I would like to preface this post by saying that most people will have a different experience than I did in Istanbul. Getting to Istanbul was a struggle for me this summer; the airport was bombed and the military attempted a coup. After much deliberation and discussion with other travelers, I decided to continue on with my original plan to end my trip in Turkey. And I am so glad I did.
Istanbul should be a city on everyone’s “must see” lists. Visiting in the summer of 2016 was a surreal experience. In a weird way it felt like a VIP experience because I was one of the only Western tourists there. The hostels, hotels, baths, and restaurants were empty. Queue lines at the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque were nonexistent. I would walk straight in to major tourists sights, and often times I was either alone or there were only a handful of other people there. The only downside is looking like I do I did not blend in whatsoever with the locals, so I was hunted down a lot by restaurant managers and shopkeepers. To the point where I eventually started wearing headphones around and pretended like I couldn’t hear them talking to me.
Below are some of the highlights of my time in Istanbul. Due to plane problems I was only able to spend 3 full days there, but I wish I would have had 5. And I wish I had gone to a Turkish bath EVERY DAY.
My first stop in Istanbul was at the Blue Mosque. Note to girls: Wear maxi dresses or pants in Turkey. With my maxi dress and scarf over my head I entered the Blue Mosque. The mosque opened in 1616 and is stunning. Here are just a few pictures of it I took during my time in Istanbul.
My next stop was the Topkapi Palace. I was glad to ditch my headscarf since it is almost as hot in Istanbul as it is in Texas during the summer. The palace is an impressive site and I spent a few hours there.
Most people will be maxed out on their museum/historical time for the day after the Topkapi Palace, as I definitely was. I decided to escape the heat and go underground for awhile, so I ducked into the Basilica Cistern. It is a cool site (both literally and figuratively). The place is dark with strategically placed lights on the marble columns and mood music playing in the background. It was built in the 6th century and historical texts claim 7,000 slaves were involved in the construction. It is the largest of several hundred ancient cisterns that lie underneath Istanbul.
Columns in fish-filled waters:
Medusa’s head turned upside down so she can’t turn me into stone:
Where is everyone?!?!?!?!
Side note from the tourist attractions: Don’t think you’ll go overseas and lose weight. They eat cheese and bread for every meal. Every. Meal. Forget about yogurt or cereal for breakfast.
I started my second day in Istanbul at the Hagia Sophia. It only took them 6 years to build, and it is one of the most impressive buildings I have ever seen. It started off as a church, then became a mosque, and it is now a museum. The Hagia Sophia is so neat because it is where Christianity meets Islam, much like Istanbul is the city where east meets west.
Gorgeous mosaics of Jesus and other Christian figures are on the walls and next to them hang large Islamic signs. I spent a long time in there just taking it all in. The building is a bit of a maze as well. It is hard to make sure you have seen it all.
Where are all the people?!?!?!?!?!?
I hired this guy to walk through this doorway so you could tell how tall it is:
I really loved the Hagia Sophia, but I eventually had to leave the building. Next stop: The Grand Bazaar. Did not love it as much as I thought I would. It was neat, but incredibly overwhelming. Stop asking me if I want to buy a rug! But I also want to eat your sample Turkish Delights. No, I do not want to come into your shop and have tea! Lots of mixed emotions…
One of my outings that I highly recommend is taking a ferry at sunset to the Asian side. First, you can say you have now been to Asia, and second, Istanbul is gorgeous at sunset. I went across to the Asian side before sunset and poked around for a bit, and then took it back across as the sun was setting:
There are some good photo opportunities on the ferry, but beware of the wind:
There are several other sites I went to in Istanbul, but not enough time on this post to talk about them all. My last on my list of recommendations though is that if you are in Istanbul, VISIT A TURKISH BATH. I did on my last evening, and I kind of wish I had gone to one every day I was there! It was an extremely relaxing experience, and you walk away feeling lethargic, relaxed, and incredibly clean. I went to one that has been around since 1475. It. was. great. For obvious reasons I did not take any pictures inside, but here are a few from the outside and one of me feeling pretty good afterwards.
Conclusion? Go to Istanbul. You won’t regret it!