After the bucolic charms of Bulgaria, Istanbul was a riotous display of color, culture, and streetwares. That is, once we got there.
From Molly and Nasko’s Bulgarian wedding we drove past the turn for Istanbul (which would have been only a 4 hour drive) back to Sofia just to drop our rental car and take the 10 hour night train from capital city to capital city. The train itself was fine, and the sleeper car comfortable. But the 2 am border crossing, well…that was a bit different.
First, it was sloooow, lasting until 5am, and requiring us to disembark with all our luggage and wait in several outdoor lines. Second, Victor had to hand his phone to a plain clothes police officer who thumbed through months of Victor’s photos. It was a rude and overt reminder of the importance of privacy and the value of our rights living in a democracy.
After getting back on the train at 5am, we were soon on the streets of Istanbul, a city whose sprawling view through the gleaming new metro instantly won Mica over.
We stayed in the hip, hilltop neighborhood of Galata where steep and winding cobblestone streets offer dozens of tiny shops selling coffee, jewelry, and lamps. Our first day of this quick trip was a walk through history–Galata tower, the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar, and more. The swirling designs on the domed roofs in each historic building reminded us of the patterns in Islamic art that inspired the Escher work we saw in Holland at the very beginning of our trip. It’s amazing how we are able to see strands of art, architecture, and history echo one another as we move across the globe.
We walked for hours, our senses assaulted by the beseeching calls of market salesmen; the bitter, thick taste of Turkish coffee; and the visual diversity of people thronging the streets. We tasted miraculously chewy Turkish ice cream, and were teased by its salesmen who can stretch and maneuver it with a magician’s dexterity. We also had at least 4 different types of baklava (one of Mica’s favorite treats).
Day two found us cruising the Bosphorus and browsing quirky stores. We lamented the lack of a home to buy ceramics, lamps, rugs, and Turkish towels for, but our already stuffed backpacks did make it easier to say no to vendors. On our strait cruise, we gazed at palaces lining the shores and internalized the scope of this sprawling city. The day ended with hookah (called nargile in Turkey) and tea (in ornate, gold-rimmed glasses) in a hip strait-side neighborhood.
We left the next day after a seriously local gym experience and an exhausting three hour meander through the expansive Topkapi Palace-turned-museum. It was clear to us that Istanbul (and Turkey in general) are top on our list of places to return to. It was so evident that we only scratched the surface on this brief stopover between Bulgaria and our departure for Asia.
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