Mid-air jumping picture on a roof in Istanbul

With Germany out-of-the-way, it was off to Turkey, with little to no itinerary, except for the fact that I knew I had to come in and out of Istanbul. I arrived late in the evening and hit the sack immediately. Upon waking up, I was moved out of my room because a couple of people complained of bug bites, specifically of the bed variety. I managed to come out of that unscathed though. Shortly after moving rooms one of the Turkish guys working at the hostel took us on a walking tour of Istanbul. It was a pretty cool experience checking out Istanbul from the eyes of a local, with the highlight probably being taken to this random rooftop, through a maze of dark hallways ending up with amazing views of the Bosphorus strait along with the Asian side of Istanbul, and of course Mosque’s galore.

A view of a mosque from our inside tour of Istanbul
A view of a mosque from our ‘insider tour’ of Istanbul

Mosque’s are just about everywhere in Istanbul, and at all hours of the day you can hear calls to prayer from the minarets.The two main mosques are Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, both are quite grandiose in their own right, but I thought the Blue Mosque was much more impressive. Perhaps it’s because it was always a mosque, while Hagia Sofia, was once a church, that was transformed into a Mosque. A plaza separates the two buildings, so it’s quite easy to compare them with the naked eye, and if you want to go inside, you can view the Blue Mosque for free, while Hagia Sofia, is roughly $10-15 if I remember correctly. Just beware that you can’t enter the Blue Mosque at any time of day, it’s only open during hours in which prayer services are not going on.

Istanbul at Night
Istanbul at Night

The following night a group of us from the hostel went over to the Asian side of Istanbul, and it seemed as though this was the place that had a lot more of the daily life of a city, and not the touristy portion of the old city. While it was nice to be close to all of the touristy things, at night it also meant that we weren’t close good options for food or drink.

We then made our way over to the Taksim area of Istanbul, where a large portion of the clubs/bars/restaurants are and made a fair effort to enjoy the nightlife there. Fast forward to 2-3 AM and we were pretty disappointed in the Istanbul offerings, and ready to leave Istanbul and see other parts of the country. Approximately 75% of the people we saw were men, which validated some of the fears I had heard from women traveling, and not wanting to travel to Turkey alone. I heard a couple of first hand accounts of guys being taken through the wringer while at bars/clubs in Taksim. You order a drink and think its $5, and they come back with the bill and strong arm you to try and pay $200. Or they get a pretty lady to saddle up next to you, you order her a drink and that drink costs $50. No thanks!

Ultimately Istanbul failed to meet my expectations, and quite frankly I think it failed to meet the expectations of the other people I was traveling with as well. I wasn’t overly impressed with the food, so much to say that the doner kebabs in Germany and Australia were superior to those I had in Turkey, and I definitely had my fair share of kebabs in all three of the countries. Albeit, doner is not the end all, be all of food, and I had other meals as well. Additionally, the people didn’t seem very friendly, just a shady vibe I got from most of the Turkish people I met while in Istanbul.

The city was also quite expensive, when you’re paying ~$5 USD for a sub par EFES beer at the hostel you know it’s not going to be a cheap trip. I do understand that Istanbul is an Islamic country, and alcohol consumption in general is frowned upon, but it really wasn’t an issue at all in Istanbul, in fact our guide from the hostel seemed to promote drinking on the streets. Once you get past the grandiose nature of the two mosques I really don’t think Istanbul had much to offer.

Fed up with Istanbul, a group of us from the US, Canada, Australia and Bahrain continued our Turkish adventure to Cappadocia, with a cheap 1 hour flight via Turkish Airlines.