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Istanbul, Türkiye

Our first adventure in Europe

I spent quite a bit of time thinking about how I wanted to write this blog.  I didn’t want to write a “How To” or a “Do’s and Don’ts”; that type of information is all over the internet.  If you are thinking of travelling to Istanbul, I highly recommend you do your research.  Look up what to expect, what to wear, what highlights you should take in, and what scams to watch out for.  I will say if someone drops a shoe cleaning brush when you’re walking past…keep walking.  For me, I just want to talk about the things that stood out for us the most.

I don’t think anyone reading this will be surprised when I tell you that the highlight of Istanbul for me was the cats.  They are everywhere; on the sidewalk, on people’s cars, sleeping on motorbikes, in shop windows, even sleeping on merchandise in stores.  Türkiye is well known for its cats, and they go out of their way to look after them.  There are cat houses, water stations, and bowls or piles of food all over.  Each morning we woke up to a different cat in the window well across from our balcony and a couple of days we were treated to a mother and her 3 kittens wrestling and cuddling there as well.  I managed to refrain from petting every cat I saw, but it took some serious restraint.  You can’t help but smile each time you see them wandering by or napping on the sidewalk. On Sunday I had the bright idea to count every cat we saw while we were out, but I lost count after 70.

Everyone smokes; okay that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but a ton of people here smoke.  We were walking down a crowded street and I bumped into someone just as he brought his arm down and he ended up putting out his cigarette on the sleeve of my jacket.  There are ash trays on every table at every restaurant and even in the apartment we rented.  It sucks when you’re in a crowded area and can’t get away from it.

The roads are extremely narrow and steep in the older areas; don’t skimp on cardio if you’d like to visit.  Most roads are cobble stone or brick, so they are uneven and can be slippery in places.  The insane part is that people drive down these narrow roads…in both directions.  I would not recommend renting a car and driving here yourself; it is unbelievably chaotic.  On the plus side we got a workout in every time we left the apartment.

There is a heavy police presence in the city which is both comforting and disconcerting all at once.  Guards at the museums carry rifles which is very intimidating.  Police cars and ambulances seem to always have their lights on, and you’ll see them on almost every main street.

We didn’t eat out a lot because we were trying to keep our costs down, but almost everything we tried was delicious.  Groceries were very affordable and eating out wasn’t crazy expensive.  Slightly less than dining out at home in Canada, but more than buying groceries.  Keep in mind it’s best to choose restaurants that list their pricing to avoid inflated bills.

The history and the architecture are incredible.  It really puts in perspective just how young Canada is as a country.  We’ve never experienced history in this way before and it really is incredible.  It has made me even more excited to be spending time in Europe this winter.  Our favourite sites were the Topkapi Sarayi Harem Dairesi at the Topkapi Palace Museum, the Aya Irini (Hagia Irene), and the Yerebatan Sarnici (Basilica Cistern).  We didn’t make it into the Ayasofya Camii (Hagia Sophia) or the Sultanahmet Camii (Blue Mosque) because the lines up were insane; we opted to check out more of the museums instead.

I guess the burning questions are: Was it worth it? And, would we come back?  I think it’s definitely worth it to experience what Istanbul has to offer, but we probably won’t be back.  We would return to Türkiye, but would prefer to see more of the country not just a large, crowded city.  I do think that two weeks would have been better than one for our visit.  It would have given us more time and more confidence in exploring the city. Overall, everyone was friendly and we had a memorable experience. We really enjoyed our time in Instanbul and would highly recommend it.


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