We had originally planned on going to Cairo for the weekend. I was so excited to see the pyramids (something I’ve always wanted to see) and I would’ve checked a continent off of my list (I want to visit all 7 continents before I die). Plus, one of my old clients was working there with the World Health Organization (check out the amazing disaster work he does!) and I have a friend that lives there. All very good reasons to go to Cairo.
Unfortunately, the only way to get to Cairo without making our trip 16 hours long (and wasting the precious time we had) was to transfer almost $1000 to a sketchy bank account with Air Sinai. The available itinerary would’ve given us a measly day and a half in Cairo.
Definitely not enough time to justify the cost.
So, we did as any rational people would do — we hopped onto Kayak Explore to see where we could travel in a reasonable amount of time for a reasonable amount of money.
The final result? Istanbul!
Day 1: Tel Aviv, Israel –> Istanbul, Turkey
Kyle set his alarm for 3am on Thursday so that he could shower, pack, and get ready for us to leave the hotel at 4am. I set my alarm for 3:45am. Am I disgusting because I don’t shower in the morning? Nah. I’m efficient for showering at night.
I woke up with him and couldn’t fall back asleep. I was too excited!
He had a cab waiting for us (I love how he thought to call one in advance) and we were off to the airport at 4am on the dot. Our flight was at 7:20am but we wanted to give ourselves enough time to get through the layers and layers of security at the airport. In the past, it’s taken him 3+ hours to get through!
Since we didn’t check any bags, we got to skip some lines (woohoo!) and the check in process was significantly faster than anticipated. When we were going through the second round of security checking, the man asked us supremely personal information beyond the standard questions about our business in Israel:
- What is your relationship to each other? We’re dating.
- How long have you been dating? About 6 months.
- How long have you known each other? Just over 6 months (yup, I snatched him up as soon as I could).
- Do you live together? No. Because that would be living in sin, of course, and then Grandma Leenknecht would pray for me every day.
- How far apart do you live from each other? Umm, about 20 minutes.
- What’s your cup size? Ok, he didn’t ask that, but I was expecting him to.
Then he made us wait, grabbed his supervisor, and then his supervisor basically asked us the same questions. And that was all just to get through that line; we weren’t even through the customs line to “exit Israel.”
Even with all that, we still made it to our gate extremely early.
We arranged for a car to pick us up from the airport in Turkey (we flew into the airport much further away from our hotel and a lot of the touristy locations) and I was so excited to come out of the doors and see our names written on a piece of paper. I’ve never had airport pickup before!
Alas! There was a mixup at the hotel and there was no man waiting with our names on a piece of paper. We got everything sorted and then made it to the hotel.
I think the hotel was horse themed. That, or they just really like horses… because they were everywhere.
We dropped our stuff off in the hotel and started walking around the city. After all, we only had 3 days in Istanbul and there’s thousands of years of history.
We were convinced to come to some guy’s carpet shop because “it’s a family business and you can just look for a minute, no need to buy.” Ugh, they get you every time! The man insisted that Kyle looked like Brad Pitt and called him “Brad” for the duration of our visit. He also assured me that “Koreans are the best looking women of all Asian women because they have…” and then he proceeded to make motions to his chest.
Sigh. Don’t even get me started.
We went to the Blue Mosque and it was pretty awe-inspiring. Pictures definitely don’t do it justice. Here’s a quick video (it still doesn’t do it justice).
The outside was also gorgeous.
We didn’t have time to get to the Hagia Sophia before it closed, which was really confusing for us. I specifically wrote down the times that these places would be open and we thought that we had another hour. Very strange.
We ate testi kebabs for dinner! It’s food cooked in clay pots and then broken when it’s ready to be eaten. Yum!
Day 2: Istanbul Food Tour
A good friend who used to live in Istanbul for many years recommended that we go on a Backstreets Walking Tour. They take you to the places where the locals go and not the touristy places that we could see on our own. Plus, you get to eat all day, which is easily one of my favorite things to do.
We woke up early. We had plenty of time to get ready and find our way over to the meeting point. At about 8:40am, we received messages from our guide, Benoit, asking if we were on our way.
We were supposed to meet at 9:30, I thought. In a panic, we started getting ready as quickly as possible. Actually, I was in a panic. Kyle was his normal self — calm, cool, collected.
Benoit graciously waited for us to arrive (we were the only ones on the tour, thank goodness). It turns out that as of September 7, 2016, Turkey stopped doing Daylight Savings, so instead of turning their clocks back, they just left them.
Unfortunately for us, the clocks on our phone didn’t get the memo and they turned back an hour when we landed. That explains why we missed so many things on our first day.
The rest of the day consisted of lots of walking, eating everything in sight, and hearing a slew of historical and cultural information that Benoit taught to us.
Here’s a quick clip of Benoit explaining Baklavah to us:
We finished the day with a trip to Çemberlitaş Hamamı, a Turkish bathhouse that dates back to 1584. Woof! I was really excited to experience one because I had such great experiences when I visited a Korean jimjilbang and Japanese onsen.
We entered the hamamı, paid the fee, and were ushered to separate areas. I was instructed to undress and put my things in a locker. They gave me gigantic underwear to put on and a towel that I used to cover myself up.
Then I entered the bath.
There were probably 14 topless women around a circular marble structure. Some women (the guests) were getting washed by the women that worked there. I laid on my towel on the marble, not sure what to do. I was very uncomfortable, not only because I was half naked, but because I was lying on my stomach and my knees were poking uncomfortably into the marble. I wasn’t about to flip over and expose myself to a bunch of strangers, though!
Finally, a woman came over to me with a soapy bucket, threw some water on me, and proceeded to scrub my entire body with (what felt like) a metal industrial sponge, According to their website, “every cell of your body will start to breath, your blood circulation will speed up, you will loose the dead cells and re-vitalize.”
I did not experience that.
It felt like she was scrubbing the skin right off of my body. It was awful.
After she was finished, I was lying on the marble, feeling unbelievably violated and raw.
Then she used a soapy cloth to give me a light massage and wash me. It was much nicer than the first part.
She took me to a wash basin, told me to sit down, then washed my hair. But really, it felt like she was waterboarding me. She got a huge goop of shampoo in my eye and I kept trying to get it out, but she kept dumping full buckets of water over my head. I was gasping and coughing, trying not to look like a total buffoon (of course, it would be the American that drowns in the hamamı).
We finished, I got an oil massage, and then she had me take a shower. I read on the website that you could relax on the marble for as long as you wanted after the service (it was warm and nice!) but since I was the last customer, she basically forced me to get my clothes on and leave.
Kyle had a much nicer experience. He came out looking very relaxed, calm, and happy. At least one of us had a good time!
Day 3: Istanbul, Turkey –> Tel Aviv, Israel
On our last day, we visited everything that we missed during the first two days. We saw the Hagia Sophia, went to Topkapi Palace (it was underwhelming), and did some last-minute shopping at the Grand Bazaar.
All in all, it was an incredible 3-day trip to a beautiful and historical city. The Turkish people are so warm and friendly — I can’t wait to go back and continue exploring.
I am so fortunate that I have a partner who has as much of a sense of adventure as I do and loves eating almost as much as me. I can’t wait to see where our next adventure takes us!