istanbul1{Rainbow stairs in the Galata Saray}

Istanbul was always one of those exotic far away places that has been on my bucket list but I never thought I would actually get to visit anytime soon.  One of my resolutions this year was to be more spontaneous and lucky for me, the opportunity presented itself to me.  My girlfriend Jillian who I went to Manhattan College with and who happened to be my roommate in Spain was moving back to the US after living in Istanbul for a year.  She messaged me to say that if I ever had any interest in seeing Istanbul, it should be in the next 2 weeks because she was moving.  When your friend offers you free accommodations in a foreign city, it’s not even a question of will I go, it’s when will I go?  Two weeks later, with a seat on Turkish Airlines and my girlfriend Grace in tow, I was headed to Istanbul.

My knowledge of Istanbul was very limited at the time.  Usually, when I travel I’m super organized.  I have the city mapped out, a loose itinerary, a list of foodie destinations I want to hit up and some usful words in the native language.  Because this was such a last minute trip, I didn’t get to prep much and maybe a little part of my non-type A side was screaming to be a little reckless.  I wanted spontaneity more than anything during this trip.  So going in, all I really knew about Istanbul was that there would be mosques, kebabs, people selling carpets, and something called Turkish Delights.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t go into Turkey without some stereotypes about the people.  That’s the thing about travel, the experience always proves you wrong.  The people were the nicest and most courteous people I’ve ever met.  There were so many instances when someone helped me and Grace above and beyond normal measures.  One ritual we don’t get to experience very often in the States is their daily prayers.  There are 5 prayer times that start from pre-dawn to evening.  Each mosque has a loud speaker that calls out the prayer.  Even though Istanbul is a more secular Muslim country, we did see men on the streets praying.  It was such an interesting thing to see in person.

Istanbul is a city where the old world meets the new world.  Grace and I agreed that the best parts of the city were in the old town where you feel like you’ve been transported hundreds of years back when the sultans ruled the land.  We were blown away by the beauty of the tile work in the Blue Mosque, the gothic aesthetic of the Hagia Sophia, the lights on the water in the Basilica Cistern, and the buzz at the Grand Bazaar.  The modern part of Istanbul located over the Galata Bridge was a little too modern for us.  We didn’t care to see a Shake Shake or H&M.  One thing we did love about the modern part was the food.  One place in partiular stood out; Sekiz Istanbul where the chef makes traditional food but with a modern twist.  We saw a lot of this old world meets new world juxtaposition like seeing women wearing hijabs taking photos with their ipads.

People travel for all sorts of reasons and there is no “right” reason.  For me, travel is about discovering a culture and immersing myself in it.  Like anyone, I love my creature comforts like a king size hotel bed, Starbucks, wifi, and an English speaking taxi driver but if you rely too much on these things then what’s the point in traveling?  You can just have a staycation.  During this trip, I really tried to rely on my own insticts, the kindness of strangers, and I even bought a tourist map to navigate the streets.  Since we stayed with my girlfriend, we stayed in a neighborhood where there were no tourists whatsoever.  It was frustrating at times but I feel like we got an authentic experience.  We interacted a lot with the locals which I don’t think would’ve happened if we had stayed in a tourist area.

I’ve always loved this quote from Saint Augustine, “the world is a book and those who do not travel only read one page.”  It couldnt be more true than during this trip.  From my short trip to Istanbul, I learned that you simply cannot judge a place before you visit it because the majority of the time, you will be surprised by how wrong you were.  If you just let go a little and let things happen, you’ll find that everything falls into place anyway.  I hope this post inspires you to visit this beautiful city.  These were some of the places we went to that I highly recommend if you’re ever in Instanbul.

istanbul2{Grace in front of the Istanbul Modern Museum}

istanbul3{I had to try the kebab from Durumzade once I saw Anthony Bourdain eat here}

istanbul4{The most flavorful kebab I’ve ever had}

istanbul5{Blue Mosque}

istanbul6{The blue tiles are breathtaking}

istanbul7{Don’t forget your scarf}

istanbul8{Basilica Cistern}

istanbul9 {Hagia Sophia}

istanbul11 {Modern Anatolian food at Sekiz Istanbul}

istanbul12{People watching on Istiklal Cassedi the main street in Istanbul}

istanbul13{Turkish coffee with baklava and lokum at Hafiz Mustafa}

istanbul15{Lanterns at the Grand Bazaar}

istanbul16{It’s in the details at Topkapi Palace}

istanbul17{Carpets outside the Grand Bazaar}

istanbul18{Nuts and sweets at the Spice Bazaar}

istanbul19{Dried roses for tea}

Istanbul20{Istanbul at night is not a sight to be missed}