Posts Tagged ‘Istanbul’

27th November
written by Hope

Ask any traveler about their experiences abroad and you’ll invariably get responses citing the opening of eyes, hearts, or minds. Travel IS the process of opening—exposing yourself to the influence of The Other, seeing great beauty through the eyes of another, and allowing yourself to be altered irreversibly by it.

an attempt to capture the vastness of the interior space in the haghia sophia (aya sofya), istanbul
Talk about great beauty! The humbling interior of the Aya Sophia (Haghia Sophia).

Less frequently do you hear about the process of closing. I imagine it happens to most travelers at one time or another…take any open-minded person and subject them to constant touting and the less frequent but ever-threatening possibility of getting scammed or robbed, and most would end up with at least a bit of a shell—at best a wary eye, at worst a complete shut-down towards all interactions.

the grand bazaar, istanbul
The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. As a tourist, going to a market always opens you up to the possibility of an unpleasant interaction as all parties try to adhere to the old adage: buy low, sell high.   

I’ll admit it: Jeremy and I grew a shell. After six months in Asia, we expected that any local who approached us on the street was trying to sell us something. We were most skeptical of those who didn’t lead with a sales pitch, but instead opened by asking where we were from or how long we had been in the country. We recognized the tactic for what it usually was—a lead to make us feel comfortable before the hard sell.

A week in Istanbul broke through that shell and smashed it into a million little pieces. Sure, there were people of the “Hello my friend, come into my carpet shop” variety, but the vast majority of our interactions with the locals here were surprisingly, I dunno, personal. If someone tried to sell us something and we politely declined, they still wanted to know where we were from, how long we would be in Turkey, and whether or not we were having a good time. It seemed like the Turkish people wanted to know all about us—even after we rejected their sales advance!

it's my turn to be the movie star, istanbul
After months of Asians asking to take photos with Jeremy, in Istanbul, *I* was the celebrity. I guess they don’t see many 6 foot Chinese girls around here…

a mini-sultan and his proud dad, istanbul
We were walking on the same sidewalk as these two when Dad proudly asked if we would like to take a picture of his mini-Sultan. Adorable!

Even in the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul’s most famous tourist market, it seemed like the selling was secondary to the bantering. To be fair, we met another traveler (who has been to Istanbul 8 times) who swears that the salesmen used to hassle you a lot more at the Grand Bazaar (he thinks that they government has instructed the sellers to back off). And, even though it’s off topic, it’s worth mentioning that we weren’t too impressed with the goods on display there (J and I walked through about 3 aisles before turning to each other and saying, “How much of this stuff do you think was made in China?”). But despite stall after stall of identical souvenirs for sale, our wanderings through this 500-year-old market were fascinating. Again, it was because of the people. One Turkish vendor in the spice market even engaged me in competent (though heavily accented) conversational Mandarin.

spice bazaar, istanbul
Spices in the (surprise!) spice bazaar.

Turkey is a stunning country. The landscape is incredible and the architecture can knock you off your feet. But despite all of this physical beauty, it’s the people—so full of love and graciousness that they could pierce through a 12FOOT3 shell—that will really get to you.  

the washing ritual, istanbul
Turkish men washing before entering the mosque.

21st November
written by Hope

After 3 years of art school and 2 years working at a boutique graphic design studio, there is one rule that emerges: a rule so highly regarded in the industry that ignoring it would be like asking Thomas Keller to pair his fine steak with Two Buck Chuck. That rule is:


Any accomplished designer will tell you that the white space on a page is as important—sometimes even more so—than the text or graphical elements. It lets the eye rest, or gives it direction. It can create balance between the other elements on the page. In the best designs, it can create meaning.

Istanbul laughs in the face of white space. It thumbs its nose at white space. Indeed, Istanbul ran that white space right outta town.

The results are insanely beautiful.

interior, blue mosque, istanbul
The ceiling of Sultanahmet (The Blue Mosque).

We spent most of our days with our necks craned up and our jaws open in awe. When I was in Oaxaca a few years ago, I was obsessed with all the beautiful patterned tiles. But THIS…this takes it to another level entirely.

topkapi palace, istanbul
Topkapı Palace.

Every surface that can be covered with a pattern, is.

mother-of-pearl inlaid door at the blue mosque, istanbul
Mother-of-pearl inlaid door at the Blue Mosque.

stone floors, topkapi palace, istanbul
Stone floors at Topkapi Palace.

painted ceiling detail, haghia sophia (aya sofya), istanbul
Painted ceiling in the upper gallery, Haghia Sophia (Aya Sofya).

haghia sophia (aya sofya), istanbul
Byzantine arches and pillars at the Haghia Sophia (Aya Sofya).

topkapi palace, istanbul
Stained-glass window, Topkapi Palace.

