IST -> SFO (the best 21 hour layover)

Oh hello there, blogosphere (do people still say that?). This post technically completes our European adventure 😦 but life at home is exciting and there’s lots to catch up on. To refresh your memories from the last post, Ted so helpfully recounted the beginning of our journey home, which included a most unfortunate case of food poisoning for him. Icky. We pick up the adventure mid flight from Naples to Istanbul.

Before I go on, a quick sidebar to say that Ted and I are safe and avoided the tragic bombing at IST, which occurred just a few days after we passed through.  It’s sad and frustrating that these things happen anywhere, but it’s especially sad that Istanbul has suffered disproportionately. It’s a beautiful city with a rich history and extremely friendly people and we hope to go back soon.

So why are we heading East?  In our continued quest to be thrifty, we stumbled across a $450 Turkish Air flight from Naples, Italy to San Francisco via Istanbul, Turkey with a forced 21 hour layover. While the flight pattern doesn’t sound appealing at first, Turkish Air sweetens the deal with a free hotel room so you can explore the city and it was hard to say no! We used the layover as a free recon mission to scope the area since Turkey has been on our “list” of travel destinations. The hotel room is assigned in the airport upon arrival, in Turkey, which cased a bit of stress but in fact, it was super easy and we were put in a 5 star hotel near the airport called “WOW hotel”. Turkish Air partners with lodging options in the city center too (and provides transportation to and from Ataturk Airport) but this spot worked great for our 21 hour stay.

A few days prior, Ted arranged for a local tour guide to show us around and make the most of our limited time.  I thought we’d have to cancel thanks to some bad Italian tuna but when wheels touched down, Ted gulped and decided to rally!  We were picked up from the airport and transported in a boiling hot van about 30 minutes away to the city center where we met up with our guide on foot. We had about 8 hours in front of us and we made it count. We wandered the Grand Bazaar, visited mosques (during Ramadan no less!), wandered other outdoor archeological treasures, and made our way at sunset to Asia via ferry across the Bosphorus Strait for a street food tour and dinner. The city of Istanbul is HUGE (14.3 million people!) and exists on both Europe and Asia continents which is so awesome, but despite the literal divide, the city feels contiguous. The street food was super delicious, but poor Ted had a severely limited tasting this time around. To make up for Ted’s non-eating, I made an extra attempt to try everything our guide recommended and sought out (I didn’t want to be rude!) and ended up eating some interesting stuff.

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Mehmet grew up in Istanbul and studied tourism at University. His english was better than ours and was in general, an awesome guy.

In nearly each place we went, we were the only tourists in sight. Because of the political troubles there over the past year, tourism has taken a severe dive, which is a shame because it’s such a great city. We felt safe there, everything was well organized, orderly, and totally normal. Visiting during Ramadan was a really great experience. Our guide, Mehmet, taught us lots about the religious routines, and it was humbling to see it in person. Ramadan is a month of spiritual reflection and practicing Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, pray with extra repetitions, and generally put more effort toward the teachings of Islam. The mosques are so beautiful, with amazing glasswork and architecture, and plushy carpet to comfortably pray. I did have to cover up in traditional clothes to enter (so sweaty/ hot), and there were separate praying areas for men and women which is quite different from Western life. As we walked around the city, women of the families were busy setting up huge potluck picnics they’d spent all day preparing and Mehmet explained picnicking was generally a “lower income” option. Honestly, it looked like the most fun! People were happy, laughing, hanging out and having an all-around good time waiting for the sun to go down so they could chow down. Meanwhile, we went to a delicious restaurant and started eating before sunset, which was totally okay. In fact, the Quran specifically permits people to eat if fasting interferes with their ability to perform their work and make their living, etc., so nothing is super extreme or strict. Midway through our meal, people started to sit down at the restaurant and food began to arrive but everyone waited patiently until the restaurant owner said a brief prayer, and counted everyone down at the same time. After our quick trip to Asia for dinner, we headed back to Europe for dessert (how cool is that?!). Dessert consisted of a baklava tasting with goat’s milk ice cream (the texture is chewier and really delicious!). We tried a pistachio baklava and traditional baklava and both were on point. Ted was starting to feel a little better by this time, and got in on the action (how convenient…).

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We rounded the night out with a good-ole nargile session (aka hookah or shisha) at Çorlulu Ali Paşa Nargile, located in a 300 year old building that has a cemetery adjacent and used to be a school. Though it was late and we were tired, the hookah session was one of my favorite parts of the evening. The ambiance was so authentically awesome, the apple tea was delicious, and the grape/mint hookah was perfect.  Also, I was the only woman in the place!

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After making our way back to the hotel at 1am, we caught a few hours of the last foreign shut-eye we’ll get for quite some time. We looked at each other and reminisced about how flipping awesome our trip was, and how lucky we were to have traveled together. Going home felt great, but huge parts of us remain in Europe. If anyone reading this is contemplating “pressing pause” for a while to explore, learn, de-stress, bond, live, whatever, I highly, highly recommend it. In my next post I’ll share some high-level numbers through my love for Excel Pivot Tables but the costs are lower than you might expect and we lived very comfortably which means it could be done for even less.

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Also, last spoiler alert but this URL may or may not need to be renamed. More to come on that too. 🙂

Bone Voyage!

xoxo Sara

posted from: Sunnyvale, California, USA

 

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