Istanbul – November 2015
Continuing on from Rome, I was off on another airplane. After an amazing, albeit short, flight on Turkish Airways, I arrived in Istanbul.
Istanbul has always seemed like such an impossible place to go. I’m not sure why it’s seemed so much further away than the rest of Europe, but it has. Turkey has always seemed more foreign and mysterious to me, but I was glad to finally have the chance to explore a new country. I had 3 days to run around the city and see the sights, including going to a new continent!
I was staying with a friend, so public transportation was my mode of choice. If you’re at all familiar with traffic in Istanbul, you know it can get pretty crazy, so the metro is a great alternative. I purchased the Istanbulkart, which you have to buy for 6 lira, but cuts the cost of the trips in half (or more). It also connects to Ataturk airport (IST), which many carriers fly into.
For my first day exploring, I decided to hit up the old town, and did most of the highlights… Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazzar, Spice Market, Sulemaniya Mosque, and Basilica Cistern. These are all places you pretty much have to go to if you are in Istanbul. I did luck out at the Hagia Sofia as there was absolutely no line… Of course I had decided to try out the bus and got stuck for half an hour in traffic, so maybe it all balanced out. As a few people had mentioned to me, the Blue Mosque is a bit of a let down after the magnificence of the Hagia Sofia, but it is still very pretty, and it’s also an interesting experience to go inside a working Mosque.
The Grand Bazzar and Spice Market are as crazy as everyone says they are. Although it does get a bit annoying to keep having to say no to some pushy sales people. I just started to pretend I didn’t hear them as I had absolutely no intention of buying anything there. It’s a bit of a hike, but the Sulemaniya Mosque is great for the view you get. I did stop on a side street on the way up and buy some fresh pomegranate juice… 2 lira, versus 4 or 5 in the touristy areas.
If it was a nicer day, I probably would have gone to Gulhane park to sit and enjoy for a bit. After the traffic in the morning, I decided to stick to the metro for the ride home. Not quite as scenic, but much faster!
Another thing to note was that November 10th is the anniversary of Ataturk’s death. at 9:05 (the time he died) the entire city stops and remembers. People walking on the street just stop where they are, people get out of their cars and stand next to them. It’s a bit eerie and surreal, but clearly they still have a lot of respect and love for the father of Turkey.
Palaces and Asia
The next day, I got a bit of a later start (and had to make a stop at Starbucks) and headed to Dolmabahçe Palace, which my friend suggested over the other palace you can visit in the old town, because although it’s not as historic, the amount of “bling” is definitely more impressive. I got the combined ticket so you can see the main palace and the Harem. I’d say the main part of the palace is definitely more interesting and the tour is more informational. The harem is still interesting, and there are a few neat things in that part of the palace, including the rooms where Ataturk lived when he was in Istanbul.
After a visit to the palace I took the ferry over to Katykoy, which is in Asia! Istanbul actually straddles two continents, divided by the Bosporus straight. The Katykoy area by the water is a shopping area with lots of cafes and stores, so I grabbed a seat at a cafe and had a coffee. I didn’t have a lot of time to explore the area as I wanted to get back to the ferry in time to watch the sunset as I was crossing back to Europe. From there I grabbed dinner at a cafe and headed to Taksim square to wander a bit and load up on Turkish Delight before heading back home.
I took a bit of a break and treated myself to a nice spa day at the Kiliç Ali Pasa Hamam, which is defiantly a bit more luxurious that your more traditional Hamam, but it’s in a great building. Its open for women in the morning until about 4 pm and then is open for men in the afternoon until closing. It’s a bit pricier than some of the other hamams (although cheaper than some of the ones in the old town) but it’s a great luxury, relaxing experience. I would definitely recommend going here if you want to treat yourself. I took a walk past the Galeta tower and had lunch before heading home and packing back up before heading to the airport.
Although Turkey has been hit with a lot of unfortunate incidents as of late, I would recommend it as one of my favorite new discoveries and I hope to return soon.