After a fabulous 5 months in South America, it was time for a major transition to Turkey. We were sad to say goodbye to the first phase of our trip, but thrilled that my brother Dylan, his wife Surabhi, and their 1.5 year old daughter Safina (aka the next mayor of Istanbul, based on her reception throughout the city) would be joining us for the first week in Istanbul. Brian traveled straight there from Bogota. The Indian contingent traveled from Pittsburgh and met up with him at the Istanbul airport. We rented an apartment for the week in the Beyoglu neighborhood, which was a good base–full of cafes and little shops and very well situated for exploration of different areas on foot and via public transportation.
Our exploration of the city could be split roughly equally into two categories: sights and eats. Both were attacked with vigor. We had a few guidebooks to help us identify the must-see places, and B’s enthusiastic research to ensure that nary a kebab standout escaped our notice. It was hot in the city and we did a fair amount of walking, but with the aid of a baby-toting backpack and four adults happy to pass her around, Safina was a master traveler. Along with the difficulty of condensing 12 days of exploration into a post or two, the real challenge here is not including every one of the dozens of adorable photos of her.
As any good first-time traveler to the city would, we spent a fair amount of time across the river in the Sultanahmet Square area, taking in the major sites. These included the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, the Hippodrome, the Grand and Spice Bazaars, and the Hagia Sophia museum. We even took a sunset cruise on the Bosphorous (Baby’s First Bosphorous Cruise!), much to the delight of the ticket touts lurking everywhere in Sultanahmet.
Another highlight was a trip to the Asian part of the city. We went via ferry–so, automatically fun in my book (also Baby’s Second Bosphorous Cruise, if you’re following along at home). We explored a huge market neighborhood, stocking up on honeycomb, cheeses, olives, cherries, green plums and charcuterie. There, as everywhere else in the city, Safina was a minor celebrity. She elicited many a smile and tickle, and even scored a free cherry at one point– just one example of the free food with which she was plied throughout the week. Turkish people LOVED her–presumably they love all adorable children, but in the absence of evidence to the contrary I will assume that she was especially adored. We also spent quite a while flinging birdseed around a tiny park (and then bravely attempting to catch pigeons). Another benefit to traveling with a toddler–aside from the free food– is the frequent play breaks in parks. Highly recommended.
On our side of the river, we spent a lot of time exploring the twisting cobblestone alleyways as well as busy Istikal street. We made it to the top of Galata tower (pro tip: if the guy doing crowd control tells you for no discernible reason to circle in the opposite direction from the rest of the herd, just say no), devoured an enormous Turkish/Kurdish breakfast at Van Kahvalti Evi (thanks for the suggestion, Andrew!), purchased many a fresh squeezed juice on the street, watched the Champions League final, had college flashbacks at a hookah bar, drank raki, thick Turkish coffee, and a judicious amount of local beer and wine, ate every type of kebab and other grilled meat that we could find, sampled extensive varieties of baklava, played euchre and Carcassonne, and generally had an excellent (if much too fast) week.