8 was the number of times we did yoga at Cihangir Yoga studio. For only 100 TL ($50) per person, we got a thirty-day unlimited membership pass. The yoga classes were one of the best parts of our Istanbul trip. After just a week of doing it, we saw dramatic improvement in our flexibility and went from being novices to novice-intermediate. Some of the classes were even taught in English—an added bonus. The teachers were fantastic and incorporated a solid meditation session into the yoga classes. Meditation is something we’ve been trying to incorporate into our daily routine, but honestly it has been difficult to do. It’s like eating healthy, we know it’s good for us but we opt not do it. Is it laziness? I don’t know. I do hope meditating will become a habit of mine after joining the ashram in Thailand.
10 was the number of pounds Dumpty gained so far on this trip (not telling you Humpty’s number). It’s been hard to maintain our pre-trip weight. We bought a juicer for only 30 bucks from a local grocery store and replaced a vegetable/fruit juice with a meal a few times, but lets be real. It’s hard to juice everyday when you’re always out somewhere touring the city. We didn’t feel comfortable running on the terrible sidewalks in the August heat, so the only real work-put we got was from yoga. Our weight-gain will most definitely climb up in Pakistan with the daily naans and biryanis….Maybe we should do a month-long ashram. I heard they only feed you twice a day!
14 days was 8 days too long in Istanbul. We have a cousin who lived all over the world, including in South Africa and Turkey. When we asked where she loved living the most, she said, without hesitation, Istanbul. So without much further thought I rented us a one-bedroom apartment in Taksim on AirBnB for two weeks. That was our first mistake.
We originally wanted to get an apartment and live like locals for our stay in Istanbul. We did get to do some things that made it feel less like a vacation, such as joining a yoga studio. However, many of our other plans such as cooking classes and language classes did not pan out. As a result, we now realize our Istanbul trip could have been shorter and we should have gone on to see other cities. I can say, without hesitation, I would never want to live in Istanbul. I felt like we were being conned all the time by taxi drivers (we took cabs both ways to Mikla and the cab fare to there was 20 TL while another cab driver charged us 7 TL on the drive back), the road signs weren’t well labeled and in general it was a chaotic and somewhat dirty city. I got tired of eating the same turkish breakfast every single morning: olives, cheese, bread, jams, turkey, cold boiled eggs, cucumbers and tomatoes. Sure it sounds great right now, but I got sick of it after almost a month of eating the same thing in the morning. Istanbul, to me, was one sprawling mess.
39 is the number of districts in Istanbul! Each district has its own elected “mayor” that sets the budget, manages waste, transportation and building projects, etc. That’s like dividing New York City neighborhoods, like LES, UES, Soho, Williamsburg, Park Slop, LIC, etc into separate districts! I guess that makes sense given the sheer number of people living in this city. Istanbul almost feels like its own country!
50 percent is the percentage we enjoyed our dining experience. For the size of Istanbul we were rather surprised by this. For example, the Feriye Restaurant and Dragon were highly recommended to us by the concierge and guidebooks. The view were amazing but the food quality didn’t match-up to the price tag or the hype. On the other hand, Jash and Mikla were fantastic. Jash was an Armenian restaurant we stumbled upon in our neighborhood. The local diners sitting across from us were singing Turkish songs amongst themselves and the cool breeze was perfect around our cozy little table outside. It was our first perfect Istanbul moment. The owner put together the whole dinner for us and even paired the wines. We didn’t even look at the menu. Mikla was the most upscale restaurant we went to and the most delicious— well worth the price. Silent for most of the evening, Dumpty and I just sat in awe of the sunset views of the mosques and city landscapes.
56 is the number of street cats I saw in one day. There are some days I am sure I saw more. I’ve never seen a city with so many cats running around and what’s more amazing is that locals love and care for these felines. I see trays of food and buckets of water outside of restaurants, stores, hotels, parks and random side streets. I even saw a little cathouse on the sidewalk! I can tell which cat had its acting skills down and which ones do not by how fat they are. I swear this one cat came up to me at a restaurant and literally drooped his eyes (he might have had a tear too) while staring deep into my eyes. I could (almost) hear it saying “Take mercy on me. Feed me”. And I did. I gave it half my kebab. Dumpty said I was sucker for giving in but even he had to admit that was the saddest Puss in Boots look he had ever seen. As the cat lurched at the juicy morsel and waddled away, I noticed how fat it was. I had to laugh at the conniving tricks–even the cats know how to play you in Istanbul.
108 is the number of steps we had to climb every-single-day to get to our AirBnB rental apartment. When we first arrived from the airport, fully loaded with our backpacks and handbags, we had to meet our renter’s friend at Momo Cafe to get the keys. We got lost a couple of times because the street name weren’t clearly labeled. Then came the part of looking for our apartment. We got lost again. The WORST part however was slowly, methodically and painfully walking up those steep steps. The icing on the cake was the smell of cat shit on the steps leading to the apartment, which also didn’t have air conditioning. I wanted to kill myself; especially since I was the one who made the reservations. Needless to say I have officially handed over all duties related to hotel/apartment reservations to Dumpty.
3000 is the number of mosques in Istanbul and guess what? There’s still a shortage of them. The government has a couple of big mosque projects in the pipelines, so they are aware of the dire need to house the 14 million Muslim worshippers (99.8% of the population are Muslim). There is also a big push from the Turkish citizens to make Hagia Sofia into an active mosque again, however the government rejected the proposal and firmly wants to keep it as a tourist spot (I personally think it’s to generate revenue from the tourists). Thousands of demonstrators prayed outside Hagia Sofia in May of this year in protest. The Blue Mosque is used my Muslims and were fortunate enough to pray in it. Hagis Sofia was cool for its Christian and Muslim symbols, but the Blue Mosque was much more beautiful.
14 million, with give or take 2 million–the size of Houston, is the number of people in Istanbul. Istanbul is a combination of the San Francisco steep hills and steps with the Los Angeles sprawled out towns and traffic, but 3 times the combined size of both cities. The city has been through wars, major earthquakes, and numerous changes in political power. This resulted in a juxtaposition of ancient and modern architecture, respect for the old (era of the Sultans) and new regimes (era of Attaturk), and daisy dukes to full headscarf wearing women.
We originally planned on going straight to Pakistan from Istanbul. After spending over a month in hot weather, the thought of going to another equally if not hotter country didn’t appeal to us. We found ourselves browsing flights in the far north and south on Skyscanner to squeeze in a visit to a cooler country before landing in Pakistan, and we decided to fly to…Cape Town, South Africa!! I still pinch myself.