I had dreamed of visiting Istanbul for months before I actually arrived. I was racing through Eastern Europe on an ambitious train-based adventure and couldn’t await to arrive in Turkey, the finish point. In Turkey, I would spend six weeks; in Istanbul I’d spend one. It would be a slow jaunt through a fascinating country, relaxing, resting and exploring.

Our arrival in Istanbul was one of those moments that will stay with me forever. Stepping off the tram and into Sultanahmet neighbourhood, surrounded by mosques and minarets and stalls and smoking sweetcorn. It was crowded and busy — Eid was the following day and everybody was preparing for the big celebration.

Dave and I wandered through the crowds, stopping to buy a kebab and some pomegranate juice, excited that we were finally here.

lanterns grand bazaar istanbul


It was good timing too. Dave was a few days away from celebrating his birthday and I had planned out the perfect day for him. I’d booked us a few nights at a lovely hotel, I’d booked him a place on an all-day tour and I’d planned for a romantic dinner for his birthday evening. Trying to plan this all out while I was practically living on trains and often without free time was tricky, especially when what little free time I had was spent in Dave’s company.

Somehow I managed to pull it all together and his birthday was perfect. We went for an incredible breakfast at an incredible restaurant, where we had our first experience of a Turkish breakfast. Dave went off for his tour and I spent the day exploring the Grand Bazaar and planning out our dinner for that night. I was thrilled when Dave returned and announced that it was the best birthday present he’d ever received! Dinner was another success, with us both opting for local dishes and wine before going out for more drinks in the centre of Istanbul.

spice market istanbul

The following day, we spent it in a post-birthday glow, doing all of the tourist activities that make Istanbul such a great city. We visited Hagia Sofia and spent far longer there than we expected to — it was marvelous! We visited the Blue Mosque and, again, spent much longer than expected, wandering aimlessly and gazing at the ceiling. We got lost at the Spice Market — a surprising highlight from our time in Istanbul, filled with teas and turkish delights and spices with names I had never heard before. We ate Turkish ice cream, a strange sticky substance that tasted like nothing I’d ever eaten before. It had an almost elastic quality to it — stretchable and… not very nice.

lauren at hagia sofia

We spent seven days in Istanbul, and decided to return for a further week at the end of our trip. I’m not a big city person so for me to be volunteering to spend so much time in such an enormous city was very unusual for me. Istanbul felt different, though, and I still haven’t worked out why. It no longer felt like I was in Europe, but didn’t quite feel like Asia either. The people were warm and friendly, and the food was delicious.

Istanbul is one of my favourite cities in the world and I can’t wait to return and discover more!

Editors note: this is a guest post

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