Lesson learned… Never plan less than 3-4 days for a trip to Istanbul. We had a total of 2 half days and 1 full day to attempt to cram as much as possible into. I cringe now thinking that we didn’t get to see it all! But hey we have an excuse to go back now.
Before we got to Turkey I did a little internet research to find out how to maximize our time in Istanbul. I came across a blog called “A Taste of Travel: Your Guide To Istanbul-What To Do.” (http://www.atasteoftravelblog.com/your-guide-to-istanbul-36-things-to-do/) This was a gift from God. From the second that I started reading the list of things to do I was hooked. If you ever make it to Istanbul, I will say that the author of A Taste of Travel was spot on on everything that she advised. Well at least the stuff that we did get to try.
Ryan was able to book our stay at the Ottoman Hotel Imperial which is located right next to the Aya Sofia and a 2 minute walk from the famous Sultahnamet Imperial Mosque (Blue Mosque). This was quite the perfect location. We were within walking distance of so many of the sites that we wanted to see not to mention the the tram stops are all within about a 5-10 walking distance of each other.
On our first night we ventured out to the Blue Mosque which is open to the public for viewing except for during prayer hours. Out of respect you must remove your shoes and you must be dressed appropriately to enter which means legs covered, head wrapped, in other words modestly. The architecture of the Blue Mosque is just gorgeous as is everything else in Istanbul. It’s like a palace that you see in fairy tales. Trying to maximize our time before night fall we wandered down the the Old Bazaar which was full of shops selling rugs, hookahs, pipes, pashminas, purses, and other little knick knacks. We found our way to a restaurant with a roof top view that was to do die for. I won’t lie we did get hungry again later and found a second restaurant closer to our hotel. We had seen this elaborate clay pot and bread making dish and we’re itching to try it. So we ordered it and got quite the show with fire, rising bread, smashing clay pots, and deliciousness! Thanks to this lovely dinner we met our new friends, Noli and AJ who were on their honeymoon, that we spent a good amount our time with and throughly enjoyed their company.
The following day, our only full day, we made it to the Basilica Cistern. It used to serve as an underground cistern for the palace during the reign of Emperor Justinainus in the 6th century as well as some other buildings in the area. It is one of the most beautiful sites to see. Once underground you succumb to the beauty of warm lighting, Corinthian style columns, and giant koi like fish swimming in the water. If you look closely, or follow the crowd, you’ll find two stone structures of Medusa, an example of the Roman Age. We then ventured down to the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Bazaars where you can find any everything from lanterns, to Turkish Tea Sets, pipes, bags, jewelry, Turkish Delight, and more spices than you can imagine.
Dinner that night was an adventure to the Asian Side of Istanbul with our new friends, Noli and AJ, and our friends from Doha, Sam and Cesar at Ciya Sofrasi which was mentioned in the blog. We took the tram and then the ferry over to the Asian side, walked through the famous Taksim Square and made it to our restaurant which was home of the best Turkish food that I had while in Turkey. As we were all freezing before we headed back to the ferry we did a very American thing and grabbed Starbucks to go. Once back on the other side we strolled over the Galata Bridge filled with night-time fishers and went our separate ways until the morning.
Our final half day consisted of the Hamam (Turkish Bath) with the other couples. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but it was quite fun. You lay on a giant circular stone in the middle of a sauna like room and someone literally scrubs you from head to toe. We followed this with a massage which I had a hard time really relaxing through and was actually told to relax on various occasions follow by gentle pats where I needed to relax and laughter. It was a great time. This gave Ryan and I less than 3 hours to see our final site… the Aya Sofia. Once upon a time in 537 it was a church, in 1453 it became a mosque, and presently it is a museum that is in restoration mode. There are tons of remnants from when it was once a church such as Christian mosaics, spots where crosses were once removed, a baptismal, etc. It’s an interesting blend of history that showcases both Christianity and Islam. Most of what remains are remnants of Islam. This was a fantastic site to leave on.
So with no time left we grabbed our suitcases and headed back to the airport. We made it back home to overwhelmingly hot Doha at 4 am on October 11th. Just long enough for us to veg out before Ryan returned to work the next day. Nonetheless our trip to Turkey was a wonderful and educational vacation that we would recommend to all.
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