#IstanInsta 2014: It all started as an innocent conversation between two online friends. Christina (@expacs) and I (@genyvb) started talking about how amazing it would be to get a group of Instagram users – people who had never met before; strangers – together in a new city. We were enamored with the idea of creating an opportunity for people to share what Instagram is all about: shooting photos, having fun and engaging in community.
The more we mentioned the idea on our feeds, the more people became interested. Questions and enthusiasm seemed to pour in from all corners of the globe. Sure, some thought we were crazy – after all, Christina and I hadn’t even met in person; but we both love travel, taking pictures and making new friends. To us, those seemed like good ingredients for a successful adventure. We decided to officially put the ask out to the IG community to see if others wanted to join.
To our surprise, 15 Instagrammers from 5 continents – Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America – agreed to the idea! We decided that Turkey would be our destination of choice and the trip came to be known as the #IstanInsta 2014, named after the country’s capital city of Istanbul. Eleven months after we first dreamed of the plan, we were bound for an incredible, random adventure.
People frequently ask why we decided on Turkey. For us, it was simple: it is one of the most diverse countries in the world. There, the old and the modern consistently blend together: in architecture and dress; in food and in values. Turkey is also the only country that lies in two continents, Europe and Asia, creating a culture and an energy unique to the world.
I will never forget our first dinner all together. We were in a cozy, traditional Turkish kebab restaurant in a historic building in Beyoğlu in Taksim Square. We were talking, laughing and sharing Instagram stories with one another as if we had known each other for years. A couple sitting at the table next to us couldn’t believe it when she heard that we were, in fact, a bunch of strangers meeting up for the first time. “That’s wonderful!”, she exclaimed. “I didn’t know people do that. I should join your group!” It was at that very moment that I knew our spontaneous #IstanInsta was not only a wonderful idea, but an adventure off to a fabulous start.
Turkey’s vibrant capital city of Istanbul is the cradle of historical attractions. The famous Byzantine church of Aya Sofya sits just opposite the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, known popularly as the Blue Mosque. Nearby are the grand Topkapi Palace (the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans), the ancient underground Basilica Cistern, the Grand Bazaar (the largest and oldest covered market in the world), the Ottoman imperial mosque of Süleymaniye, the medieval stone tower of Galata, and the opulent Dolmabache Palace on the European coastline of Bosphorus strait.
Turkey offers incredible natural beauty and breathtaking architectural wonders beyond the capital city as well. Cappadocia, the center of Anatolia region, has a surreal landscape and is one of the world’s most popular destinations for hot air balloon rides. Izmir, the country’s third-largest city, is the jump-off point to Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, as well as the ancient Greek city of Pergamon and the “Sacred City” Hierapolis, located close to the magnificent natural phenomenon, Pamukkale or “Cotton Castle.” The water in this fairy-like landscape is famous for its healing properties and benefits to the eyes and skin.
And finally, not only is Turkey a fantastic destination for architecture and history, but the Turks are one of the most hospitable people in the world as well. We were always welcomed graciously and with open arms. Locals invited us into their homes (and allowed us to stay for as long as we wanted or needed to), gave us detailed directions to our destinations – and even walked with us to ensure that we would arrive safely – and offered us free drinks even when we didn’t have any Turkish Lira on hand! These acts of kindness made our visit a great and memorable one.
As is often the case, our time flew by quickly. Some of the people in our group fell so in love with the country that they decided to extend their stay for a few extra days; unfortunately, others among us had to return home. Now, almost two months after the trip, we are still relishing over the incredible time we had (and bombarding our IG feeds with latergrams, of course).
Meeting new people, especially those who you only know via online connections, can be a little awkward or intimidating; scary, even. What we learned, though, is that having a common interest is a great base for relationship building; the 15 of us definitely arrived in Istanbul as strangers but grew to be quick friends, all thanks to a shared love of travel, photography and community (and Instagram!). We encourage you to take a similar leap of faith; in our experience, it is well worth it.
In fact, we are now planning another trip to Nordic countries next June. Perhaps you’ll consider joining us!