Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Istanbul, Turkey... Asian and European sides

Hello friends,
It was quite a journey to get to Istanbul!  I had to take 1 taxi, 2 airplanes, 1 shuttle bus, 1 tram, 1 ferry, and another taxi for me to get from Santorini, Greece to the Asian side of Istanbul, Turkey in 1 day.  That was the most methods of transportation that I have taken in 1 day during this around the world trip.  There are so many good things about traveling light and I was really good starting off this time with only 16 kilos (35 pounds to Europe).  After going through Germany, Prague, Poland and Greece, my bag is now 24 kilos (almost 53 pounds) + my backpack with laptop.  Now imagine carrying that craziness during that long one day journey.  I can't complain.  It's all part of the travel experience.  I could sacrifice my fashion for the comforts of a light bag but it's not worth it to me.  Everyone has their priorities and what is important when they go on a trip.  My wardrobe changes are my joy and are fun and colorful during my travels.
It makes it quite interesting and it makes me appreciate arriving to a new place even more when I can settle with my bags.

I came to Istanbul on a whim.  I was in Greece and it was necessary to go to Turkey since it's so close!  My best friend Sol, absolutely loved it and encouraged me to go.  You may wonder how I come up with my itinerary.  It's pretty simple really.  I don't have too much of an itinerary.  It was only partially planned and the rest was just done on pure spontaneity.   More than 50% of the countries that I have been to were on a whim.  I chose my countries because of 1 or more of the following reasons:

1. I was visiting a friend and had a place to stay.
2. I was Couchsurfing and someone had agreed to host me.
3. I had always wanted to go to this destination.
4. I was visiting family.
5. Someone invited me to stay with them.
6. The country was just too darn close and I had the opportunity to go. This was the case mostly in Europe since everything is literally a train, bus or a 2-4 hour plane ride away.

I didn't know too much about Turkey other than I really appreciated the architecture and food.  Turkey is a country which is divided into two continents.  The western part of Turkey Istanbul is on the European side and the eastern side of Istanbul lies on the Asian side.  Turkey is surrounded by the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmara.  In between the two halves flows the Bosphoros Strait.  Istanbul is quite different once you cross the water into the Asian side.  The European side is definitely where most of the monumental mosques, sites and tourist attractions are.  The Asian side is less touristy and is a good place to see how the Turkish people live day to day.

Istanbul has a population of over 13 million people according to the census of 2010 and Turkey has over 73.7 million people.  It takes me over 1.5 hours to travel from the asian side to the european side amidst all of the traffic.

I had two hosts in Istanbul.  My first host was Jennifer.  She hosted me on my first day and was from Texas.  She met her boyfriend via CouchSurfing!!  He is Turkish and was Couchsurfing in Texas.  They than became roommates, fell in love, and she has been living with her Turkish boyfriend on the Asian side of Istanbul for about a year now.  :)  She speaks Arabic, English and is working on her Turkish.  She has also lived in Jordan.  She was really kind and hosted me my first night because my other host was at a wedding.

The crazy immigration line to get into Istanbul

Taksim square area

Indirim means "Sale" in turkish!  Important and first word I learned!

Famous Istiklal Street in Taksim area

Istiklal Street at night

My host took me for breakfast in the morning on the Asian side of Istanbul.  We had different kinds of Borek.It is a crispy little filo pastry which is filled with cheese, spinach or meat.


My host, Michelle and I

Her friends joined us for breakfast.  They met in Germany in school.  She is Japanese and from the U.S. and he is from Turkey.  They fell in love, got married and she moved to Turkey!  

eggs in a tomato mixture

traditional turkish tea


Asian side of Istanbul

View of the Bosphorus Strait which separates the Asian and European side of Istanbul

Stray cats and dogs are everywhere!!  Dogs are neutered, given their shots and then they are tagged on the ear  and let loose again.  This lets the citizens know that they are okay.  People often buy food  to feed the strays. 

Michelle's apartment entrance

My second host, Berkay is on the left and his friend Caner, is on the right.

My host Berkay is in the Turkish Navy.  He is a diver and enjoys dancing salsa and competitive sailing in his free time.  He just got back from living in the US for 6 months.  He CouchSurfed a lot in the U.S. while he was there and wanted to give back by hosting as well.  I was his first guest since he has been back from the U.S. 

Protest about the soccer team.  I didn't know what was going on other than people were yelling and screaming because they believed that the owner of the soccer team was corrupt and bribed the opposing team.  People are really into their sports here!

Baby Najwa look-a-like

popular turkish drink made of water and yogurt

I liked this better.  Homemade lemonade with fresh mint leaves.

Turkish meatballs with yogurt and eggplant


We bought some local wine and drank it by the water

Caddebostan Beach at sunset

My host lives about 7 blocks from this lovely area.  It is off of Bagdat Street.  Bagdat Street is a more affluent neighborhood filled with bars, restaurants and boutiques.  Locals fill these streets and go to many of these trendy spots.  Not many tourists know or go to this area but it's a cool place to hang out and have a beer or coffee.  We bought some wine and drank it here near the water.  

Berkay took me salsa and bachata dancing on Sunday.  He said they have over 150 salsa schools here in Istanbul!!  They have salsa 7 nights a week here.  This dance club is right next to the water in the marina. 

This is the sailboat that Berkay races!

Dancing bachata with Ennis

My new Turkish boys! Salsa and bachata is huge here in Istanbul!  All three of these boys have been dancing bachata and salsa!!   Cool!!

with Caner

On my way to Tacsim

It is one of the largest structures in Istanbul

Sultan Ahmet Mosque, also known as the "Blue Mosque" because of the 20,000 blue iznik tiles which cover its interior is so grand in size and architectural beauty. It has 6 minarets which is rare for a mosque.

I was blown away by the grand scale and ornate detail of the interior of this mosque.  

Topkapi Palace

delicious yogurt kebab

The Grand Bazaar is one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. There are over 4,000 shops and attract between 250,000-500,000 visitors daily!

My new friend that I met in Sultanahmet offered to show me around town.  

Men ritually washing up before entering the mosque for prayer.

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