This past November I journeyed to Istanbul to meet up with my best friend of 18 years and her husband, who were spending half a year traveling and WWOOFing around Europe. Istanbul was at the top of my 2014-2015 travel bucket list, and as it just so happened, it was also the most convenient place for them to meet me. Needless to say, booking a spontaneous ticket to Turkey took no convincing.
After what felt like the longest travel day ever (which was thankfully mollified by a delightful layover in Paris, filled with many macarons from Ladurée, French cheeses, and half a bottle of Chardonnay before noon - oops), I finally landed in Istanbul and began navigating my way towards the city center. As I stepped off the tram and began dragging my luggage through the dark streets, I turned a corner and immediately saw the Blue Mosque lit up in all its glory. Seeing the gargantuan mosque in person for the first time absolutely took my breath away. I took a few steps closer, and suddenly a hauntingly beautiful prayer call began echoing from its minarets. In that moment, I knew I was going to fall in love with Istanbul.
Between the charisma of the city and the company of my dearest friends, my visit to Istanbul turned out to be one of the best and most memorable trips of my life. We wandered aimlessly through the bustling streets, sipped on apple tea and freshly squeezed pomegranate juice as we explored, made friends with all of the street cats, tried as many exotic and delectable dishes as we could, and reveled in the city's vibrant personality and fascinating culture.
Admiring the exterior of the Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque's mesmerizing interior
Thanks to the gregarious nature of my friends, we also met a lot of delightful Turkish people. We ended up making friends with the owners of an antique rug shop, who sell their fine carpets to some of the world's top interior designers. They gave us a tour of their shop - which was really more like a museum - and we enjoyed a few beers and glasses of tea as they taught us more about their country and culture, reminisced about their travels, and shared stories about their families.
The more I got to know the city, the more it enchanted me. It soon became clear that four days wasn't nearly enough time to explore everything that Istanbul has to offer. As we hit all of the major attractions - all of which were breathtaking and undoubtedly worth seeing - I kept wishing I had time to experience more. I could have spent all day wandering through the Spice Bazaar, hours gazing at the mesmerizing ceiling of the Blue Mosque, and weeks trying to understand Istanbul's enthralling history. By my last day in Istanbul, I was already planning my return to Turkey.
Hagia Sophia at dusk
Inside Hagia Sophia
By making new Turkish friends, attempting to hunt down the best local eats, and seeking out authentic experiences (like going to a Turkish bath, which is worthy of a blog post within itself... yikes), our visit felt genuine and personal. (And traveling with my very best friend certainly made it all the more enjoyable!) The city absolutely captivated me, and every moment of my trip to Istanbul was memorable and awe-inspiring.
Tea time with a view | Where men wash their feet before entering the mosque
My Istanbul Picks:
Best Views: The rooftop bars of Sultanahmet
Must-Try Dishes: Kebaps, dolma, pide and Turkish Delight
Can't Miss Sights: The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar
Most Memorable Experience: A Turkish bath at Çemberlitas Hamami
Best Tour: A Bosphorus river cruise