One month ago, I returned to Moldova from Istanbul, Turkey, so clearly this post is more than overdue. I have wanted to go to Istanbul for a long time, and since it is so cheap to fly there from Moldova (and therefore a popular destination for Peace Corps Volunteers from Moldova) I knew it was on my must visit list while here.
Up until now all the trips I have taken have been to meet my parents in various locations (Barcelona and Prague ect.) so this would also be my first trip of my Peace Corps service, where I would be self-designing my itinerary. It was also my first trip traveling abroad with solely my significant other (my boyfriend).
A good friend of mine from College had suggested in March of this year that we should meet in Turkey in September and at first I didn’t take him seriously, but soon after he booked his tickets and I was committed to meeting him there. I also have a good friend from post-college life who works in Turkey and so we all decided to meet in Istanbul for a long weekend.
My boyfriend and I decided that if we were going to go to Istanbul we wanted more than just a few days there, and we both had quite a few vacation days, so we decided on a week. We arrived on a Wednesday and departed on a Tuesday, meaning we would spend the weekend with my friends from home, and Monday with some good friends from Moldova (who happened to be there at the same time) and then depart back to Moldova.
When we arrived, we decided to take the subway to our hotel – which was a mistake, trust me its worth the extra money for a cab, especially if you have baggage. When we arrived in the neighborhood our hotel was in, and were looking for it, we were surprised by how helpful and friendly every shop or restaurant worker was we asked was; one in fact took the number of the hotel, called them and provided detailed directions to us on how to get there. We were so impressed by his service in fact that we came back to his restaurant three times for meals over the week we were there.
Overall the trip was great. A few of the highlights were seeing Josh and Hilary – I felt like a weight was lifted having people to joke around with and it was like no time had passed (other than that there was of course lots of life events and gossip I had missed out on). My boyfriend and I had a few really fun days where we just explored some of the tourist sites, as well as just wandered the city, ending up playing ping-pong is a strange, interactive art gallery, walking the beach with fresh fish sandwiches in hand, a turkish bath and a few other off the beaten path experiences. I also enjoyed a lovely afternoon with two Moldovan friends that included hamburgers, tea overlooking the Bosporus, and eventually at night hookah on Galata bridge.
For me the tourist sites were nice, but the best moments were these casual moments catching up with old friends, finding something unusual and not in the guidebooks and just relaxing.
I was impressed by the history of Istanbul and found myself returning to the hotel every night with a list of questions to google the answers to. I was also impressed by the number of scams I saw being run throughout the city. For every two wonderfully friendly and helpful people there was one rude person trying to run a scam of some kind.
One example of such a scam involved taxi drivers attempting to take you to the wrong location and then charging more than the originally agreed price. We took several taxi rides and only twice were there any issues, so this is not the norm, but there are certainly those who attempt to take advantage of tourists. Another one was the ‘change scam,’ which involves the vendor, handing you some money (not near the correct change) and then walking away, when you inquire where he has gone or is going they say, and where is the rest of your change, they say, oh he was gone to get the rest. When he returns he will again hand you only a portion of the change and then when you insist again that this is incorrect he may in fact give you the correct change. Now this may sound like a mild annoyance, but it means that you need to pause and count your change exactly, which I imagine many harried tourists do not.
Overall it was a great experience and I liked Istanbul. There were a few things that left a funny aftertaste (so to speak) and I think if I returned to Turkey I would want to go to Ankara or see some other sights in the country.