Middle East: Istanbul, Turkey

New Mosque Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey

September 13-15, 2013

A few days before I departed for Turkey, the U.S. government issued a warning cautioning U.S. citizens traveling to Turkey. Luckily, the warning applied to the southern part of Turkey and Istanbul was safe to travel to despite the local riots happening in the city.
Due to bad weather in New York, total travel time from Los Angeles to Istanbul amounted to approx. 24 hours. When we arrived in Istanbul, it was definitely well worth the wait. Once known as Constantinople, there is so much history and culture within the walls of Sultanhament, the old city. We stayed at the Faros Hotel Sultanhemet (http://4sq.com/19LtnwV) which is conveniently located just up the street from the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia.
Day 1: First order of business was to find Tina! Tina is my friend who has been traveling the world since May and we had planned to meet each other in Istanbul. Google maps sent us in circles, so I discovered early on that Foursquare was better to use while traveling. I’ve always been a fan of Foursquare, first tracking my activity when I moved to New York and then all of the new places I have discovered when I travel to SF or to any new city, so I was happy to see active users on the other side of the world! For anyone traveling, I would highly recommend using Foursquare not only to find the location of places but also to discover new places, restaurants, coffee shops, etc. Leaving tips is a plus too. Once we finally found her, I felt it….
We walked towards the New Mosque to watch the sunset – absolutely gorgeous! Then we headed across the Galata Bridge towards the Galata tower. After walking around for a bit, almost near Taksim Square where most of the recent riots had taken place, we ended up at a rooftop bar called (http://4sq.com/1hPGbS8). I would recommend this place for drinks and a view of the old city. Definitely a great ‘welcome’ spot to take in the scenery and settle into ‘vacation’ mode. No more conference calls to attend to abroad, just good company, a view, fireworks – yes, fireworks – and a glass of wine in hand.
Welcome to Istanbul!
View from the Galata Bridge

View from the Galata Bridge

Galata Tower

Galata Tower

Rooftop Bars, Leb-i Derya

Rooftop Bars, Leb-i Derya

On our way home, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) was lit up like a beautiful castle with the fountain in front of it changing colors every few seconds. Perhaps it is the little girl in me or the fairytale dream I once hoped to live as a child, but it felt like a magical place – it was breathtaking. I know I probably shouldn’t compare such a religious place to Disneyland, but it really did remind me of the magic castle.
Blue Mosque

Blue Mosque

Day 2: Our second day was much more adventurous than our first, especially our evening which continued well into the next morning. We started off at Topkapi Palace, the residence of the Ottoman sultans for approximately 400 years starting in the 1400s. We made our way through the gorgeous palace grounds and then later to the Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque) which was even more beautiful inside. The lighting, the stained glass windows, even the detail in the carpet was stunning. What was very interesting about the mosques was the public prayers over the loud speakers almost four to five times a day. It was cool to hear while walking the streets but I am sure the loud prayers can get a little annoying if you are staying near a mosque since it can wake you up at 4 a.m. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it into the Hagia Sophia in time but we did manage to do a little shopping in the Grand Bazaar. The Grand Bazaar is one of the oldest markets in the world and one of the busiest! Be careful, there are a lot of merchants there who prey on tourists!
Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace

Inside the Blue Mosque

Inside the Blue Mosque

Covered for prayer inside the Blue Moque

Covered for prayer inside the Blue Mosque

Grand Bazaar

Grand Bazaar

Hagia Sophia

Hagia Sophia

After a lovely dinner at Rumeli Cafe, we continued the start of Tina’s birthday celebration at a hidden Hookah bar called Corlulu Ali Pasa Medresesi (http://4sq.com/1gdGQ4g). I hadn’t smoked hookah since high school, but this was definitely the place to do it and it was a local spot thanks to my cousin Christina whose boyfriend is from Turkey.

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Off to Reina, one of the hottest night clubs in Istanbul along the Bosphorus. All I can say is what a night and definitely one I won’t forget (a second time). Between the 90/10 alcoholic drinks, the fireworks, and seeing the sunrise, there isn’t much to say other than it was a very fun night. Oh, ladies, dress up. Women here don’t “cover up.” It’s just like any other night club in meatpacking for those of you New Yorkers.

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The next day was brutal. My body felt like it had been put through the wringer but I managed to do two things on my wish list that day and luckily was unable to do the third, which was ride a ferry down the Bosphorus. I visited the Basilica Cistern, an ancient cistern built underneath the city of Istanbul in the 6th century, and I went to a Turkish bath. The Basilica was a little eery. As my head pounded from dehydration, I thought about the ancient history that took place there, maybe about people with draped, hooded capes on little paddle boats. It was dark and beautiful but mystifying.
Basilica Cistern

Basilica Cistern

When I had finally made it to the Turkish bath, it was definitely an experience. I had never been to a bath before so I was quite unsure of what to do. Once I entered the bath, I laid down on the hot marble stone and gazed at the light beaming in through the dome above. It was beautiful and mesmerizing. The bath is one of the structures built by the architect Sinan, in 1584. Being bathed by an old Turkish woman was interesting. I hadn’t been fully bathed by someone since I was a baby and in that moment, feeling completely exhausted from the night before, it actually felt relaxing and not as awkward as I had anticipated. The massage after definitely helped as well and I started to feel like myself again – refreshed and alive.
Cemberlitas Hamami

Cemberlitas Hamami

Istanbul, Turkey was a unique place to visit but definitely not a relaxing vacation spot. It was busy, loud, and a little chaotic from my experience but I am so glad I decided to make it the first stop of my 2+ week vacation. Next, the Greek Islands!
Notes & Quick Links
Transportation
Located about 30-40 mins from the old city but travel time can be longer with traffic. A cab is about 50TL one-way ($25). Walking around the old city is fairly easy but you can always easily take a cab anywhere or the metro if you want to cross the river to the Taksim Square.
Food
Amazing. I mostly obsessed over the vegetarian plates with hummus, dips, eggplant, and grape leaves. Be careful with the meat in Turkey or in any country in the Middle East. I got food poisoning so make sure all the meat is fully cooked!
Links
2. Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sultan_Ahmed_Mosque
7. Cemberlitas Hamami: http://www.cemberlitashamami.com/
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One response to “Middle East: Istanbul, Turkey

  1. Pingback: 4 Days in Seville, Spain | Working to Travel·

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