Istanbul (Not Constantinople) Part I
Semana Santa (Holy Week): a fascinating period of celebration in Spain, but also spring breeeaaaaak! I may have never had the stereotypical college spring break in Miami or Cancún, but I’d say my spring breaks spent in Spain were way cooler than any bikinis, beaches, and booze vacation could be.
In 2010, I spent Semana Santa traveling around Andalucía (I was living in Madrid at the time) and also seeing Bologna, Florence, and Venice, Italy. This year, I spent it in Istanbul, Turkey!
I had been toying with Semana Santa options for a while, considering places like Greece or Eastern Europe, but my auxiliar friend Allie decided on Istanbul, and, having never been anywhere like Turkey, I knew I had to join her. The flight was more expensive than my typical €20 Ryanair deals, but how often are you just a few hours away from somewhere like Istanbul? Semana Santa began, we caught a bus up to Madrid, and off to Turkey we went!
The travel group consisted of seven American auxiliares living in Sevilla, Málaga, and A Coruña (including Cat, who you avid expat blog readers probably know). Five of us flew together from Madrid, and we met two others there. Quite a huge travel group, but it ended up working out fantastically.
My first impression of Istanbul after landing at night and finding a shuttle to our hostel was awe. Everything seemed so big and grand and modern! And there must have been six thousand mosques twinkling over the water. Though we were too tired to participate, the nightlife around our hostel was vibrant and full of energy. Istanbul was going to blow me away, I already knew.
Our first full day in Turkey began with a traditional Turkish breakfast in the hostel, and then we started exploring on foot, crossing a bridge into central Istanbul. There, we discovered intricate mosques, bursting markets, tea shops, and more. Highlights included the colorful Spice Bazaar, the extravagant Hagia Sophia (a cathedral dating back to the 6th century), our first taste of real Turkish kebabs (not going to lie, I still prefer Spain’s version of kebabs), the not-super-blue Blue Mosque (also known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque), and delicious Turkish tea and baklava.
One of my favorite things about visiting Muslim countries (so far, I’ve seen Morocco and Turkey) is hearing the adhān, or call to prayer, that is recited five times daily. I’m sure that, to those who grew up in a Muslim country, this is the most commonplace event ever, but, as an American, I find the sound of the song echoing from mosques across the city hauntingly beautiful and exotic. Here’s the call to prayer we heard as we were heading to the Blue Mosque. The Hagia Sophia can also be seen in the video.
Rain began to drench us, so most of the group ran to a dinner show they had made reservations for, while Allie and I swam our way back to the hostel, drenched head to toe. With a few hours of free time, we tried to dry off, played with cats at the hostel, wandered around the Taksim Square area, and dined at a cheap yet authentic cafeteria, ending a perfect first full day in Turkey.
See part two of my fabulous Istanbul trip here!