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Istanbul is, hands down, my favorite trip from this year of travel. At first, it wasn’t even on my radar. As much as I’ve traveled this year, there’s been the underlying need to prioritize places I wouldn’t otherwise fly out specifically to visit. Turkey was not on this list. Turkey (along with Greece, for example) was on the list of places I intended to come back to with more time. And while I still do plan to visit Turkey again, I am thrilled to have made it to Istanbul this year.

Why did I love Istanbul so much? It could have been that I had my very first couch-surfing experience there, with two of the most hospitable hosts one could imagine. It could have been the complete change-up in skylines as, after seeing countless horizons overflowing with cathedrals, I was finally laying eyes on ones dotted with domes. Or, it could have been that 12 years worth of history gleaned in my religious classes had come to life all around me. And it was the adhan. It was feeling the call to prayer, as much as hearing it, echo through my very being as I stood between the famed Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. That is a feeling that has yet to leave me.

Turkey, like much of the world, is going through some tough times lately. My thoughts are with that beautiful nation and all the people within. I urge all of you to take time to visit Istanbul and other parts of Turkey at some point in your lives.

My first meal in Istanbul - homemade parathas by my CS host.

My first meal in Istanbul – homemade parathas by my CS host.

Strolling down Istiklal St on our way to a cafe overlooking the Bosphorus

Strolling down Istiklal St on our way to a cafe overlooking the Bosphorus

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

Part of the Harem in Topkapi Palace

Part of the Harem in Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

With my yellow umbrella, about to enter the Blue Mosque

With my yellow umbrella, about to enter the Blue Mosque

Interior of Blue Mosque

Interior of Blue Mosque

Eating simit! Traditional round bread encrusted with sesame seeds.

Eating simit! Traditional round bread encrusted with sesame seeds.

Mmm, fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice!

Mmm, fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice!

Turkish coffee!

Turkish coffee!

Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Hagia Sophia Interior

Hagia Sophia Interior

Stunning Hagia Sophia

Stunning Hagia Sophia

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