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It was storming in Istanbul when I got back. I mean, raining cats and dogs kind of storming. Flights were being delayed. And I was super thankful my driver from the airport was able to drop me off at the doorsteps of my hostel, because the one thing I forgot to pack was a rain jacket.
Naturally, after only a couple of hours of sleep and a full day of outdoor activities, I decided to hang out with one of the people I met in Istanbul until the wee hours of the morning watching a fairly disappointing Zoolander 2.
My last full day in Istanbul I decided I would try to take on Topkapı Palace again as well as the famous Grand Bazaar.
This time, the Palace was open but unlike Tuesday, it was a dreary, rainy day. Also, the palace is not made of connecting buildings so you must walking outside to explore most of it. Thus, I was walking around sopping wet most of the morning.
I was told by one of hostelmates that Topkapı happens to be located on the best piece of real estate in all of Istanbul. And he was right. The views were spectacular. You could see the Asian side, European side, Bosporus, and beyond.
There were beautiful tile designs everywhere. It was truly luxurious.
Although, I do have to say I think I enjoyed my stay at Dolmabahçe more. Topkapı had a lot of beautiful jewels and sights, but Dolmabahçe gave you a lot of history. Or perhaps I only liked it more because I wasn’t walking around in a rainstorm the whole time.
Both places had completely different concepts of beauty which I think is something that could be accounted for in the history and ambiance of Istanbul: the divide between progressive and conservative, traditional and modern.
After viewing the palace, I went out to be harassed on the streets some more. My absolute favorite thing about Istanbul was the amount of men who wanted to talk to me, offer me tea, and sell me something (please note the sarcasm here).
I walked around the Grand Bazaar but felt so out of place, I decided to go back with a male friend. The difference of how people treated me when I was walking with someone else, especially a man, was drastic.
The Grand Bazaar truly is an amazing place. There are every type of textile imaginable, dried foods, spices, teas, and jewelry. I was most disappointed to find so many tourist-catering shops – you know the kind, with the tacky I ❤ Turkey shirts, mugs, and bracelets.
Pro tip: Make sure to use those haggling skills! It’s part of the fun of going to a bazaar. Don’t pay the first price they state to you. Pay the price you negotiate.
The Grand Bazaar is a covered marketplace that holds over 3,000 shops. It was built in the late 1400s and now hosts nearly one million visitors a year.
It’s a sprawling masterpiece of what would become our modern day shopping malls.
I sprawled the city in hopes of purchasing turkish lamps. I’ve been obsessed with them since I first laid my eyes on them years before. To purchase them stateside means you’ll pay on average $40 per lamp. To purchase them in Turkey means you’ll pay a nice $12.
I found a shop that put two lamps together for me for around $20. I even got a marriage proposal from one of the workers (and I was at this shop with my male friend from the hostel, so you can only imagine what it would have been like for me if I had been alone).
I purchased all my last minute souvenirs for loved ones both at the bazaar and back near Taksim square on İstiklal Caddesi. Although, I had made up my mind at the beginning of my trip to get my nose pierced.
So, let me tell you about that adventure.
Walking down İstiklal Caddesi, I saw a sign for piercings. I walked up to what seemed to me to be a fairly sketchy piercing place, and decided to keep on going. I rounded the corner and found another, much more decent, tattoo parlor. So, I went inside.
The man inside could not speak a word of English. So he called up a young lady (there was a bottom story that she ventured out of when he called her name) to come translate between me and him. She got through most of the basic piercing stuff with me with broken English and apologized for not being able to find all the right words but I told her I understood and it was all okay.
They sterilized all the things. I happened to be the only one in the shop besides the three workers. There was the front desk man, another female (who didn’t speak anything but Turkish), and then the female translating for me. Despite me not understanding much of what they said, it was a fun time.
I’ve worked with international populations for over 5 years, and I am very good at picking up tone. Even when I don’t understand a word in a particular language, I almost feel a part of the conversation. They even asked me if I understood what was being said because I was able to ask certain questions without them being translated in English to me (it’s honestly one of my favorite talents I possess).
Anyways, when it came down to the actual piercing, the man was supposed to do it for me but in the last minute he said he couldn’t. His heart was racing too fast and I made him feel too nervous, to which the other girl rolled her eyes, gestured towards him and said, “Typical Turkish man.”
With $20 and one additional body hole later, I had accomplished my small travel goal.
Elated, I of course spent my night out on the town. My flight back to the United States was at 8:00 am, my driver was picking me up at 5:30 am and I needed to have my things packed and ready to go by 5:00. I ventured all across Istanbul that night with one of new friends. I basically wandered the streets and we took taxis from one bar to the next. Although hardly anyone was out on a Thursday night, I had a blast. I had so much fun, I didn’t wake up until 5:45 am, nearly missing my ride and my flight. And let’s just say my packing was sub-par once again.
But was it worth it? Definitely.
There’s so much to be said about travelling and about going to places you’ve never been. There’s thousands of books written about the human spirit and embracing adventure. That’s why I’m so supportive of people going and being adventurers, even if it’s just in their own city.
But don’t be a tourist. Don’t do the things that are expected of you. Go and learn and laugh and enjoy. Spend a whole day walking around or spend a whole day people watching. Visit shops and obscure restaurants. Talk with everyone.
You’ll find that as humans we all have the same desire: to feel connected with the world around us and that world includes other people.
I went out into the world to find myself, and I have to say I didn’t come back with any new profound sense of self. I was still me. I’ve learned sometimes travel doesn’t change you, sometimes it just gives you clarity and insight to who you were all along.
The life of Istanbul contains all the things I love: bustle, flavor, color, design, and diversity. It was the one place I was sorry to be alone in. But I know it is not the last time I’ll be there. There’s places you know and you know you’ll be back.
Istanbul, the city of seven hills, I promise this is not the last you will see of me.
I came back to the states with nearly no money and the lingering question of “What’s next?”
But was it worth it? Definitely.