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72 hours in Istanbul

Our last 3 nights were spent in the incredible city of Istanbul. Upon arrival the city seemed quite normal and all the talk from other travellers saying it would be the biggest culture shock we’d experience in Europe seemed quite inaccurate. That quickly changed when we arrived in the busy area that our hotel was situated in and the culture shock did indeed hit us hard.  First things first, let me tell you about this hotel… My oh my was it something! At least for us backpackers! As Istanbul isn’t in the most stable and safe place to visit right now, we figured it would be best if we spent a little more on accommodation just to stay on the safe side. We were very pleasantly surprised when we walked into the Ottoman Park Hotel to find a big lobby filled with beautiful traditional furniture and extremely helpful and kind staff. They brought us Turkish tea, offered restaurant recommendations, and showed us everything we needed on a map. Honestly, we looked pretty darn stupid walking in with our huge backpacks…. Exhausted from a 2 hour shuttle ride, frizzy hair all over the place, and wearing sweatpants that haven’t been washed in almost a month. We couldn’t help but laugh as we desperately chugged the complimentary cranberry juice and went back for seconds, and thirds, and fourths… We aren’t used to this “free” and “help yourself” kind of thing, clearly. I would say we resembled lost rats who hadn’t eaten in days.  Next, we made our way to our stunning room which we couldn’t believe we got to stay in for 3 whole nights! After some of the places we’ve stayed this trip, we were just ecstatic to have a little piece of luxury all to ourselves. We even got hotel bath robes and slippers!!! These were changed into immediately upon discovery and we proceeded to just sit in our beds laughing because smiling just wasn’t enough to express how over the moon we felt. The next morning we headed to the rooftop restaurant for a complimentary breakfast which, unlike our other free hotel breakfast experiences, actually had a good variety of food. Fruit salad, yogurt, pastries, toast, eggs, all that good stuff… We were in heaven! I just realized I’m about 4 paragraphs in and I haven’t mentioned the actual city at all and that’s pretty sad so I’ll get to that now. We just really loved the hotel, alright.  So that day we ventured out and hit up the amazing Grand Bazaar! It is just as huge and eclectic as it’s talked up to be, however we weren’t totally prepared for the terribly annoying and relentless men. Everyone warned us that the men in Turkey are the worst for catcalling and staring, and this proved to be true very early on. At first there were just lots of incessant and uncomfortable stares, but as we got into the market every single vendor had something to call out. We heard it all, from “spice girls! Over here!” (What?) to “angels! Hi angels come into my paradise!” (Gross) and for some reason we heard a lot of “hello girls, I am here.” That one always made us laugh because it’s just so stupid and they all say it which makes me wonder if they really understand what that means?? Yes, there you are. You are here. Thanks for informing me of your presence.  The bolder ones will even go as far to say things like, “hello, I choose you. Do you need a boyfriend? I am here!” Grosssssssss. I am very curious as to why they do this when it seems it has about a 0.0001% success rate. Do they really get any business from that?! I highly doubt it as we, and all the other women who walk by, don’t even look their way. It’s just annoying and made our experience in the market less enjoyable because we were constantly on edge with all the eyes following us as we went about our day. I guess that’s just how it is here… It’s crazy how different their culture really is.  In the market we did some bargaining for unique printed scarves and pants, as well as some delectable Turkish delight! I got pistachio nougat and cranberry flavours. Both were amazing! We also visited the spice market briefly which smelt delicious and was full of, you guessed it, spices! Of course there were other yummy things like soaps, more Turkish delight, teas, and so on. We then walked around the city for a little while before retiring to our room because it was too hot to stay out any longer!!  Because of the culture here, we have to dress quite modestly. Not that we don’t dress modestly normally, but a casual shorts and tank top combo isn’t totally acceptable. This is quite inconvenient when it’s hot and you’re in a big crowd of people and you have to wear long pants. Although I definitely wouldn’t want to be wearing shorts in that environment anyway because if the men treat us the way they did when we were wearing long, baggy, unflattering pants, then I do NOT want to know what they would be like to us in even slightly revealing clothes.  Later that night we went for dinner at a not so good restaurant where we felt like animals on display at a zoo. The servers insisted that we sat right outside where everyone could see us and even asked us to stay 15 minutes longer after we were done, obviously just so people would see us sitting there and think it was a good normal restaurant to eat at. Ugh! It’s just sad how they chase after tourists and beg them to come in and eat. That is one thing I will not miss about touristy European cities one bit. Can’t I just decide where I want to eat on my own?! Jeeeeeeeez.  After our unsatisfactory and quite disappointing meal, the sun had almost set so we hustled back to the safety of our hotel. We felt like characters in a movie who couldn’t stay out after sundown or else we would turn into zombies…or something like that. Really it’s just not safe for us to be out at night which we understand completely and had no problem snuggling up in bed and spending the night in.  The next day we paid a visit to the Blue Mosque! It is huge and the inside is just as beautiful, if not more, than the outside! It was very impressive to see up close and we even got to walk inside and see just how cool it really is. It’s pretty much just one open space with the most intricate and bright designs all over the ceilings. We had to wear scarves over our hair and go in barefoot, which was a really cool experience and a little taste of the Muslim culture.  After this we took a peak at the Hagia Sophia but didn’t actually go in and then headed back to the Grand Bazaar to do a little more shopping. Luckily we did that quickly because the men, as always, were too much to handle so we hurried back to our hotel for dinner. To be honest it was somewhat difficult to get the most out of our time in Istanbul when we were constantly being ogled and called at. You just don’t feel safe or comfortable in an environment like that so it restricted our adventures a little. Walking down sketchy streets with strange foreign men yelling after you isn’t exactly ideal for exploring new places, which is sad because it’s an amazing city and I would’ve loved to get out and see more. But I also am happy to be leaving the country alive and in one piece. Ya win some ya lose some.  That brings me to today, the day we say bye bye to Turkey and bring on our next adventure: Croatia! We are flying out tonight and I’m very excited for our last oceanside stop! After that it’s all big cities for us so I’m looking forward to a few final beach days! Talk to you soon!  Tal

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