Turkey: The City, The Sea and The Food. Oh my!

Turkey: The City, The Sea and The Food. Oh my!

First off, let me say that I can’t believe it’s almost August. Wow!

It’s been a crazy few months to say the least for me. I think I’m just getting around to processing it all. I’m currently enjoying a few slow days in Istanbul. I booked a hostel on the Anatolian side of the city and am staying in Kadikoy. For me, this is the best side of the city. Instead of hawkers and sellers trying to force you into their shops, you see actual people living their lives, eating at restaurants and local artists selling their goods. There are coffeeshops, jogging paths along the sea and the entire half of the city is just quieter but still very much alive. Last night everyone was out in the streetside cafes and restaurants watching the Fenerbahce game and cheering and booing and throwing shoes based on how the game was going. It was awesome.

Of course the other side of the city has it’s perks–Sultanahmet, Ayasofya, the Basillica Cistern, etc. but once you’re done sightseeing, I highly recommend finding yourself a comfortable spot or interesting street across the bridge and enjoying the real pulse of Istanbul.

This is my second time through Istanbul on this trip–and while I still have the pull to go out and “sightsee” (I mean, Galata tower is supposed to be amazing), I also am enjoying just taking it easy for a few days. I’m getting ready to head to Spain for an artist residency and while I’m looking forward to it, I also know that my head is really full from all the wonderful sites, language experiences, food and family experiences I’ve had as of late.

Turkey began for me on July 19th. I had a friend who was able to come meet me for 8 days in Istanbul. It was her first international trip and I was determined to show her everything that Istanbul had to offer as well as give her a taste of what real life is like on this side of the world.

A quieter side of Istanbul--Kadikoy

I picked her up from the airport on July 20th at around 3pm. I had booked us an AWESOME hostel on the European side of Istanbul called Bahaus Guesthouse. I highly recommend this place for anyone coming through Turkey. It’s in the heart of the touristic Sultanahmet district but there’s no place quite like it. Their rooftop bar is amazing, the staff is great, they have the hookup on an awesome Hamam and it’s just a really great place to call “home” for a few days.

The first night in town we actually met up with my cousins who live on the Anatolian side of the city and had dinner and some drinks by the sea. It was great fun overall though I know my friend was super jetlagged. I think she had a good time anyway though. We made it back to the hostel around midnight and crashed pretty hard.

The next day we met up with some folks from the hostel and ended up with an awesome “Squad” of travelers to hang out with. We explored the The Grand Bazaar, found a really awesome rooftop overview called the Buyuk Yeni Han that is off the beaten path in the heart of Istanbul and grabbed a leisurely dinner at a restaurant not far from our hostel. The owner hooked us up with Turkish tea (cay) and we had a great view of the city from his rooftop terrace. We also got to experience a full prayer service from inside one of the smaller mosques in the city. This ended up being one of our collective favorite moments. It was just really cool to be able to sit in and see how it works and learn something about another culture in such an intimate way.

The mosque where we watched the prayer server. I couldn't help bu laugh at the irony in this photo.

The next day we were back into the fray–we hit the Blue Mosque, Ayasofya, Topkapi Palace, The Basillica Cistern, The Grand Bazaar (again) and managed to squeeze in a Hamam service. It was a really fantastic day. We landed at the hostel tired but ready for a few beers on the rooftop bar. We also met up with my cousins again and checked out the scene in Taksim. We got drinks, found a kebab place for some dinner and generally just hung out in the nightlife of Turkey.

The Basillica Cistern in Istanbul. Great way to escape the heat of the day.

Here’s a quick sneak peek of the Ayasofya in all its glory–it really is something you have to see for yourself, but this is a pretty good start:

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After our whirlwind three days in Istanbul we headed south to stay with my family and explore a different area of Turkey. I’d promised my friend that we would get some beach time in and we definitely did. My family lives down in a town called Mersin, which is a medium-sized port town that runs ferries to and from places like Cyprus and Greece on a fairly regular basis. They boast a beautiful Marina, a very walkable promenade by the sea and a real showcase of Turkish food.

We got to my family’s place by mid-afternoon and had some lunch and dinner together while we all hung out and got situated. We split our time between my uncle’s house where my grandmother lives and my aunt’s house with my cousins. It was awesome seeing everyone and introducing my friend to some of my favorite people.

The next day we got up and it was off to the beach. There is a very special place, at least to me, called Kizkalesi, about an hour from Mersin. Kizkalesi translates to “The Maiden’s Castle’ and it is literally a castle in the sea. It sits about 1/4 mile off of shore and is something that I grew up hearing about from my father when I was a little girl. Every time I come to Turkey I have to visit and making the swim out to the castle is one of my favorite things. I can’t even find the words to explain it really. It’s just awesome.

Kizkalesi--the castle in the sea.

Yes, this a real place.

We spent the whole day swimming in the ocean, buying fun trinkets and bracelets from the seaside shops and even rented a paddle boat to take back out to the castle so we could bring our shoes and go exploring on the inside. We even got in free (c:

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We didn’t get back to my aunt’s house until 10:30pm but we had a ton of fun. We went on a Friday and avoided some of the crowds but still had quite a few people to navigate. Overall though, a really great day! On our way back from the castle we gave two guys who helped us with our boat a lift and they were highly amused that we insisted on paddling. We are tough!

The rest of our Turkish adventures were pretty low-key. We spent our days swimming at the pool at my aunt’s house, enjoying lots of Turkish tea and resting up before heading back to Istanbul. Our flight out of Mersin was at 8:40pm and despite a delay, the flight itself was fine. We got back to Istanbul around midnight and I waited with my friend at the airport for her early morning flight back to the States.