Hello, Turkey

Finally! After severely underestimating the amount of photos I took in Istanbul (and Pamukkale), I now have something to show for it. Can you really blame me that every seaside walk provided the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen or the best [wrap, meatball, pudding, etc.] I’ve ever tasted? Okay, so maybe not everything was 100% superlative, but the whole Turkish thing added a few points to the grading curve.

And without further ado, Istanbul.

One overnight bus later...Pamukkale.
One overnight bus later…Pamukkale.
Nope, not ice! Just a white stone mountain with a constant stream of mineral water and sparkling pools. Also known as the warmest we would be the whole time in Turkey.
Nope, not ice! Just a white stone mountain with a constant stream of mineral water and sparkling pools. Also known as the warmest we would be the whole time in Turkey.
This is real. And we swam in it.
This is real. And we swam in it.
Another overnight bus later...we made it! Considering our complete disorientation and lack of Turkish this is a miracle in and of itself.
Another overnight bus later…we made it! Considering our complete disorientation and lack of Turkish this is a miracle in and of itself.
Our first cafe complete with hot Turkish tea and jazz. Both hugely popular in Istanbul it turns out.
Our first cafe complete with hot Turkish tea and jazz. Both hugely popular in Istanbul it turns out.
Oh you know...just a jaunt along the Bosphorous fishing villages.
Oh you know…just a jaunt along the Bosphorous fishing villages.
Seafood seaside.
Seafood seaside.
Drinking like the locals. Raki, liquid (alcoholic) licorice.
Drinking like the locals. Raki, liquid (alcoholic) licorice.
Started our 'Old City' day with the view from the Sultans' Palace.
Started our ‘Old City’ day with the view from the Sultans’ Palace.
Inside the Hagia Sophia, my favorite of the Old City.
Inside the Hagia Sophia, my favorite of the Old City.
Sultanahmet, aka the 'Blue' Mosque.
Sultanahmet, aka the ‘Blue’ Mosque.
A look back...the path between Hagia Sophia and Sultanahmet.
A look back…the path between Hagia Sophia and Sultanahmet.
Fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice street-side. Cheers.
Fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice street-side. Cheers.
The locals literally line the street for this Turkish coffee shop. Souvenirs? Check.
The locals literally line the street for this Turkish coffee shop. Souvenirs? Check.
Nobody does brunching like Turkey. Plate after plate of delicious dips, fruit, cheese and bread with - what else? - cup after cup of hot tea.
Nobody does brunching like Turkey. Plate after plate of delicious dips, fruit, cheese and bread with – what else? – cup after cup of hot tea.
Holy Coffee - Home to Berk, Turkish hipster/drummer for SXSW bands, and traditional Turkish drink, Salep. Not only did they buy the ingredients fresh for us, Berk invited us to a coffeeshop dance party and brought us along to a Turkish "home party."
Holy Coffee – Home to Berk, Turkish hipster/drummer for SXSW bands, and traditional Turkish drink, Salep. Not only did they buy the ingredients fresh for us, Berk invited us to a coffeeshop dance party and brought us along to a Turkish “home party.”
Taking a break from vintage shopping to appreciate the architecture...one of far too many photos.
Taking a break from vintage shopping to appreciate the architecture…one of far too many photos.
Welcome to our day of epic eating. Best of the best? This spicy meat wrap, courtesy of this guy.
Welcome to our day of epic eating. Best of the best? This spicy meat wrap, courtesy of this guy.
Finding our way to "hipster bar" Peyote for some live music and dancing. "You're going to a-love this place" - our friend Berk.
Finding our way to “hipster bar” Peyote for some live music and dancing. “You’re going to a-love this place” – our friend Berk.
The top of Galata Tower...Hello, Istanbul.
The top of Galata Tower…Hello, Istanbul.
Istanbul has islands, who knew? Enjoying a ferry on our way.
Istanbul has islands, who knew? Enjoying a ferry on our way.
Dodging sea gulls on the boat.
Dodging sea gulls on the boat.
Checking out the fish market before awkwardly crashing a way too nice restaurant just for their special fish soup. Worth it.
Checking out the fish market before awkwardly crashing a way too nice restaurant just for their special fish soup. Worth it.
We found the best Turkish coffee in Istanbul, a little hideaway in an alley. Still not sure if you're supposed to drink the grounds in the cup...
We found the best Turkish coffee in Istanbul, a little hideaway in an alley. Still not sure if you’re supposed to drink the grounds in the cup…
Goodbye for now, Istanbul! You were all I had hoped, and I would love to return.
Goodbye for now, Istanbul! You were all I had hoped, and I would love to return.

Why Istanbul?

istanbul sign

istanbul meatballs

istanbul streets

Isn’t funny how different countries can sometimes seem just the same and completely unique all at the same time?

I’ve now had the opportunity to drive through the countryside in the US, Italy, England and Turkey, and I’m always struck by how, once you are a little removed from the concentrated culture of the city, everyone’s fields and mountains look like just that…fields and mountains.

I suppose there’s a metaphor in there somewhere.

For me, my recent trip had a lot to do with perceptions. I started my travels with some hazy, largely unconscious ideas pieced together by a mix of picturesque Pinterest pins, inflammatory news reports and well-meaning but under-educated overheard discussions.

