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East meets West: My unexpected journey to Istanbul

February 1, 2017

 

 

In the Fall of 2012, I was contacted by my cousin who had been expressing interest in traveling. He told me of a great deal going on with Turkish Airlines for a round trip flight for $530 to Istanbul, Turkey.  He asked if I wanted to go, and I promptly responded yes.  It's not often that I make a spontaneous trip to the outskirts of the Middle East with just a little more than a month to prepare. This was one of those times, I guess!

 

Some time and many moons have passed since I was in Turkey, but I have finally gotten around to catching up on my travel blog, and at the time of this trip, the idea to do this website had not even existed yet.  My memory and knowledge of locations visited may not be as great as some of the other locations I've been lately, but I'll do my best to recall everything, so bear with me!

 

Istanbul is known as being a gateway of the Eastern and Western civilizations. It is only city in the world that is on two different continents (Europe and Asia).  The influence of Eastern and Western cultures are prevalent in this two continent city. This makes Istanbul to be quite a unique experience.

 

Since my visit in 2012, Turkey has been in the media repeatedly, much for negative reasons.  Many people of this country have been affected by the ongoing terrorist attacks throughout the country. It is sad for me to see these kinds of things going on in a country from which I remember people being so friendly and helpful. It's also disappointing because this discourages tourism to this region of the world. Which means a lot  of people  will be missing out on what Istanbul and Turkey have to offer the world in culture, history, food, and more! It is unfortunate that so many people simply look over Turkey as a potential vacation destination.  Before I wound up buying a plane ticket for this unexpected journey, I never would have considered Turkey as a travel destination, now I would recommend it to anyone looking for a cool interesting country to visit.

 

Despite what you see on media constantly, Turkey is a relatively safe country to visit aside from the recent terror attacks. And as I mentioned before,  the Turkish people are very friendly and welcoming.  A lot of people who live in Istanbul also speak English, so if you don't speak Turkish there is no reason to worry about a language barrier for the most part. 

 

There are a lot of things I remember fondly of my time spent in Turkey.  One of the biggest things I took away from this trip was that it was very influential in enabling my passion for world travel, and for photography. Essentially, this was the trip that sparked my growing interest in travel, photography, and  learning about the various cultures of the world.

 

The Food

 

I could spend a lot of time talking about all of the aspects of Turkey I enjoyed, but I will try to sum it up to just a few. I will always remember Turkey for it's great culinary scene. So far this has been my most favorite foodie destination. I feel that most meals that I had in Turkey were delicious. On top of that, the variety and types of food seemed never ending. There is something for everyone in Istanbul. 

 

I spent most of my time eating typical Turkish styles of foods, but I did try some American style foods that had a Turkish spin on it as well.

 

 

One of my favorite dining experiences is one that I vaguely remember oddly enough. It was in Goreme, and was called Turkish Night Show, click here to go directly to their website.  For the price (about $50.00 if I remember right) we got to witness traditional Turkish dancing by performers, great appetizers, salads, a main course, and alcohol. It was a great deal, and a blast to watch the performers. For those who enjoy dancing, it gets interactive towards the end too! There are plenty of other spectators to get interactive with as well.  I met people from all over the world that night who were there for the show. My memory of this night is very poor unfortunately, due to alcohol being included with this dinner night.  It definitely would be a worthwhile activity to experience if you are in Goreme or in the Cappadocia region of Turkey. 

 

 

Turkey was filled with great restaurants. There was so many great places to eat and foods to try. I couldn't even begin to sum up all of the places we went to eat. In Istanbul, I had made arrangements to stop at a restaurant where I was recommended to visit by a family friend who knew the owner.  The restaurant was called The Pudding Shop, and was owned and managed by an older man named Adam. He was very friendly and he took time out of his day to speak with us and ask how his friend from the United States was. He then provided us both with a large platter of various Turkish foods to try out. The food there was delicious, and it is buffet style serving so it is a good place to get a quick bite to eat. Check it out, its right near the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia.  I would later found out this restaurant was actually a world famous and that it has had some pretty high caliber patrons at one point or another.

 

Aside from all of the delicious dining options at restaurants, there is a ton of street food offerings through the many cobblestone streets, bar regions,  and other places in Istanbul. An elderly Turkish fellow outside our hostel sold the most delicious ka-bobs I've ever had!

 

 I don't know what it is about street food across the world, but it always seems to be some of the best food.

 

While in Turkey, you would be hard pressed to not stop at the plethora of pastry and bakery shops. The amount of desert foods in this country is amazing. I suppose they are famous for the deserts after all, hence the Turkish Delights. Somehow I had gone my entire life without trying Baklava until I traveled to Turkey. Clearly, something was wrong with me if I had gone 24 some years into life without trying Baklava. 

 

To sum things up, the culinary experience I had in Turkey is what I compare other country's culinary style up against now. So far Turkey has been my favorite. Unfortunately, for other countries around the world, the bar has been set high for culinary mastery. Thanks a lot, Turkey!

 

One other little side note, turkey is very difficult to find in Turkey apparently. We spent Thanksgiving (USA Holiday) in Turkey, and attempted to find a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey in Turkey with no success. So don't go to Turkey in search of turkey, or ask the locals where you can find it. 

 

The sights

 

If you are looking for a city that has a endless amount of sight seeing opportunities, look no further than Istanbul. Holy crap! We were in this city for several weeks, and every day we had something new to see or do. The opportunities seemed endless. The amount of historic buildings in this city is ridiculous. The most famous historic building title probably goes to the Sultan Ahmet Mosque (Blue Mosque) and Hagia Sophia.

 

 The Blue Mosque to this day, is still used for prayer, while Hagia Sophia now serves out it's days as a museum.  Both of these buildings have been around for a incredible amount of time. The Blue Mosque was completed in 1616, while the even older Hagia Sophia was completed in 1480 (nearly 1,500 years ago)! Any history buff would love the opportunity to explore and see these incredible buildings, and better yet, these are just two of many old buildings that can be found in Istanbul. 

 Despite these cultural and historical icons, there is much more to see.  Famous places such as the Topkapi Palace, Basicila Cistern, Galata Tower, and more are all within short distances of each other in Istanbul.

 

There are even more places that I have not even mentioned above. Those are just some of the most popular destinations to visit in Istanbul. 

 

If shopping is your thing, you should definitely give the world's 'oldest' mall a shot. By this, I am referring to Istanbul's world famous Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar began its construction way back in 1455. The exact time of completion isn't exactly known. Be prepared when entering this maze of a bazaar. It is easy to get lost in this historic building. It has over 4,000 stores. It is extremely busy, and can be quite busy throughout the day. You may recognize the name as the building that Daniel Craig drove a dirt bike on top of and inside of in order to catch a villain in the movie Skyfall.

 

Beware for pick pockets