What You’ll Find in This Post:
The low-energy activities I did in Istanbul
The low-energy places I went in Istanbul
My reasons for taking “breaking adventures”
Sometimes just sitting in a park is enough of an adventure (at Gülhane Park)
Istanbul was my first trip abroad that didn’t have a predetermined schedule. I was in full control of what I did and when I did it, which was naturally very exciting. However, it was also sometimes overwhelming because there are literally hundreds of things to do in Istanbul, and sometimes I wound up pushing myself too hard. I eventually realized that I needed breaks from the adventure to sustain myself, but what surprised me is that even those moments contributed to what colored the adventure.
So in this post I will list the five “break adventures” I had, the moments I used to breathe in between the dynamism of doing things like seeing the Hagia Sophia or hunting down the best baklava in town. I’ll also include some of the low-energy places I went that I think could also be chill additions to a jam-packed mega adventure.
Spend a day inside
Breakfast in the apartment.
I know, I know, this sounds counterintuitive. But first let me remind you of all the things I was contending with during my time in Istanbul:
Some Turkey culture shock superimposed on the Qatar culture shock I was still processing
Walking a lot, often up inclines, and recuperating from daily motion sickness
I was technically studying abroad in Qatar during the time I was exploring Istanbul. The plan was to fly back to the United States about a week after returning to Qatar from Turkey. All of this came with its own set of logistics.
The semester was wrapping up, meaning I had two finals to put the finishing touches on while in Turkey.
I was graduating this semester, which meant a few things: Senior showcase would be happening as soon as I got back to Qatar, and graduation would be happening two days after that, and my “life after uni” anxiety had begun to set in. To add, while I was in Istanbul there was this wildly confusing mass email about regalia being wrong that understandably stressed me out.
Experiencing a new country for the first time without a school group and with a new partner
An egg burrito at home is just as good as Turkish breakfast by the Bosporus when it’s doing more than just filling your belly.
That said, there was one day and two half days that I spent exclusively in the apartment. I slept in, I ordered fast food, I played computer games, I stayed in my pajamas, and I opened the windows to let the breeze in and watch the cars go by. At first, I was upset about it; I felt like I was not only squandering an opportunity, but I was squandering it for what I believed to be a dumb reason: I was exhausted. Yeah, in the moment I felt like my mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion was a dumb reason to not experience Istanbul. And because I thought it was dumb, I ultimately wound up pushing myself too hard, to the point where I crashed and was forced to confront the fact that I needed that time inside. I needed some time and space to build my energies back up.
Walk around a mall
Aqua Florya mall
This one is kind of self-explanatory. Even though malls are nowhere near being on my list of favorite places to be, I do like seeing what malls are like in different countries. This is an interest I got after experiencing Qatar where malls and mall culture was nothing like what I was used to in Richmond.
Catch a movie
I forget what theater this was, but it seems to have started with the letter “G”
The more of the world I see, the more I realize how different U.S. movie theaters are: Their locations, the food they sell, the theater layouts, and sometimes even the movie itself. I went to see Avengers: Infinity War while in Istanbul and, coincidentally, the cheapest tickets were for the fanciest room. Two years later, I can confirm that the emotional roller coaster the movie put me through definitely warranted that good back support.
Order fast food
Pide from Sampi Pide
You can always order a pizza, or even better, Turkish pide (which is 200 times richer). There are also places like McDonald’s and Starbucks, which both seem to exist in nearly every country, but I guess that’s why they interest me. A Starbucks in the U.S. is different than a Starbucks in Greece, which is different than a Starbucks in Turkey, and so on. The atmosphere is often totally different and sometimes the menus are too. The same can be said for McDonald’s: I had never seen a Smarties McFlurry before arriving in Turkey (and no, not the American Smarties, the UK Smarties which are completely different and, as I now know, disgusting).
I’m not entirely sure where I am, but it was some park somewhere on the Asian side of Istanbul
These flowers were near Vilayet Mosque (also called Nallı Masjid). These flowers, along with the mosque, were the first beautiful things I saw in Istanbul.
I mentioned that walking around Istanbul was sometimes energy-draining, but overall, it’s still a low maintenance activity. I didn’t have to contend with crowds, lines, tickets, the metro, or the overpowering sense of awe that often comes with seeing breathtaking historical sites. Walking around is often just chill. It’s also a great way to literally get off the beaten path, to see things that aren’t the heavy-hitting tourist spots.
The boardwalk near the Istanbul Akvaryum (also, you’re not supposed to climb on the rocks. I saw that sign after I was already there. Oops)
An aquarium that also has penguins, frogs, and some kind of capybara-looking critter.
Istanbul Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam
It’s a very chill environment mostly because it’s not terribly popular and a bit run down. There’s no need to worry about crowds, lines, or noise as you peruse it’s unique collection of recreated artifacts, the kind of clever objects you don’t really think about ever having existed.
I went to Gülhane and Emirgan Park. Now, seeing Emirgan was actually part of the plan because the internet said it was a good place to see Tulip Festival in literal full bloom. Gülhane Park was right outside the Istanbul Museum of the History of Science and Technology in Islam and adjacent to a bunch of other tourist sites, so stumbling upon it was a little unavoidable. However, even Gülhane was so close to a touristy area, it wasn’t crowded. It was also beautiful, perhaps even more so than Emirgan when it came to flowers covering the landscape.
Quiet, spacious, and unique, albeit a little dusty. I think it’s a museum is totally worth checking out.
Alright, this is perhaps the most strenuous of chill places on this lineup. If you decide to walk up the hill to Eyüp Cemetery, your body may be screaming because it is steep. If you decide to take the funicular, as I did, you will have a mildly crowded, 45-minute line to wait in. Once you get to the cemetery and surrounding area though, it’s very nice, not at all crowded, and quiet (as one may expect a cemetery to be). It’s a genuinely nice place to just sit or stroll.
I stumbled upon the rainbow stairs—or perhaps a rainbow stair—while walking near Dolmabahçe Palace
The freedom to create my own schedule in Istanbul is both what caused the exhaustion and what remedied it. This was one of the best travel learning experiences I’ve ever had because I know that every next trip I plan will take into consideration, well, me. What my limits are, what my life is like at the time, and what will make for the most fun, most healthy, international adventure.