Turkey is an underrated nation. I understand this now. It’s not the lack of tourists that makes it underrated. It’s the sheer quantity of sights that haven’t been seen enough by the tourist eye. Looking back, we clearly allotted too little time to Turkey, but our layovers in Istanbul were ample for an introduction to the nation.
We arrived in June of 2017, which coincided with Ramadan. The spirit in Istanbul was lively (how couldn’t such a large city be alive?), and was full of beautiful mosques, modern streets, and amazing cultures. If you ever visit Europe, traveling via Istanbul is a great option.
We planned to make the most of our day in Istanbul. We started off strong at the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, otherwise known as the Blue Mosque. It is beautiful. Other than the Hagia Sophia, it was the only place I knew in Istanbul (I didn’t do research since I was only seven). We started outside. What a marvel of architecture it was, a building with such captivating Islamic architecture, such grandeur. My only disappointment was the color of the mosque: a dreary looking periwinkle-gray that didn’t fit my imagination. Perhaps I expected too much from the outside. Wasn’t it enough to see thousands of arches, hundreds of rooms, and four minarets?
On second thought, I wasn’t disappointed. I was just bursting with energy to go inside – which we would be doing. Before we entered, clothing. My mom had to wear a head covering, and we had to take off our shoes.
Finally, we were allowed into the crowded entrance, and I got to see the inside of the Blue Mosque. My thoughts? Well, if I had assumed the color theme would be consistent, I would be wrong (why did I assume that?). Instead, a beautiful showcase of Islamic architecture. An intricately detailed red carpet, illuminated by warm lamps hanging from the ceiling in the same way a puppet’s strings are connected to the puppeteer. Stained glass windows letting light shine through the building, highlighting perhaps the most impressive part: the roof. Detailed to the last inch, it was clear that the builders hadn’t slacked off.
If only us tourists had enough time to inspect the details. We were on a time constraint, and the space in the mosque was limited. We needed to leave, and we were back on the road. Just like that. I wish we had a longer stay, but again, the crowd caught up to us, and I feel uncomfortable in houses of worship anyways. It feels like I’m breaking their shared prayer, especially because it was Ramadan.
As the sun went down, we walked around the area, and we found the Hagia Sophia. It was in the vicinity, and I wanted to see it, so we got an up-close look of the museum (at the time it was a museum, not a mosque). Quite the sight it was. It shared the same architectural elements as the Blue Mosque on the outside (it was closed, so we couldn’t go in), but I knew about the deep history beneath the structure. From a church to a mosque to a museum (and then a mosque again), it was probably the only thing I knew about the city.
Fortunately, Ramadan brought some benefits to the average tourist. It was almost dark, but I was still full of energy. That was good, because the night was festive. The culture was amiable and we settled in, and the night lit up. Glowing, dancing fountains in front of the Blue Mosque in the near sunset was a sight to behold. We ate from a vendor (corn on the cob), and soaked in the atmosphere. What was missing in the day – culture could be found at night. It could truly be encapsulated with one word: fun.
It was well past dark when we left. I was finally getting tired, and though our time there was well spent, we had other things to do: namely walking around Taksim Square. By then I was tired. It was the middle of the night (around 11:00 pm), and my memory was easily corrupted by time, but what I did remember was a lively place that I didn’t enjoy. The fountains in the Blue Mosque were fun. What could an alley filled with coffee shops offer to a child like me?
I did enjoy one thing, though. Ice cream. The Turkish ice cream vendors have a genius selling strategy: doing tricks on tourists. Turns out, making something an attraction really increases sales. My parents wanted to buy some ice cream, and myself, not knowing about the tricks, and being rather sleepy, was a little confused. I just looked there thinking what? as the man put the stretchy turkish ice cream in cone after cone, giving it to me, and taking it away. Finally, I got to taste the ice cream, which tasted … actually I don’t remember how. I was seriously tired.
Staying with the food theme, we also ate baklavas in a store (again, I don’t remember how it tasted), and from there, we returned to the airport. Taking the train ride home, I longed for sleep. I would get some soon.
Return to Istanbul:
It was July. A month had passed since we were last in Istanbul, and we had just a few hours more to enjoy the city. Previously, we had seen the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Taxim Square. The focus of today would be Topkapi Palace. Built by Sultan Mohammed the Second, it served as the future palace for the sultans up until the 1800s. Nowadays, it’s a museum. Obviously we had high hopes of the palace, but would it live up to the hype?
The short answer was yes. The architecture itself was breathtaking, the same islamic architecture we saw in the Blue Mosque. It was beautiful. Going through the giant castle would be impossible, so we only saw a fraction of the palace (also some sections were closed off to tourists), but the area we saw was amazing. What really made it stand apart was its size. I felt like I could go through the palace forever, and the blue mosaics and gold never got old. We also found that the palace had a great view of Istanbul itself. I felt that the heat of Istanbul couldn’t get to me, even outdoors in the terraces high above the Sea of Marmara. But it did. We were exhausted, and our time in Istanbul, which was excruciatingly short, ran out.
My thoughts on Istanbul? Beautiful. I didn’t enjoy Taksim Square, but I had a great time in the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace. My parents got to taste Turkish coffee (which was apparently strong), and we all-around had a great time in the first majority islamic nation we had ever visited.
Ramadan is great. The culture around Ramadan is great. If you want the friendliest experience in Turkey (or any Islamic nation), try to go during Ramadan.
Weather makes a huge difference in pictures, and luckily, the cloud cover in Istanbul is lowest in tourist season (July), but this is also the warmest part of the year. For the most comfortable temperatures, try visiting around early June.