I had been thinking for a while about going to Istanbul. If I have to be totally honest, I felt a bit scared back then. Two terrorist attacks had taken place not long ago, and I didn’t feel confident enough to go.
But I think I can say that I have some very daring friends and boyfriend, who unlike me, are fearless. So we started this journey, me, my boyfriend, two friends and my mother-in-law.
Now usually I’m the one who looks for things to do on our trips and Jesus is the one to put some order into it. This time though, life got in the way and I didn’t feel like looking, and Jesus was too busy to organise anything. So we ended up beginning our journey with nothing planned and no internet.
Istanbul was quite a surprise for me. I must say I expected something more culturally similar to Europe, and what I found was surprising in the right way and in a wrong way. In the right way, I loved the exotic feeling of the city. In the wrong way, it was uncomfortable for a woman to walk at night, even within a group of men and women.
Totally mandatory would be doing a free tour of the city, especially the first or second day, to get to know the secrets and history of Istanbul. We used the company Viaurbis and our guide Edu made a delightful experience.
The architecture, the chaos, the food, the sound from the mosques, the weather… All of that made a unique and magical experience, I thought I had found a marvellous place. But at the same time, especially outside of the touristic areas and in the night, you could feel what it means to be a woman in a man’s world. Not only men would stare at us, but at night some would even make sounds at us. And I’m saying this because it didn’t happen sporadically.
Regarding food, it seems like we were quite unlucky. During our five days itinerary, we only found kebab food everywhere. Different kinds of kebab, but in the end, it tasted the same in the mouth. We quite enjoyed sweets though, like Sahlep, a typical hot drink made with milk and cinnamon, Baklava, the most iconic dessert, and rice pudding. I have a profound sweet tooth, you know.
It’s quite remarkable the use of the Chai tea, which is offered (and charged) to you after every meal. It’s just black tea but you have other options, like the delicious apple tea.
During our trip, we had a chance to speak with an Imam, who would explain to us the essence of Islam. And I must say it is beautiful, the meaning, the traditions… For instance, he told us that the purpose of Ramadan is to be able to feel in your flesh what those deprived of food and water feel and thus be more empathetic towards them.
The feeling of getting into the mosque was something exceptional every time we did it, and we were lucky enough to be inside while one of the prayers took place.
The sound of the mosque woke us up every morning before seven in the morning, reminding us we were in a completely different culture.
As a summary, I would say I really enjoyed my visit. Still, I had to have my wits around me, which is not something I really appreciate as a woman. Would totally go back but would not stay outside Sultanahmet. Istanbul is a close and beautiful window to the Muslim world, exotic in every sense of the word.