Peace for the world. Peace for those affected during the Turkey bombing.
We were unlucky while traveling to Istanbul. One of the deadliest terror bombings in the country took place while we were there. There was a significant difference in the tone in Istanbul before and then after the Turkey bombing, and it was a totally different experience touristing a city that was in mourning.
We actually didn’t find out about the Turkey bombing until we were out one night, and some locals we had become friends with had told us and showed us the video of the attack, which took place at a peace rally in Ankara.
We were looking for a few specific bars to go to one night (that we had heard about through other travel blogs), but we noticed they were all closed, as well as most of the shops and restaurants along the way. Curious as to why everything was closed, we finally found one that was open.
We began talking with these local girls who shared their table with us, and they explained to us the horrific news about the Ankara bombing that had taken place a few hours earlier that day, which was the reasoning behind everything being closed. She thought it was Turkish government that had set off the bombs, while others in the group thought it could have been the Kurds (the largest group of people today who still doesn’t have their own country), or of course, ISIS. No organization has yet claimed responsibility.
The next day, many places — tourists spots, restaurants, shops, mosques — were closed. A numbing vibe swept the city. Armed Turkish government officials were everywhere the next few days, and wouldn’t let us walk into some public places, such as the University.
After the Turkey bombing had happened, it was hard to play “tourist”. You could see the depressed looks in the locals’ eyes. A serious emotional tragedy that we’ve all recently revisited with the recent shooting in Paris.
This, combined with the email from the U.S. Embassy and the eerie housesit, made it quite the unusual and sad trip to Turkey. We decided to still do everything we would have normally done, but with extra caution, and a bit of dreariness.
Of course there were happy moments. But then it would rain. And we wouldn’t leave our hotel for a full day.
I’ve been late on writing this Istanbul piece because of the event that had taken place while we were there. It’s hard to write about all the things that we did because of how we felt that week. Which is why I’m just going to list the things we did with a short explanation instead.
I will say though, that Istanbul is such a culturally different city than anything back in the U.S. The majority of women with their heads covered in beautiful scarves, there are grand mosques everywhere instead of churches, and a population of friendly locals who genuinely love to tell jokes.
I ask everyone out there to please go visit someday, and enjoy the many wonders that Istanbul is. Of course I want to say that I’m sure you’d be fine if you go visit now, because bad things happen everywhere. But honestly, I don’t know.
Basilica Sistern (Sunken Palace)
The story of this 2000 year old underground ancient cistern is incredible. There was an explorer that stumbled upon the once forgotten cistern in the 1500s, and it wasn’t restored until the late 1980s. It’s so real looking, when inside you’d think you’re part of a ride at Universal Studios. Or wait, the opposite.
Topkapi Palace Museum
Where all the OG Ottoman sultans lived back in the day. There are artifacts here that belonged to Moses, and the prophet Muhammad–swords, even his hair–and artifacts from many other prophets/saints from the Bible and Koran.
Was a church, then a mosque, now a museum — without museum things. It’s an incredible structure that houses Christian and Islamic holy significances. Opt for the audio guide.
Most authentic mosque experience. No shoes allowed. To all of my lady friends, bring your steezy-est scarf. Otherwise you’ll get these tacky light blue Sham-Wows that they end up handing out to the unprepared tourists. Gentlemen, be respectful, and wear pants — which goes for all mosques. Some argue Süleymaniye is more beautiful than the famous Blue Mosque. One thing is for sure, the view from the top certainly is.
Beautiful, simple and open with pastel colors. So simple in design compared to European-style churches. No statues, dead people nailed to crosses, naked flying babies with bows and arrows, etc. When I was inside, I couldn’t help but think, Where is all the stuff? Where’s Muhammad’s face everywhere? Where’s the mythological creatures? It’s not like that with mosques.
Shopping & Entertainment
If you don’t go for the shopping, go for the jaw-dropping rounded ceiling and colorful architecture.
Think less about this being something “entertaining” and more about it being a 45-minute dance that requires intense focus and spiritual devotion. Don’t expect Cirque du Soleil.
Museums Full of Really Old Famous Things
Istanbul Archaeology Museum
Full of ancient artifacts from Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Arabia.
Istanbul Mosaic Museum
We kind of stumbled upon this museum. Nothing you absolutely have to go see. I thought it was interesting that the mosaics weren’t found until the early 1900s and had spawn across a huge courtyard from the 5th century near the Great Palace.
Must-Try Food & Beverages
Think a pita, with french fries inside.
Better than any other tea. They drink it on the regular. It’s kind of rude to say no when offered for free. When we bought our camera from the camera store, the salesman immediately brought us two hot cups of tea. A little different than your typical Best Buy situation.
So that was it. That was the Istanbul experience.
There’s nothing I love more than swapping travel stories. Have you been to Istanbul before? What was your experience like?