In the third week of April, I and the other volunteers had several holidays due to Easter. So, we decided after some time to go on a long trip again and our chosen destination, therefore, was Istanbul, and we could finally visit the largest city in Turkey. None of us had been there before, but all of us heard and read a lot about it of course. In general, I would say it didn’t disappoint, but let’s start from the beginning.
Just a quick note before: I will try to skip most of the basic sightseeing we did and focus on some maybe more interesting events or parts of our travel.
So now: My brother (yes, he was visiting me and coming with us) and I arrived two days later in Istanbul than the others and the first challenge was how to get from the bus terminal to the Airbnb, where the others waited for us. The bus company offered us a ride with one of their mini-shuttle busses to the city center. But the destination the driver told me was not exactly where we had to go. But we still went along with it, not knowing how far away it would be from our apartment because it was our best option (I thought at least). As I could have guessed, we got stuck in a traffic jam, and afterward, we had to take the metro despite this including the little struggle to get an Istanbul card.
However, we arrived at the apartment, put our stuff down, and almost directly afterward left again to explore the neighbor district Kadıköy and to get some dinner there. Here one of the first interesting things happened. It was fascinating to see, how the line in front of the homemade food restaurant we sat in was almost exploding when time get close to the Iftar of fasting. Even further, people sat still and quiet in front of their filled plates with hot food waiting for the Muezzin to call for the prayer so they could start their dinner as well. This was a real experience of dedication to religion and traditions.
On our second day, we started our journey through many of the famous and well-known attractions and landmarks of Istanbul. Let me name them so you can see for yourself, that we had a full day: Topkapı Palace, Ayasofya, Sultanahmet Cami, Hippodrome, Grand Bazaar, Mısır çarşısı, and finally the Süleymaniye Cami. At our last stop of the day, we met three other people. The first one was another Italian traveler to whom the second one a volunteer working for an association close by was explaining all kinds of aspects of the mosque. We started listening to it as well and got quickly engaged in the conversation. But after describing the seven beliefs in Islam, another second volunteer joined, and all of us got involved in a discussion about the differences between Christianity and Islam, the sole claim of Islam, and the existence of God and the creation in general. In the end, the discussion got so heated that we had to stop it at some point and agree to disagree. The topic itself (even if it can be controversial for sure) was not really the problem but rather the attitude and condescendence of the volunteer while talking to us. Another interesting experience, which we definitely learned from.
The next day was scheduled for a second round of sightseeing, and we saw some classics like the Galata Kalesi, Dolmabahçe Sarayı, Taksim Meydani, and the İstiklal Caddesi. On our way back from the popular shopping street we passed a small tattoo studio and came back to the topic of getting a tattoo. We talked about this before, it became a little running gag between us, and I was already pretty sure that I want one. So, the resistance to actually getting one was getting smaller and smaller, and we were standing in front of that store considering to being tattooed right there, right now. Only due to the rest of resistance existing and our upcoming meeting with an old friend, we did not go through with it. But it led to us making the plan of getting a group tattoo as the volunteers from Karşıyaka, which we will do in the near future for sure. Afterward (like I said) we met with an old friend, who lived in Izmir when we arrived in Turkey and then quickly moved to Istanbul to study there. This day ended after catching up with him again and having a very nice dinner together.
But before ending this blog entry right here, I want to give some credit to our amazing Airbnb host. It did not feel like staying in a stranger’s home in an unfamiliar city, but rather like visiting a good friend. We could get a grasp of his work in Istanbul and how it is to live in this beautiful and fascinating but also crowded and big city.
I know I only gave you some sneak peaks into three of the five days we spent in Istanbul, and you were maybe already wondering about the rest of them. For this, you can take a look at the rest of the blocks.