Van sin van : Istanbul

Our honeymoon in Turkey and Greece was a completely different travel experience from our last journey abroad. We started out by taking a mercifully direct flight from San Francisco to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, 14 hours that went by quickly thanks to the personal entertainment system with 250 movies to choose from.

We spent the first few days of our trip in Istanbul, with some friends who live in the neighborhood of Üsküdar, right on the Asian side of the Bosphorus Strait. There, we were summarily introduced to one of the greatest things about Turkey: Turkish breakfast.

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Yes, that is cheese. And olives. And tomatoes and cucumbers and nuts and honey oh my!

Deniz and Erdem’s killer location meant that aside from enjoying a spectacular view of the city, we got to start off every day with a lovely ferry ride across the Bosphorus, sometimes accompanied by one of the ubiquitous glasses of tea that Istanbulus drink approximately every hour.

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Morning commute on the Bosphorus Strait

Tea time on the Bosphorus ferry

Tea time on the Bosphorus ferry

We spent most of our time in Sultahnamet, the old part of Istanbul, where we visited the following requisite attractions:

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The Hagia Sophia, built in 537 as a cathedral, and then converted into a mosque in 1453.

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Juan inside the Basilica Cistern, the underground reservoir built in the 6th century and featured in the film From Russia with Love!

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The Blue Mosque

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Topkapī Palace

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Goodies at the Spice Market

Istanbul was surprisingly crowded with tourists, and being surrounded by so many foreigners made it feel less like we were experiencing a city than touring some kind of historical theme park. I thought one of the bigger disappointments was The Grand Bazaar, touted as one of the world’s largest and oldest covered markets. I love markets and was expecting to see something like the medinas in Morocco, but instead it felt more like a modern mall. Most of the storefronts had glass windows and sold stuff that was probably manufactured in China.

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The Grand Bazaar, which has its own mobile app.

All in all, Istanbul felt a lot more modern and European than expected. Aside from the call to prayer waking us (well, me) each morning around 4:45 and the fact that everyone was speaking Turkish, the city didn’t strike me as I thought it would. Although Islam is the dominant religion here, it was much easier to procure alcohol than in any other Muslim country I’ve visited–although finding pork products was nearly impossible. I also find it interesting that while men and children around the world seem to all dress alike, it’s usually the grown women who who will observe more traditional styles of dress.

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One of the highlights was, of course, indulging in a lot of ice cream.

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Another highlight was visiting the Istanbul Modern to view an exhibit of Magnum photographers’ contact sheets, which we recommend if you’re in Istanbul in the next two months.

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My favorite photographer on the Galata Bridge

For more photos from Istanbul, visit limpire.