The back story:

For a few years after he finished college, my friend and coworker Zach lived in Amman, Jordan to work with Iraqi refugees displaced by the war and teach them computer skills.  He always spoke fondly of his time there, and for several years had been trying to convince us that we needed to go visit.  Since we’re also all cycling buddies, one of the main attractions of the trip was to participate in a bicycle relay race that runs about 200km from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea.  B and I finally got sick of his cajoling (kidding, kidding..) and decided that we should do it.  Kate heard that we were going to the Red Sea, which she has always wanted to visit to scuba dive, and with that our merry band of travelers was cemented and we began to make plans.

Then, to add another layer to the whole thing, in mid-August between when we decided that we were going to do this trip and when we actually started buying tickets and making reservations, B and I decided that it would probably be a good idea to just go ahead and get married.  It went something like this:

Caitlin:  “Ya know, maybe we should just get married before we go to Jordan?”
B:  “Are you serious?”
Caitlin:  “Yeah, I mean, it seems like it would make things easier.”
B:  *happy crying noises*

…and so we power-planned a wedding in just over 2 months and the trip became a “honeymoon” with some third wheels.  If you’ve never tricked your friends in to coming on your honeymoon with you, I highly recommend it.. very entertaining.  Also, if you need to gently break the news that you’re traveling to the Middle East to your nervous family, softening the blow with the news you’re also getting married is a pretty great way to do it.

We decided that as long as we were going half-way around the world, we might as well get as much out of it as possible and schedule a stopover somewhere.  Thanks to white folks being terrified of the Middle East, airfare on Turkish Air was obscenely cheap… base fare: $250 dollars (with, of course, about $500 worth of taxes and fees tacked on, but still..) and so we added a few days in Istanbul on to the start of the trip.

(Airline-related aside:  Holy crap, Turkish Air is amazing.  Can’t recommend them enough.  Nice planes, great entertainment, surprisingly delicious airline food, fresh flowers and nice smelling lotions in the bathrooms, awesome little care packages w/ socks and slippers and bougie lip gloss…  the whole package.)

The evening of Friday, November 6th we took off from Chicago O’Hare and had a mostly uneventful flight to Istanbul.  The only event of note was thankfully a happy one, as Zach mentioned to our flight attendants that B and I were on our honeymoon, and so they brought us a tray of delicious treats!  Like, actually really, really tasty even though it was just airplane dessert.


So, loaded up on sugar and adrenaline and airplane wine and excitement, we landed in Istanbul and then had to wait in the world’s longest customs line, which would have been less long if people hadn’t kept cutting the line (grumble).  I did manage to get the last laugh when I (accidentally, I swear) ran over the foot/ankle of one of the line cutters when we met again at baggage claim.  I did not apologize.


The cab ride to our AirBnB apartment took us along the shores of the Sea of Marmara (which eventually flows to the Mediterranean Sea) and by many of the old walls of the city. We were staying in the old city of Istanbul, which turned out to be very convenient as most of the interesting touristy things to see were within a very quick walk, important when you only have about 48 hours to visit.  We arrived after a bit of difficulty to meet our host Tansel (so hot right now!) and settle in a bit.  He provided some recommendations for reasonably priced Turkish food in the neighborhood, so we headed out to find our first meal abroad.

We think we actually didn’t even find the right place, but regardless we had a tasty first introduction to Turkish food… and tea.  Oh, the tea…. so much wonderful, glorious tea everywhere you go.


The next exciting thing I learned about Istanbul is that it is filled with cats.  Seriously, cats are EVERYWHERE.  I couldn’t take 10 steps without encountering a friendly feline.  Normally you’d expect street-cats to be kind of mangey, but the cats here all generally looked well fed and healthy and people seemed to be mostly kind to them.


After dinner we decided to wander a bit and follow our senses and whatever looked interesting until we found something that actually was…  and we did, along a cute little street with some nightlife.  The one unfortunate thing about the old city is that it mostly shuts down in the evenings and the few places that are active in the evening tend to be pretty touristy.  Lots of overpriced food and drinks and lots of people standing out in the sidewalk begging you to patronize their establishment.  Regardless, we persevered and found a lovely rooftop terrace (which would be a significant reoccurring theme of our time in Istanbul) that had drinks and nargille (aka hookahs).



We spent a bit of time joking around with our waiter, who was incredibly proficient in English smart-assery.

Ok, bit of an aside here…   prior to this trip Zach was not particularly keen on Istanbul or the Turkish people.  He explained that he had been there only immediately after leaving Jordan, which is like the “Midwest of the Middle East” in that people are excessively polite and friendly.  The people of Istanbul are, well.. not rude, exactly, but more akin to the dry/blunt types you might find in New York City.  The more time we spent there, the more this assessment seemed to ring true.. though I generally found it pretty funny.     Another example:  the next morning we were walking from breakfast to go do some sightseeing and a cabbie called out to us “Need a ride?”.  We told him we were going just up the block, to which he replied “Then mind if I stick my hand in your wallet and take some money?”.  I’m ever impressed with people who are able to be smart asses in a foreign language.

Anyway, Zach noticed that the gentlemen sitting at the table next to us were speaking Arabic with our waiter, so he got his first chance to brush off his old language skills.  This was particularly fortuitous because the Syrians-by-way-of-Dubai recommended an excellent spot for breakfast the next morning, which we found and heartily enjoyed… but more on that later.

We eventually wandered back to our AirBnB and spent some time chilling out and sitting in the back garden that overlooked the sea.  When we were heading in to call it a night, we realized we could see the spires of the Blue Mosque looming over the roof of our apartment… so, of course we had to take a late night stroll there to check it out.

It really is quite a beautiful building, and we had the plaza to ourselves seeing as it was pushing 3am.  After admiring it for a bit, we realized that it had been many hours since dinner and we were all starving again.  Thankfully a place next to the mosque serving all kinds of various meats on swords was still open.  The world needs more late night kabab joints in it, seriously.


12208785_10104758127521187_1987983777358583849_n After our late-night meat stop accompanied by many angsty kitties, we were all pretty sleepy and headed back to our apartment so the weary travelers could get some much needed rest and start out our first full day in the city bright eyed and bushy tailed.

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