Upon hearing my travel plans, everyone asked, “Why Istanbul?” To be honest, there’s really no one thing. Unfortunately despite good people and a greater God, religion gets it wrong sometimes, which I’ve noticed happens most when cultural and personal biases get lumped in with it by us fallible humans. So I grew up in my church bubble dismissing the region largely due to unawareness and therefore avoidance about Islam. “Classic American,” right? Luckily, through traveling opportunities and curiosity about other cultures that ignorance was not to stay for too long. After taking a missions class about world cultures about 2 years ago, I was even more excited about the area. Out of nowhere, Istanbul was on my mind and seemed to be everywhere…on book covers, Pinterest feeds, a vacation giveaway email and more. I became captivated by the beautiful mosques, long history, fascinating convergence of East / West and completely different but delicious flavor profile.

Here’s just a few of the perceptions, some my own and some that I’ve heard, that I found challenged during my visit:

Turkish people speak far less English than guidebooks and blogs led me to believe. Thankfully, they’re also some of the most hospitable people I have come across so the worst ‘mishap’ experienced was receiving an awful lot of hot tea (çay) when asking for the similarly pronounced check and the more than occasional appreciative laughter at our failing attempts to master “thank you” (teşekkürler).

Yes, the Muslim call to prayer happened every day, multiple times a day. But contrary to popular (American) belief, the city did not stop functioning during those times and no one made us feel awkward or out of place for not participating. Besides hearing it over the city’s loudspeakers, I never really noticed. Honestly, I found the idea of an entire country not only accepting but broadcasting its optional call to united prayer really neat, coming from the US where religion seems to be more and more of an incendiary topic and one we often skirt around in conversation.

Americans. Single women. You are perfectly safe in Istanbul. If you are smart and respectful, there is no reason why these sweet people would have any problem with you. There are bad people in every country, and the only time we received any sort of negative attention was from a passing car while walking back from a club at 1:30 in the morning in a dress and red lipstick…and we just ignored them so they kept on going. Overall, Turkish people really are incredibly welcoming, kind and helpful people. I can’t tell you how many times someone noticed our complete confusion with the bus schedule and approached us to help in whatever way they could despite language limitations. It makes me sad to think that many Turkish people might not have the same reception from every American if the situation was reversed. Because if I’m being honest, I can’t say before that I would have stopped unsolicited in the middle of my daily commute to help a lost tourist.

Turkish people are quite stylish and modern. They’re really into vintage clothes in the New City side of Istanbul, so there were strings of fantastic shops. Women’s unique, fashion-forward combinations were both beautiful and inspiring. The guys especially are very well-groomed, smartly dressed…and really dang attractive. We decided it must be the great cheekbones that everyone seemed to have.

I hope this helps paint a slightly different picture for you than maybe you’ve heard before. And I hope you decide to find out for yourself!

It’s all happening

Istanbul - Hagia Sophia

We had a plan.

After sharing my unfounded but very real passion for Istanbul with my now roommate, we made a pact to make the trip at the end of our lease together – a last hurrah for us in a way, and if things kept on the path they seemed to be, perhaps even a last hurrah for my ‘single’ self.

Partly in hopes of rationing the voice in my head that said things like too far, too expensive, too different, I tried to be responsible. I plotted vacation days on my calendar. I spent hours researching the best credit card for miles (Chase Sapphire Preferred, by the way) then actually got it this time. I steered clear of city research to avoid getting too excited too soon or worse, let down.

Istanbul Streets

Then out of the blue, I got a text: “I can go to Istanbul!!! Let’s GO”

The five (or ten) that followed were filled with dates, exclamation points, summer sale prices and more than our fair share of smiley face variations. One quick trip to Starbucks later we had researched plane tickets and the roommate was literally bouncing off the chair to hit “purchase” when that voice came back again with “reasons”…what if it uses all of my vacation days, what if it costs too much without all my bonus miles, what if it disrupts my dietary needs/issues?

I’m a pretty impulsive traveler by nature, so all this hesitation was so unlike me. For example, my first ticket to New York was purchased on a whim immediately upon opening a travel deal email and without a second thought toward where we’d sleep…and it turned out to be one of the best weeks of my life!

Turkish Coffee in Istanbul

One week later, though, it was clear: the only thing holding me back from Istanbul was me. With the green light from my work and bank, there really was no reason NOT to hit purchase…so we did.

That’s right – I’ll be spending an entire week in ISTANBUL in just 5 weeks! We also timed it perfectly to squeeze out a weekend in New York beforehand.

Pamukkale Turkey

Seriously.

If you’ve been following Finding Tiffany’s for awhile, my wanderlust is no secret. It’s also no secret that I’ve been obsessing over both Istanbul and New York, specifically, for quite some time now. I’m literally going on my ideal trip, accomplishing my latest major life-travel goal.

I’m not exactly sure when I allowed the aforementioned fear to creep in, but I realize now why it did. It’s kinda a scary thing when you accomplish what you thought was a huge goal much sooner than you expected. Yeah there’s always the fear of being disappointed after all the hype, but really it’s more the wide-open realization…Now what?

In the words of my coworker: “Now you need a bigger goal.”

Istanbul Bridge Europe to Asia, East and West