Yes, I do plan on starting each post in my travel mini series with a fabulously cheesy dong name. Get excited. Well, this brings me to the second stop of our trip: Istanbul. It was nothing like I had imagined.
Despite being sandwiched between the European Mediterranean and the Middle East, Turkey has a very distinctive culture that was a real treat to experience.
Even though we were in Istanbul during the month of Ramadan, street vendors and restaurants were only too happy to fees us with the abundant supplies of roasted chestnuts, grilled (and very salty) corn, and rich turkish ice cream.
Of course the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia are absolutely beautiful, but tiny mosques and other random buildings that studded the city rivaled the two famous mosques for their enchanting magnificence.
After snapping about a bazillion photos from terribly awkward angles, I finally discovered that the Hagia Sophia was most easily photographed while standing close to the Blue Mosque and visa versa.
We did not go inside the Blue Mosque because unlike the Hagia Sofia, which now serves as a museum, the Blue Mosque is still a religious place of worship where.
Even though we decided not to cover our heads in order to enter the mosque, the courtyard outside the mosque was still full of gorgeous details.
The children begging to wash windows for just a few coins and the abundance of stray, starving cats formed a stark contrast to the magnificent mosques and rich history of the city.
I knew that Istanbul was part of Europe, so I was unprepared for the strict societal restrictions and amount of poverty that we saw. It was heartbreaking, but it really made me appreciate the many conveniences of Western life that I took for granted.
The sheer abundance of jewelry, pursues, scarves, tea sets, pots at the Grand Bazar was overwhelming.
After walking around in circles, we figured out that most of the vendors have very similar (if not the exact same product), so the real key lies in finding the vendors who are the most willing to barter.
Even if the goods aren’t all one-of-a-kind, they are still unlike anything you could find back in the States (or almost anywhere else in the world). No one has to know that at least ten vendors were selling my beloved glass tea set:)
Everyone was exceedingly gracious and accommodating, from vendors at the Spice Bazar fighting to get to be the one to feed you special turkish delight made from their secret recipe, to the outgoing hotel and restaurant employees who work to make you feel at home.
Istanbul is such a unique city that bridges the gap between modern accommodation and ancient beauty, or from a proper geographical standpoint, between Europe and Asia. We felt perfectly content spending only two days in the city, but what we saw in those two days will resonate with me for years to come.