And what is in between those patterns layered on patterns? Is it enough to execute patterns in stone, tile, glass, wood, and paint? Of course not! Let’s throw some mosaics in there while we’re at it.

virgin mother and child mosaic in the half dome, haghia sophia (aya sofya), istanbul
Virgin mother and child mosaic in the half-dome, Haghia Sophia (Aya Sofya).

deësis mosaic, haghia sophia (aya sofya), istanbul
The Deësis mosaic in the Haghia Sophia (Aya Sofya).

Screw white space.

18th November
written by Hope


Q. Turkey is:

A. amazing
B. magical
C. some synonym for “amazing” or “magical”
D. all of the above

If you answered “D”, then you agree with 99.99% of the people we encountered before and during our trip. To put it mildly, Turkey was hyped. And despite our attempts to stifle our excitement (there’s nothing worse than having expectations so wild that they can only lead to disappointment), we caught the fever. And it wasn’t for more cowbell.

So we were off our rockers about our month-long stay in Turkey, and first impressions of Istanbul did not disappoint. The brilliantly patterned head scarves! The elaborate mosques! The intricate mosaics! The fragrant spices! Mind you, we experienced all of this within 10 minutes of getting into the city, BEFORE we actually saw anything. If there’s such a thing as love at first sight, then we fell knee-deep into it.

colorful headscarves and overcoats, istanbul
A typical Istanbul uniform (for the ladies, of course): colorful headscarf atop beige overcoat.

sultan ahmed (the blue mosque), istanbul
Sultanahmet (The Blue Mosque).

Of course, we had to stop for a moment to give ourselves a pat on the back for adding the UK and Ireland to the itinerary. Not only did those countries seem exotic after China, but our appreciation of Turkey’s Ottoman heritage was heightened after 3 weeks in those English-speaking countries. Go us!

We ended our first evening in Istanbul on a rooftop restaurant with a kebab meal (the first of so, so many), a cold pint of Efes (ditto), the Haghia Sophia on one side, and a view of the sunset over the Bosphorus on the other. [Insert reference to "C. some synonym for 'amazing' or 'magical'" here.]

our first kebab in istanbul!
Jeremy enjoying our first kebab on a rooftop restaurant in Sultanahmet.

And then…this is the point in the post where that music would play. You know, that music. The music that goes: DUN DUN DUN!

Before we arrived in Istanbul, we booked 4 nights in Best Island Hostel. Don’t ask me why we booked ahead—when arriving in a new city, we typically do the “backpacker dance” of dragging our bags from one hostel to the other until we find one that we can work with. I think we were worried about it being the busy season before Ramazan and perhaps we were still in the pre-booking mode from the UK and Ireland. Anyway, we settled into our room at Best Island for a good night’s sleep…if by “good,” you mean “tossing, turning, and fitfully trying to tune out the bathroom noises that echoed in our bedroom ALL NIGHT LONG despite the fact that we were wearing earplugs.” Yeah, if by “good” you mean THAT. People, we’ve slept on Vietnamese buses with dirty backpackers’ feet in our faces and mosquito-filled rooms in the middle of the Southeast Asian jungle. There was no worse night’s sleep than the one we had in Best Island.

It’s hard to even find words to describe how cranky we were the next day. The city that was the historic seat of power for the Ottoman Empire? Whatever. 1000+ year old mosque? Pshaw. The crystal-blue waters of the strait that separates Europe and Asia? Yeah, show me something I haven’t seen. Not even the beautiful weather could cheer us up.

view of beyoglu from topkapi palace, istanbul
We were so sleep deprived that THIS seemed unimpressive to us.

We quickly realized that if we “slept” another night in Best Island Hostel, we would end up hating Istanbul. So we spent our first day in this beautiful city going from hostel to hostel looking at rooms until we found Hotel Umay. At a hefty €45 per night, plus US$30 for Best Island—we ended up having to double pay for 2 nights because we couldn’t get a hold of the owner for a refund request)—we were blowing the budget two days after we landed in Turkey. But our new room was blissfully quiet, the boys who worked at the hotel promised to give us a discount if I taught them some American pickup lines (example: “Your father must have been an astronaut because he put the stars in your eyes.” Seriously.), and this was our view:

the view from our window (hotel umay), istanbul
View of the Bosphorus from our room at Hotel Umay.

It was worth every penny.

How we got to Istanbul: We used one of our around-the-world (RTW) flights to get from London to Istanbul.

Where we slept in Istanbul: See the above story for a full explanation, but here’s our advice if you want to enjoy Istanbul: NEVER EVER stay in Best Island Hostel.

On the other hand, we loved Hotel Umay. Friendly service, a beautiful view on a quiet street, and a decent Turkish breakfast. Thank you, Hotel Umay, for saving us from the horrors of Best Island!