Istanbul is a very common transit station for flights coming from the West to Central Asia, the first time I traveled to Kyrgyzstan I waited impatiently at the airport for 9 hours between flights. This last time I took advantage of my layover by extending it by 4 and half days so I could see Istanbul’s notorious sites, get my fill of seafood and temperate weather before I returned to Kyrgyzstan for my last 8 months of service.
Prior to this trip, September had brought a change of events that allowed my dad to accompany me during my stay in Istanbul. Initially I was excited to experience Istanbul with him but it wasn’t until the plane left American tarmac that I realized just how much I needed him next to me. I hadn’t been ready to leave my family or friends to return to Kyrgyzstan and having him there for the long flight back and those few days before I returned to Kyrgyzstan made the journey significantly less painful.
Upon arriving in Istanbul, the first thing we did was drop our luggage off and have lunch. While walking through Old Town looking for a place to eat I distinctly heard someone scream “Martha!” When I turned around a saw three Peace Corps Volunteers who were also on their way back to Kyrgyzstan and had taken advantage of their 9 hour layover and gone into the city for a bite to eat and a quick tour of the Blue Mosque. Upon seeing them there were a flurry of words about America, Kyrgyzstan, New Years, Christmas, and the ending of service. Eventually I excused myself and Dad and I continued our search for food. Not long after we found a small café on one of the main streets and had freshly squeezed orange and pomegranate juice, Turkish coffee and crepes.
That first day all we saw was the grand bazaar. We had not even walked through the entrance gates before we were caught completely off guard and dragged into a carpet shop where we were served hot apple tea and the shop owner shared the history of carpet making in Turkey and showed us carpet after carpet. Let me tell you, if I had the money he could have sold me ten carpets within the first 8 minutes! They were beautiful, but as I am a Peace Corps volunteer and my dad is not in the market for a carpet, he dragged me out of there before the shop owner could show us the other half of his stock.
Once we were in the bazaar we were approached by carpet salesman after carpet salesman. Each one had a different phrase to catch our attention, it varied from; “Let me help you spend your money,” to “You walk like you want to buy a carpet.” It was amazing; they all spoke excellent English, had at least one relative and one friend somewhere in America and they all had a carpet specifically for you! Between beating down salesmen and fighting our jetlag, the two of us lasted all of two hours in the bazaar before we retired back to the hotel.
The next day, much refreshed from a good night sleep, we started our day with a lovely cappuccino and headed to Hagia Sophia. The entire time I was guided by my dad who read aloud from our guide book, Istanbul by Rick Steves. I highly recommend his travel series as it is very thorough and filled with fun facts like Paris’ Notre Dame could fit inside of the Hagia Sophia and the statue of liberty could do jumping jacks within the walls of the Hagia Sophia….graphically described, Rick. We filled the rest of our day with the underground cisterns, the Blue Mosque and a dinner at a lovely little seafood restaurant which we only discovered by getting lost while in search of the Spice Market.
The next day we continued our newly developed routine of waking up a late, enjoying a leisurely cappuccino (or two) and eventually site seeing. The first item on our agenda was the Topkapi Palace. In addition to the beautiful architecture and well manicured courtyards there was a huge collection of precious jewels, emperor’s clothing and ancient artifacts including the Islamic prophet, Muhammad’s footprint, a couple of his beard hairs and the hand and forearm of St. Peter in a gold cast. While looking at these artifacts there was a imam (Islamic priest) singing excerpts from the Qur’an giving the gallery a very eerie atmosphere. As I walked amongst the collection I continuously peered around corners looking for Indiana Jones!
That day, two of my best friends in Peace Corps, Fritz and Ginger, were meeting their children in Istanbul for a family vacation. When we realized that they would be in Turkey the same time my dad and I would be we decided to spend the day together. So the following day, my dad and I trekked over to their hotel and I had an opportunity to meet their children who i had heard so much about and my dad had the opportunity to meet them. After breakfast we took a cruise along the Bosporus River all the way to the Black Sea. The cruise took all day so after we got off the boat, I had to go back to the hotel to pack for my return to Kyrgyzstan.
Saying goodbye to my dad was really hard but once I got to the airport I had calmed down and bumped into another Peace Corps volunteer going back to Kyrgyzstan on the same flight. Having that time in Istanbul with my dad made that last flight into Kyrgyzstan infinitely easier, now I'm hoping on my way back to the states, I can meet my mother there and see the rest of Turkey!
9 years ago