I flew to Istanbul for my last four day. I've been wanting to go ever since I got to Germany, but I just never could find someone to go with me, and while I have no problems traveling alone (Scotland's next - and I actually speak the language! :p ), this was one of those places I figured I'd be better off with a travel partner. I first expressed my desire to a friend in March '07, but while he was excited to find someone else that wanted to go, we never planned anything. When I did try to plan something last November, he didn't want to spend the money. Whatever.
I convinced one of the new LTs, Katie, to go with me. It was definitely an interesting experience but I feel like I kind of gave the city the short end of the stick since I went after going basically nonstop for a month. At some point, I was bound to crash, and it happened while there. We hit up the major sites, but we both kind of reached a point where we were more interested in sitting at a cafe and relaxing than sight seeing. As a result, I'd say we hit up a large part of the tourist area, and the major sites, but definitely didn't explore the more modern downtown area too much. We went up there one night but could not motivate ourselves to do that walk again a second time. However, the evening we were there, we thought it was very cool. We had dinner at a cafe/bar with different colored bean bags, and the whole area was just very metropolitan. We even got to see The Proposal the same weekend it came out in the States and it was very entertaining. Was it cliche and predictable? Absolutely, but most romantic comedies are and I liked that the woman was actually intelligent and there wasn't any gross out humor or fart jokes which seemed to be appearing in every movie for a while.
After flying Turkish Air, I wish I could always use that airline. The prize was relatively cheap, and they served food for a three hours flight. Not only that, but it was much better airplane food than normal. In fact, as part of the dinner on the return flight, they had a mini cheese tray which had the best mozzarella I'd had the entire trip.
I also was suprised by all the stray cats running around everywhere - being a cat person, I of course loved seeing cats everywhere, even kittens, but was less than happy about the fact that touching them probably would have given me at the very least fleas, and who knows what other diseases. Our first evening there, we ate at a cafe near the hotel, and one of the cats begging for food was cross-eyed. It was so funny.
Our hotel - well, that was an adventure of its own. I thought I knew where it was based on maps and the address but apparently I was looking at the main road, and the other two words on the address referred to the actual road that was kind of off the road I thought we needed. After asking endless people for directions and just ending up walking in larger and larger circles, we took a cab. And then the cab driver couldn't find it. Part of the problem with that might be is that when I showed him the paper with the address name, I think he started looking for the "Hotel Summary" rather than the actual hotel name which was underneath and which I clearly pointed at. And then we got there, and it turned out we were in a bedroom in an apartment suite, and had to share the bathroom with one other room (two, if they'd both been occupied).
One of the reasons I was excited to be going somewhere with someone is that I'd hoped I'd finally be able to go out for some drinks at night. Unfortunately between the aforementioned tiredness and culture shock, it just didn't happen. Would I have been afraid to go out in Istanbul? Absolutely not; however, the people there were very friendly. In some ways, a little more friendly than I'm used to. I have no problem pulling out a map and trying to orient myself on it. So what if I look like a tourist. Every time I did that in Istanbul, though, somebody came up and started giving me directions. And I'm not always that good at following directions. However, as a result, I quickly stopped pulling out the map. I kind of wanted to go out for a few drinks but I didn't necessarily want to deal with people approaching me.
I'm also used to seeing Starbucks everywhere when I travel in larger cities around the world. I saw one or two of those in Istanbul but I saw a lot more Gloria Jean's, which surprised me. We used to have one in the mall back home but it closed down, and is now a pet shop. I guess they found a market somewhere. The one in the airport even had waiters.
Given how long my post on Rome got, I figured I'd break this one up a little bit more. I'll discuss some of the actual sites and museums in a few other posts.