I’ve finally made it to Istanbul and, as promised, this city is certainly one of the most beautiful and amazing places I’ve ever seen. Based on the landscape alone, it is easy to understand why Istanbul formed the core of several great civilizations throughout history. Endless container ships along the Bosporus at all hours of day or night make Istanbul the heart of the world pumping the lifeblood of commerce to the far-flung extremities of civilization. This country’s palpable youth and energy manifests itself in a culture of hyper-nationalism and overheated economic growth. As the city hurdles into the future with high-rises and highways, Istanbul’s awe-inspiring monuments to its Greco-Roman and Ottoman past serve as a preview of its limitless potential.
I’ll write three separate posts later about my three obsessions: one about my impressions of Turkey’s political-economy (for those who share my IR nerd enthusiasm), another about Turkish food (which is excellent), and a final one about the music/nightlife scene (rage). But for now I’ll move on to the fun, touristy stuff:
Our first stop was the Noah’s Ark hotel in the Sultanahmet neighborhood, which would serve as our home base for 10 days. A group of four boys and four girls, we occupied a substantial portion of this small hotel. Overall, I would definitely recommend Noah’s Ark to anyone looking for a hotel in Istanbul. The owner, Ali, was friendly and his staff helpful and competent. The best part of Noah’s Ark is its prime location. Even on crutches, the hotel was a perfectly manageable walking distance from the major attractions of the old city. Like many buildings in Istanbul, the hotel features a rooftop terrace where we enjoyed breakfasts with a view of the Hagia Sofia.
The first night out, we decided to look for a bar to unwind after a day of traveling. We stumbled upon a small place tucked into the side of some ancient stone building that featured the decor of a 16th century Ottoman opium den. A waitress gave us menus for food and Nargile (Hookah).
“Can we see the menu with alcohol?” a member of the group asked.
“We don’t have alcohol,” the waitress responded with an impatient look that suggested that we were not the first group of stupid American tourists to make that mistake today. So we sat to enjoy bottled water and bond over the absurdity of having flown to the other side of the world at age 20 only to be denied alcohol one last time.
The next day we met our guide Günhan, whose unrivaled depth of knowledge and enthusiasm propelled us successfully through several hot, jet-lagged days of sightseeing. We saw more than I could possibly remember to recount, but here are some highlights (fyi I couldn’t really handle photography on crutches without the use of my hands, so some of these these aren’t my pictures):