photos again makes me so upset that I couldn’t even get close to the beauty of that building 😦

Next, I went to the Basilica Cistern. A cistern is a Roman-age water reservoir, essentially, that was used to bring water to the citizens of the city. This one is particularly huge and located entirely underground, which makes it super eerie and cool.

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On my way to Topkapi Palace I stopped by Hagia Irene, Hagia Sophia’s little sister. Although much smaller and not nearly as impressive, I actually found Hagia Irene more interesting because it was never converted to a mosque like Sophia had been, so you get to see what Sophia would have actually looked like if it had never been restored.

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Topkapi Palace is HUGE–a sprawling complex of chambers and harems and quarters, built first by the Roman emperors and then refurbished by the Ottoman sultans. A couple of my favorite scenes:

Believe it or not just those four places took me over six hours to get through, and my feet are killing. So I wrapped up the day with two of my favorite street foods, Balik ekmek (literally just “fish bread”–simplest and tastiest fish sandwich sold right off the boat) and baklava. The chocolate was my favorite 🤤

I just finished this post at 3:00 AM Istanbul time, and I’m wide awake. My poor body has no idea what’s going on. I’m off to get some sleep/possibly end up watching the Lightning-Capitals game if I can’t. Tomorrow I’ll be back with more photos, assuming they don’t take so long to upload!

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