We had spent the entire night and most of the day on a plane having flown in total four flights from Denver, Colorado by the time we arrived in Istanbul. Despite us being completely shattered, we were excited to see our friends Scott and Muge who had kindly come to fetch us at Ataturk airport. We’ve been friends for over 10 years; all of us met in London and lived & worked together at some point. They’re our oldest friends and very precious to us. At the beginning of 2016 they decided to move to Muge’s home country  and now we were here to visit them after eight months of not seeing each other.

The border control in Istanbul took ages – the lines were about eight rows deep and moving at snail pace. Luckily we persevered and two hours after we landed we walked out to arrivals hall and all four of us boarded a bus to Istanbul centre. Havas Bus is an easy way to get to the city and the buses depart every 20 minutes or so from just outside the arrivals hall. You can buy tickets on the bus for about 12 lira.

We took the bus to Taksim Square and I was reminded about the awful driving and traffic in Turkey. Regardless, we managed to happily chat away whilst being flung around as the driver was dicing with the other vehicles on the road. Grateful for having ‘the native’ Muge with us to navigate the crowded Taksim square, and get us a taxi (you need to know the best place to get taxis so you don’t get taken for a ride, plus speaking in Turkish helps).  

At the flat we revelled in the thought of not having to travel for a few days. It made us extremely happy, as did a shower. The flat was really spacious, and across from a green park, which we hear is a rarity in Istanbul. We also met Muge and Scott’s big dog Boza who was patiently waiting for us, and Marbella, the blind ginger cat. A happy family!

Charlene, Boza and Muge

We were so exhausted and jet lagged but didn’t really want to take a nap at 4pm so decided to stay awake for as long as possible, probably just have an early night. It’s always worse travelling eastward. After a shower we went out in search of dinner and ended up at this nice restaurant with four floors. Since we wanted to enjoy the best view over the rooftops of Istanbul, we chose to sit on the top floor (or maybe our brains were just too dead to think straight after 30 hours in the air). The sunset was beautiful, and so was the food and wine and beer. On our way home through the bustling streets we couldn’t ignore the beautiful summer’s evening and decided to go for a cocktail at a nearby rooftop bar. After quite a few drinks we merrily stumbled home at 2am in the morning. On the way we passed a bakery and decided to get some brownies. It would’ve been rude to pass an open bakery without buying anything, right? 🙂 We found the brownies untouched in the fridge the next morning, haha!

The following morning we woke up early due to the unbearable August heat and went out for breakfast. After two months in the US the variety of food, flavours and colours in Istanbul were like ecstasy to me. I had menemen for the first time which is a breakfast dish made with paprika, onions, tomatoes and peppers fried in oil, add the scrambled eggs and bake it in what looks like a singing bowl. This, accompanied with a variety of cheese, fresh bread, tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, honey, tomato paste and more makes for an epic breakfast.

My tastebuds felt incredibly happy and oddly enough I wasn’t full yet and it felt good. In the US I would only manage to eat half of the food on my plate before feeling full.  Since we were only in Istanbul for a few days we went for a walk around the area to enjoy the buzz, the people and the strange language. Back at home and I decided to close my eyes for 10 minutes. Four hours later I woke and the severity of my jet lag dawned on me. Triin had been lounging on the sofa half asleep the whole time and both of us realise that saving energy is key and decided to stay in for dinner, order some food and watch a movie. Luckily after the escapades of the previous night, everyone was ok with that plan.

At a famous pet shop in Istanbul (remember the gay turtle? The same place)

It wasn’t like I had never had takeaway before but Muge explained that in Istanbul you can have literally anything delivered – someone on a motorbike will get you whatever you want, even McDonalds. She told me this because I saw that the water container that we were drinking from was almost empty so she made a phone call and 15 minutes later, we had full water container, just like that. Apparently the tap water in Istanbul is not good to drink due to ancient pipes and plumbing systems so all the locals buy these huge filtered water containers for their homes.

It was the last night of our short visit to Istanbul so after a decent veggie burger takeaway dinner we went for a night cap at a bar around the corner. In Istanbul the atmosphere is always so noisy yet chill, people in restaurants and bars seem to talk for ages and really connect with each other. Istanbul seems so alive and vibrant regardless of the time, even at 4am in the morning a group of people would play basketball in the park, because they couldn’t sleep due to the heat.  At 2am o’clock the bakery is open, 5am o’clock the mosque’s first call to prayer starts and at anytime of the day or night you will hear cars and honking. The only thing that I really didn’t miss about Istanbul is the constant smoking. Everyone chain smokes as if lung cancer hasn’t reached this part of the world yet or the people haven’t connected the dots yet between illness and behaviour. That was one cool thing about the US – not many people smoked where we travelled.

The nights were so hot. So hot that we could barely sleep and having a sheet on us made it even worse. At this point we were excited to get to London to enjoy a cool breeze – something we had learned to miss during our time in very hot places.

The next morning Muge helped us get a taxi so we wouldn’t get ripped off with the price. We went to the airport, quite reluctantly, having taken four flights just two days days ago, but we needed to sort Triin’s visa out for South Africa for the next leg of our epic travel journey. I definitely would’ve felt more emotional going back to London if I hadn’t been so tired – after four months on the road we were returning ‘home’, for a little while at least.