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!



  1. I’m jealous of all the blueblue sky you had in Istanbul. We had 6 gray days out of 7. When the sun finally came out we were stunned by the city’s amazing colors and magical beauty. Also, we’re still sick of kebap and Efes, many months later.

  2. Adam

    Beautifully written, Hope. I felt like I was right there with you. Reminds me a lot of my own experience in Turkey, but I arrived by boat in Kusadasi.

    My traveling buddy and I began our visit with a rooftop kebab dinner at sunset, and shortly after we arrived, I too got a punch in the crotch. And by that, I mean I was the butt of a joke in which our hostel host tricked me into looking up and then grabbed my junk with far more force than I considered funny.

    Ah, Turkey. I’ll certainly never forget Sammy - that sonofabitch.

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