It's a place that has been on my "to visit" list since at least 2006 (I made it public knowledge with a "5 Places" post in 2008 :)), but how did it get on my list?
It's not what you think.
No, really, it's not.
What caught my attention, what set that bit in my brain of "oh my goodness, I want to go there!"...was a picture of...shoes. Yup, you got it. Shoes. Rows and rows of brightly colored and sequined shoes for sale in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Something like this:
I know, I know, I am incredibly deep. Be amazed.
Insert eyeroll at myself.
I was in Heathrow airport in 2006, trying to stay awake through a long layover before catching my flight to Prague and I went into a bookstore. There was the travel section. There was the book with the picture of the shoes, and the title was "Istanbul."
Thankfully, shoes are not the only reason I went - as my knowledge of Turkey has grown over the years through reading books on the Silk Road and Turkey's history, taking an Ancient Church History class, and studying Ephesians.
This country did not disappoint. Vibrant culture, hospitable people, delicious food, the ability to push me outside of my comfort zone with some interesting travel adventures. It was an absolutely amazing trip and I am so thankful that the Lord has sustained my health both before and during the trip. I felt really good and for the first time in over a year, I felt strong.
My awesome friend and travel buddy, Erin, and I flew into Istanbul. Passport control was an exercise in patience, as we stood in line for about 3 hours to get our visas and our passports stamped. After catching the metro to the area our hotel was in and then rolling our suitcases around (you'll be proud, I only took a carry-on size suitcase - it weighed 24lbs!) to find the hotel, we only had time to wander down the street, grab some tasty Turkish food for a meal, and then crash for the night.
We only had one full day in Istanbul before our next flight, so we hit the main sights - the Blue Mosque, Aya Sofya, a boat cruise on the Bospohorus river. Lots of walking around Istanbul and just soaking in the different culture, tasty treats (um, halva, fig, and Turkish Delight munching while strolling through the park around Topkapi Palace? Yes please!)
The Bosphorous boat cruise was a bit longer than we planned. The boat ended up stopping at the far end of the cruise, in a little nothing-to-see village for almost 3 hours. We made the best of our time there and hiked up (literally up...not sure what the grade was on this hill, but both our calves were burning by the end!) this massive hill to a castle. The castle wasn't impressive, but the panoramic view of the Bosphorus was. It was pretty hot, so we cooled off with some pistachio ice cream and apple tea and enjoyed the view. The boat cruise ended just at sunset and I made the best attempt I could of capturing the minaret silhouettes.
The next morning, we woke up early, checked out the Spice Bazaar and made mental notes of what to buy (we decided against lugging a bunch of stuff around and planned to come back before our flight home), and headed to the airport to fly to Izmir.
The Izmir leg started out a bit rough for me...despite taking my motion sickness meds, the descent was full of dutch-roll, and I high-tailed it to the bathroom after landed...and now I can add another country to my "places I have yakked"list. Thankfully, the stomach settled after sipping on a can of Sprite I managed to find in the airport and I handled the bus ride to the hotel just fine.
Izmir was not what I expected. But I will save that for part two...