Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Istanbul, Turkey - Beautiful Country, Beautiful People

When my Aunt Kathi called over the summer asking if I wanted to celebrate her 70th birthday in Istanbul - it was a no brainer. How could I pass up the opportunity to visit Turkey? The answer, I couldn't and didn't. Even with all the issues surrounding Syria in the weeks leading up to our trip and few protests in Turkey, I couldn't be persuaded not to go. And my advice to those who are wondering if they should go or not - GO!

Istanbul was better than I could have imagined. Chris and I had just come from a week in Rome and I thought that felt old until I visited Turkey. It took it to a new level.

It seems the city has something to discover around every corner. We stayed in the Sultanahmet district, right behind the Blue Mosque overlooking the Bosporus River - and I'd recommend this area to anyone who isn't sure where to stay. It was a great central location to a lot of the main attractions there. From the Basilica Cistern, to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, Grand Bazaar and Spice Market and the Bosporus - there is so much within walking distance. To make it easy, I have the main sites we visited listed below with some photos and links.

The city is very walking friendly but they also have a great public transportation system that is easy to figure out. You have to get "coins" from a machine prior to your ride. I think it's only like 3 Turkish Lire per ride - which is about 1.50 USD. Not bad to get around.

Things to Do: 

Blue Mosque

Suggestion: Bring your own shawl. Head, shoulders and legs need to be covered. Men included. So dress appropriately or you will be stuck wearing the blue sheet the provide at the door. Not as cute for photos :) 

 Hagia Sophia

Make a wish

 Topkapi Palace/Harem

Night Bosporus Boat Cruise: Not sure what we were expecting - but it wasn't this. BUT SO WORTH IT. Laughed the whole night and the best part - completely unexpected.

Visit Prince Islands by Ferry: For about 12 Turkish Lire, you can get a round trip ticket to the Prince Islands. There are 3 islands the ferry stops at, totaling about 3 hours to get to the last one. We opted about an hour in to hop off at the first island. It was tiny, cute and pretty sure we were the only tourists there. We found a local farmers market. Delightful experience and amazing to see how large Istanbul really is.

Basilica Cistern

The building - amazing to think so much lies beneath

Walk Akbiyik Street: Akbiyik Street offers a nice restaurant row but be warned - they all will try to get you to eat at their restaurant.

 Spice Market
Buying Chris some Iranian saffron

Grand Bazaar

Whirling Dervish at The Hodjapasha Dance Theatre

A Turkish Bath: Didn't make it to a Turkish bath on this trip - but hear it's great and will next time around.

The Old Fire Tower at the University

View from University Tower

Things to Eat:

Worth trying once - but won't be ordering it again - it's a little too salty and heavy


Rose Tea/Apple Tea/Turkish Tea

Eggplant Kebab
It arrives like this and I would have eaten it piece by piece but directions on what to do below.
You peel the skin off the eggplant, mash it all together. Cut up the lamb, mas that in - same with tomato and onion.

Turkish Coffee - worth trying. I still prefer espresso. It is a little too grainy for me.

Turkish Ice Cream - A MUST! I wish I had a photo but I don't understand why this is not more of a thing. It is like no other ice cream - it's CHEWY! Check out the link which explains it in more detail.

Turkish Delight - Not my favorite either but you can find stores like the one below with thousands of Turkish Delight options.

Travelers Tips: When arriving, check with your hotel if they offer an airport pick up. This is a nice option if you have never been to the city before. The city is HUGE - I found there was a $5 difference so opted to go this route so you don't end up on a detour to your hotel. Do not drink the water - I was okay using it on my toothbrush but buy bottled water for drinking. Wondering what to wear? Well, Istanbul is a modern city - however, I felt more comfortable mostly covered up. Be respectful of any place you visit - you will most likely already look out of place so to show respect is just - respectful. However, you will see short shorts, tanks and regular western clothing. If you have time, also consider some other locations within Turkey. Istanbul is a nice location to explore other areas within Turkey. Some of the popular ones being: Cappadocia, Troy, Ankara.

Our Two Cents: 
Istanbul: Hodjapasha Cultural Center: Whirling Dervish - Something I've never seen before
Istanbul: Hafiz Mustafa 1864: A book of Baklava - Yes, Please 
Istanbul: Hagia Sophia Museum / Church (Ayasofya): Amazing that they are still peeling back layers   
Istanbul: Basilica Cistern: You'd never know it was there 
Istanbul: Topkapi Palace: Rent the head set 
Istanbul: Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii): First time in a mosque - it didn't disappoint 
Istanbul: Hotel Sari Konak: Would stay here again 
Istanbul: Sultanahmet District: Recommend Staying in this Area

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