We got back from our four-day trip to Istanbul last night, and after three nights in our kiddie-sized apartment and 14 hours total on the bus, being at TOBB is like walking on solid ground after spending two weeks at sea.
The apartment we booked in Istanbul had 2 rooms; we were promised bunk beds but you can't believe everything you read on the internet. Lilly, Jen and I ended up sharing a TWIN BED for three nights, and the first night I got up three times to put on more clothes because we turned on the air conditioning and couldn't find the remote.
Aside from our tiny apartment, the weekend was pretty great. We celebrated my birthday on Saturday and Sunday night, including desserts from one of the places we went for breakfast. Our apartment was two blocks from Istiklal street, a pedestrian road with lots of cafes and shops. We used the McDonalds as our marker, which got us lost on Saturday night when we found a second one and tried to follow the way to our apartment. I'm keeping my promise not to eat anything here I can get in the States, but the boys tried the breakfast there the first day in Istanbul and there were apparently no complaints.
Three mornings in a row the girls and I had Turkish breakfast, and it got better every time. The honey is always the best part, I'd never really considered honey to go well with anything until I tried it with butter on bread. The tomatoes and cucumbers are also nice in the morning when your brain is only half functioning. I still don't trust the breakfast meat, but hey, when in Istanbul.
Our first two days we took the funicular (sort of an up-down subway) from Taksim to the main tram line, but Saturday Jennifer and Lilly and I walked to the nearest tram station instead and found a much quieter residential area with lots of cafes, salons, markets, and a few shops. There were cats everywhere and everything sloped downhill (which was much less fun walking back up, I might add). We also found a modern art gallery on the way, which we mistakenly told one Australian couple was the Istanbul modern art museum (oops).
Most of the places in Istanbul and Ankara make use of their space by building upward, having a terrace, and installing spiral staircases. The number of tightly winding ones I've climbed in the past two weeks is crazy. You get dizzy going up them but the view from the terrace and the sound of the call to prayer from multiple mosques at once is worth the climb. You could see one down the street from our apartment that was at least 6 stories.
At one point I knew that the Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque are two separate buildings, but somewhere along I was wrongly convinced otherwise. The Blue Mosque is a muted blue collection of domes and minarets, and the Aya Sofya is its mirror image in a faded pink. The Aya Sofya has a painted interior that has been restored, and the painting of Jesus is flanked on either side by circular panels with the names of Islamic caliphs. The original stained glass was replaced with stained glass with Islamic script, which was something I'd never seen before. The ceiling and the walls of the Blue Mosque are all tile and there is plush carpet for people who are praying. Jen and I wore the new scarves we had bought at the Grand Bazaar, which was nice because we didn't have to borrow ones from the Blue Mosque.
My Turkish skills made up for my crappy bargaining skills at the Grand Bazaar (Jen and Lilly are coaching me). The vendors would say hello in English and they would step back a little when I answered in Turkish. I had a few conversations about our work in Ankara and how I liked Turkey with different vendors, and they were all very appreciative that I speak Turkish. I bought a scarf and a few bracelets, but I'm definitely going back to the Grand Bazaar this summer. I could spend the entire day shopping and not see all of the vendors. There were even more of them outside in the open air. It was crazy to see how prices for the same goods varied from stall to stall, and how effective it was to walk away from a vendor as part of bargaining.
Saturday night we went out after dinner for my birthday
I'm definitely going back to Istanbul before I leave Turkey to do more exploring. We spent a lot of time going from place to place, and I want some time there to walk around without any plans. The best time was finding a cafe for breakfast, taking time to relax and eat, having one or two teas, and then wandering around the city to slowly get to where we were going.