College Year in Athens offers the opportunity for students to sign up for optional trips during their time in Athens. A professor and other tour guides travel with us and navigate us through a jam packed itinerary that allows us to squeeze every bit out of our weekend excursion. This past weekend I was fortunate enough to travel to Istanbul with CYA Professor Karavas. Our plane departed early Friday morning (we do not have classes on Fridays) and landed in Istanbul, Turkey at 9:00 am.
No time was wasted as we glided through the airport and met our bus that took us to the Pierre Loti Hill. We road gondolas to the very top of the hill which provided a stunning view of the Golden Horn in addition to the rest of the city. We sampled our first cups of the famous Turkish coffee and apple tea. For the coffee, imagine a thick espresso as the grounds sink to the bottom of the tiny cup (perhaps more delicious than it sounds). We sipped our warm drinks and admired the view in addition to hearing our first call to prayer from the Muslim mosques.
Our next stop was the Moni tis Choras, a Byzantine church with the MOST beautiful mosaics I will most likely ever see. Our professor was convinced that they surpass the Aya Sofia and it is hard to dispute this as there are so many intricate designs throughout the entire church. While the main sanctuary is undergoing renovation efforts and therefore closed off, we were able to tour the narthex and side chapel.
After our tour we demolished some pide at a restaurant nearby. Pide is the Turkish form of pizza with mounds of cheese, delicious warm bread, and then added minced meats and other toppings. DELICIOUS.
After we stuffed ourselves we checked into our hotel which was a five minute walk from Taksim Square. This location contains the newer buildings of Istanbul, mostly hotels and modern shopping stores along the pedestrian street. The rest of the evening was time to spend however we wanted to. Myself and four others walked down the pedestrian boulevard to the Galata Tower for a nightime panoramic view of the city. It took us an embarrassingly long time but we were finally able to determine which building as the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque.
We walked back and had dinner off on one of the side streets. The food was fantastic as we tried their meatballs, calamari, platter of dips, and a stuffed eggplant dish. But my favorite part was dessert from one of the sweet shops, particularly the banana flavored baklava (YUM).