Welcome to my fabulous trip diaries, where I’ll chronicle my 6-week summer adventure. Hopefully, someone other than my mother will be reading this. The adventure begins in a far off land bordering both Europe and the Orient: Turkey. Enjoy!
I was super excited for our long layover in Istanbul to do the free city tour that Turkish Airlines offers for passengers with stops. We’d specifically planned in this stop to spend the day touring Istanbul, a city I’ve been wanting to visit for years, and everything seemed to be in order. Famous last words. When preparing for bed Friday evening, just four days before our trip, images of military and gunfire invaded my social media. Gasp! It seemed that there was an attempted military coup, where the military basically tried to take control of Turkey. Long story short, it didn’t work and the President is now using this as an excuse to get rid of (literally, take out) a large portion of the military. It’s also an excuse for him to create more dictator-like laws and fire many school teachers and close down many charities–anything that doesn’t seem to agree with his political ideals.
But this isn’t meant to be a political post, it’s meant to be a travel post, so we were clearly concerned that this would make our coming journey unsafe, especially as the military temporarily took control of the airport. As of Tuesday morning, things seemed to have calmed down, although the US media still portrayed the situation as alarming, I chose to listen to European media which said things were much more tranquil. We took off at about midnight on Tuesday, nervous but excited. We actually loved our 5-hour Turkish Airways flight. We had a whole row to ourselves, the food and service was great and although we didn’t really manage to sleep, we entertained ourselves with movies on the personal screens. We landed at about 5 am and headed out into the airport, which actually seemed incredibly calm. We napped for a couple hours in the arrivals hall before the tour began. Although we were pretty exhausted after night one with no sleep, we were running on adrenaline for the tour, which involved 42 tourists from countries all over the world on a bus.
I usually opt out of these style of giant group bus tours, but as this was a special exception, we boarded the bus with all the other annoying tourists.
We headed into the city center and started off with a traditional Turkish (and free) breakfast, with a boiled egg, various cheeses and bread with honey and jam. There wasn’t any coffee but there was tea.
After breakfast we walked through the city center, which I thought was adorable, and started at the blue mosque.
Despite my long dress, I was still deemed “inappropriate” and had to cover my arms with my sweatshirt, hair with my scarf and they gave me a sarong like skirt to put over my legs.
After putting all that clothing on, I then had to take off my shoes. It made me laugh a little to think I had just put on a million layers and then had to take something off, but such is life.
Sufficiently covered and sweating of course, I headed into the Blue Mosque. If the inside was as spectacular as the outside, with towering domes and pointy minarets, I knew it would be worth it.
The millions of tiles that cover the ceilings and walls of this mosque are pretty incredible, though I did prefer the outside view (I always like the outsides of things better).
Many people were praying and there were also many tourists just looking around.
After the mosque, we visited the Hagia Sofia (just from the outside), another gorgeous building and then headed over to the Topkapi Palace, where we were given 50 free minutes to enjoy some lovely gardens, gorgeous panoramic views and some of the Sultan’s Chambers.
Although there were plenty of different rooms with museum exhibits, we only had time to do a few, and selectively decided on the weapons room, filled with swords and old-fashioned guns richly decorated with opal and pearl, and the Islamic room, housing the scepter Moses allegedly parted the Red Sea with and a man who’s been reading the Korean 24/7 since the 17th century (well, not actually him the whole time, but turns are taken). This was especially insightful, as I am trying to understand what drives people to partake in the Islamic religion. With everything that’s going on in the world at the moment, empathy and understanding is key, and it’s difficult for me to see why people want to participate in Islam, especially women, but I’m trying.
After this, we headed over to lunch with a view.
The food included traditional Ottoman specialties like Shawarma, which was decent. I mean, I can’t complain as this was TOTALLY free.
After lunch, we got back on the tour bus to head to the airport. It’s worth noting I saw no signs of an attempted military coup, except for possibly some new flags hung around the city.
I felt very safe and very comfortable walking around and at the airport, and I can’t wait to return and spend more time in the city, exploring it at my own pace and in my own way. If you have a flight with Turkish, I encourage you to build in a long layover and take this free tour, you’ll love it, as it’s a great introduction to a city with quite a bit of history.
After a very long customs line, we were able to grab an ice cream (traditional Turkish), and prepare for another night of (not) sleeping on a plane.
We boarded our 14-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur, and stayed tuned for my next post, which will be on the obvious next stop of Kuala Lumpur!