Wow, that went fast. Our first month in Istanbul flew by way too quickly, leaving us a little nervous about our remaining time. We’ve prepared a gigantic list of things to do and see and, although we’ve accomplished a lot, the list doesn’t appear to be getting any smaller. Still, it’s been an amazing month, which has just left us eager for more. Here are our initial impressions about living in Istanbul.
Mike: Stepping foot for the first time inside the Hagia Sophia. For a thousand years, this was the largest and most impressive church on earth, and it’s still unparalleled in many ways. The huge dome, the history seeping from every rock, the mystery of how 6th century architects were able to construct it… I could spend days here.
Climbing the Galata Tower
on our second day for the sunset, and being overwhelmed by the sound of Muezzin calling the faithful to prayer, all at the same time. Overlooking the city, we had our first real sense of what Istanbul is all about.
Mike: Too much to choose from! But, I think that I’ll never have a better plate of döner in my life. And I especially like the iskender variety — a huge plate of meat, spicy and delicious, and covered in both french fries and yogurt sauce. Undefeatable!
I’m in love with Turkish food! We have a lot of Turkish culture in Germany, but I was only familiar with Döner Kebabs. A real shame, since Turkish cuisine has so much more to offer. But my answer to the question, without any doubt, is: Künefe!
Mike: How varied the city is. You can go from ultra-hip and stylish Cihangir, to devout and headscarf-heavy Üsküdar… from the tourist swarms of Sultanahmet, to the quiet Armenian neighborhood of Kumkapı, all within a single day. Istanbul has a lot of faces, and they’re amazingly segregated.
That Instanbullus use the city ferries as a real transportation option. It’s not just for tourists. I always have a wonderful time taking the ferries… drinking tea, feeding simits to the seagulls and taking ever more photos of the amazing skyline.
Mike: I understand that Istanbul is an ancient city, and renovations are often necessary on these centuries-old buildings, but almost every day we’re foiled by yet another mosque or museum closed for repairs. Just the other day, we tried visiting St. Stephen of the Bulgars (closed), the Zeyrick Mosque (closed), the Caricatures Museum (closed) and then the Fethiye Museum (closed on Wednesdays). Fine, that last one was due to our own poor planning, but still!
So far, I’ve been frustrated by getting permissions to special areas. But I’m not going to leave Istanbul without climbing a minaret! Or finding a way to get on top of the Grand Bazaar
and the Aqueduct
. I will never give up. Do you hear me, Istanbul? Never!
Funniest / Weirdest
Mike: I don’t know how funny it was, and it’s such a well-known experience that it’s hard to classify as “weird”. But from my point of view, a visit to the hamam is at least strange! I don’t know how else to describe the sensation of having (almost) my entire body soaped and scrubbed raw by an old, half-naked Turkish guy. That’s not to say I didn’t like it. Oh, I liked it.
My first visit to a Turkish Barber. I should have thought twice before saying “yes”, when he asked if I wanted the “full treatment”. I never thought I’d be getting my ears waxed or be leaving the shop with a perfectly trimmed goatee… which I definitely didn’t ask for! Apparently, the barber thought I’d look good with a goatee. He was wrong.
How Expensive? From 1 (cheap) to 10 (expensive)
Mike: 7. I just expected things to be cheaper here, but the prices are about equivalent to the rest of Europe. Alcohol is very expensive, which I hate. You can save cash, though, by eating at local joints, which are usually very good quality. And staying away from Western-style department stores. Istanbul is expensive, but since most of the locals don’t make a ton of money, the city is forced to offer affordable options… you just have to know where to look.
I would give Istanbul an 8. We never paid that much for a furnished apartment during our travels! Eating is reasonable and of very good quality if you stay away from the main touristy spots. And even then, you can find places where the locals eat.
People from Istanbul are…
Mike: … impossible to pin down to a specific group. You get everything from hipsters to completely head-scarfed conservative women, gay couples, Armenians, and long-bearded Koran students… sometimes all in the same cafe!
This is the hardest question to answer. It really depends if you’re in Cihangir, Fatih or Üsküdar. From mega-hipster to super-conservative and everything in between. But I’ve never gotten into so many random conversations with strangers, as here in Istanbul.
Istanbul in Three Words
Mike: Huge, Hilly, Hectic
Tea, Muezzins, Simits